Cambarus diogenesdevil crawfish

Geographic Range

Devil crayfish live over a wide range, and are perhaps the most widespread of all crayfish in the United States. They have been found in thirty states and the District of Columbia, from Ontario, CA to Texas and from Wyoming to North Carolina, spanning an estimated 2 million km². (Grow and Merchant, 1980; Marlow, 1960)


Devil crayfish are burrowing crayfish found primarily in freshwater. Individuals spend most of their life-cycle in underground chambers near marshy and swampy areas of rivers, streams, and ponds. These underground tunnels, each with only one inhabitant, have several openings at the surface, which may have chimneys formed by excavated dirt. These tunnels provide excellent shelter and protection during feeding, mating, egg laying and rearing young, and are deep enough to reach ground water during periods of drought and to avoid freezing winter temperatures. Mean burrow depth ranges from 57.5 cm in autumn to 61.9 cm in spring. Burrows also serve as microhabitats for amphipods and isopods. (Grow and Merchant, 1980; Harris, 1903a; Pintor and Soluk, 2006; S, 2002)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range depth
    0.575 to 0.619 m
    1.89 to 2.03 ft

Physical Description

Devil crayfish are crustaceans related to lobsters (Family Nephropidae) and shrimp (Infraorder Caridea). They have hard exoskeletons that serve as protection from predatory animals. Coloring of these crayfish can vary but they tend to be dark reddish-brown or gray. Bright pastel red and blue individuals have also been found and young crayfish are mostly green, while older individuals are mostly dark brown. Two color variants have been observed in this species, a solid color phase (the most typical) and a striped phase. Devil crayfish resemble miniature lobsters, with spines, ten legs, a rostrum (extending in front of its eyes) with an acumen (pointed apical tip), and a pair of chelae (large claws). Gills are tucked underneath the body. Males differ from females in having a long rostrum with a narrower, more tapered acumen and larger, heavier chelae. (Hobbs Jr. and Barr Jr., 1960; Marlow, 1960; Ortmann, 1905)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    40 to 61 mm
    1.57 to 2.40 in


After devil crayfish hatch, young cling tightly to their mothers' pleopods using their claws. Young stay with the mother through their first and second molts and most of the third. During the first larval stage, devil crayfish measure about 4.5 mm and are still somewhat embryonic. While in the second larval stage, young detach and swim away from their mothers, returning throughout the second and third stages and remaining near their mothers until they are able to be independent. Juveniles will grow up to 20 mm during the fall, and by their second summer they reach 30 to 35 mm, molting into mature adults. (Andrews, 1907; Norrocky, 1989)


Devil crayfish are solitary animals, meeting with other individuals only during mating season. Females release pheromones, signaling their readiness to mate. These pheromones are detected by males through their antennules (short antennae). Males court females by touching them with their antennae and claws. Males deposit sperm into females' sperm receptacles during copulation, plugging them afterwards to prevent further mating. (Andrews, 1907)

This species reproduces annually, with breeding occurring predominantly in the fall. Egg-laying occurs in spring after temperatures have risen and photoperiods extend. All devil crayfish eggs are attached to the mother's pleopods for at least four weeks (the composition of the attachment is unknown). Females can lay up to 200 eggs, but only 10% typically survive past the first year. (Andrews, 1907; Jegla, 1966)

  • Breeding interval
    Devil crayfish breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
  • Average number of offspring

While devil crayfish mate in the fall, they wait until the warmer spring temperatures to lay their eggs. After they have been laid, eggs are attached to the mothers until hatching via a hardened mass. After hatching, the larvae are in the first larval stage and firmly attached to their mother's pleopods, living an embryo-like existence. Even after molting into the second and third larval stage, the larvae still rely heavily on their mother because they are incapable of being freely living. However, after the second stage the larvae detach themselves from their mothers, although they return to her often. After molting into the third larval stage, young continue to stay with their mothers for protection until reaching full maturity. (Andrews, 1907)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female


Devil crayfish can live three years or more. (Norrocky, 1989)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 years


Devil crayfish are burrowing crayfish that spend most of their life cycles in underground burrows, which they dig themselves. The chimneys surrounding these burrows, reaching up to a foot high and made of excavated clay and dirt, are notable. Individuals are solitary, with one inhabitant living in each burrow; interaction between individuals has only been observed during mating season. They are nocturnal and hunt at night. This species has been described as one of the most widespread and successful crayfish species in North America. (Grow and Merchant, 1980; Grow, 1981; Harris, 1903b)

Home Range

The home range of this species is unlikely to extend much beyond an individual's burrow, but no data regarding the average area covered by these tunnels is available. (Grow and Merchant, 1980; Grow, 1981)

Communication and Perception

Devil crayfish have eyes on movable stalks, allowing them to see in different directions. They use their antennae and chelae, which are covered in tiny hairs, to detect prey and predator animals by sensing water movements. In order to identify and signal readiness for mating to other crayfish, they emit chemical cues, including female pheromones which males sense via their antennules. (Andrews, 1907; Harris, 1903a)

Food Habits

Devil crayfish are scavengers and predators. About 60% of their diet is comprised of living or decaying aquatic vegetation with the other 40% made up of aquatic worms, insects, snails and detritus. (Pintor and Soluk, 2006; S, 2002)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves


This species is prey to more than 200 predatory species, including various fishes, raccoons, Virginia opossum, red foxes, barred owls, Eastern newts, muskrats, crows, spotted salamanders, Eastern painted turtles, Northern water snakes, and red-tailed hawks. Two-thirds of this species' population is consumed by fish. Their burrows, as well as their small size and ability to move quickly, lend individuals some protection from predation. An anti-predator adaptation in this species is a tail-flip response, a rapid flip of the tail segments that allows individuals to quickly flee in the opposite direction. This response also acts as a warning system, signaling others to follow suit. (Dietz, 2003; S, 2002)

Ecosystem Roles

Devil crayfish play an important role in the aquatic ecosystem as predators and have been observed to have a net positive effect on prey animal populations. They also function as ecosystem engineers, providing extensive burrowing tunnels and systems throughout aquatic habitats. The larvae of an endangered species (Hines emerald dragonfly, Somatochlora hineana) regularly inhabit devil crayfish burrows in the late summer when their own larval habitats dry up. Devil crayfish are also a threat to populations of this species because they are are known to prey on larvae. Devil crayfish are hosts to a number of parasites, including a leech-like worm (Cambarincola macrodonta), flukeworms and many ostracods. (Cockerell, 1912; Hobbs and Peters, 1993; Olsen, 1974; Pintor and Soluk, 2006; S, 2002)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This species is important to the food industry in a number of ways. It serves as bait, particularly for bass, trout, perch, carp and catfish, and it is also consumed by humans. Devil crayfish keep water quality levels high by eating dead animal and plant material from streams, and they control insect populations as well. (Dietz, 2003; S, 2002)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of devil crayfish on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, devil crayfish are of Least Concern (LC) status, as they occupy a wide range of habitats and are highly tolerant to many ecological conditions. However, this species is locally threatened by anthropogenic changes including lake acidification and wetland destruction, though its wide distribution should guarantee its continued survival. (Guiasu, et al., 1996)


Anna Lui (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals


particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate


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