This article will talk about crayfish care. An increasing number of fish enthusiasts have been keeping crayfish as pets, which is not surprising given their magnificent colors. But are crayfish challenging to keep?

Read on to learn that and more.

What are the Most Popular Crayfish Species?

Freshwater crayfishThere are hundreds of fascinating species of crayfish all over the world.

We listed below the most popular choices for home aquariums:

1. Procambraus clarkii (Louisiana Crayfish)

This hardy crayfish is perhaps the easiest to take care of. They tolerate a wide range of water conditions and eat anything organic. However, they are also notoriously aggressive against their kind and can climb out of an uncovered tank.

Color: Red

Adult size: 6 inches

2. Procamarus alleni (Florida Lobster)

This species come in two colors, but the blue variant is the more popular choice in home aquariums.

Color: Brown, blue

Adult size: 2.3 inches (male); 2.75 inches (female)

3. Cherax Destructor (Australian Crayfish)

Despite the name, these crayfish are far from being destructive. They are a popular choice among aquarists who likes a colorful crustacean due to their bright blue color.

Color: Blue

Adult size: 8 inches

4. Cambarellus shufeldtii (Shufeld’s Dwarf Crayfish)

Cute and placid, this species can be a perfect addition even to a densely populated aquarium.

Color: Red-brown, gray (with dark horizontal bands or dots)

Adult size: 1.5 inches

5. Cambarellus Patzcuarensis (Orange Dwarf Crayfish)

This type is also non-aggressive, making them a suitable choice for a community fish tank.

Color: Orange (with two stripes)

Adult size: 1.6 inches

6. Cherax quadricarinatus (Red Claw)

Red Claws look unique with their bubble-like growths, yellow lines, and pink spots.

Color: Blue-green, blue, dark blue

Adult size: 8.5 inches

7. Cherax tenuimanus (Marron)

These crayfish make for a beautiful centerpiece in a gigantic aquarium. They can grow up to 4 lbs. However, you may want to keep one for each tank because they are highly dominant.

Adult size: 15 inches

8. Procambarus milleri (Miami Cave Crayfish)

This one is perfect for adding a pop of color into aquariums with dark substrates and subdued lighting.

Color: orange to yellow-orange

Adult size: 3 inches

How To Care for Crayfish: Growth, Molting, and Breeding

When caring for crayfish, it is crucial that you also understand their behavior to give it the best attention possible.

Why Crayfish Molt

Florida lobster or procamarus alleniCrayfish have flexible exoskeletons they need to shed as their size increases. Else the shell becomes ill-fitting, causing them to die in the process. During its first year, a juvenile crayfish molts 6 to 10 times.

Here are a few signs to let you know if your crayfish is about to molt:

  • a crayfish is about to molt when it stops eating 3 to 7 days before it sheds its old shell
  • during this period, your crawdad is inactive and spends most of its time hiding
  • dark, transparent edges will start appearing on the stomach and edges of the back (these areas will break open before shedding)

The frequency decreases over the years as it matures. Fully grown adults will molt only to generate lost limbs. As for the calcium-rich exoskeleton, you will want to leave it in the tank for your crawdad to eat.

Do They Die After Molting? Lifespan & Causes of Death

They are not supposed to die. However, some crayfish might not be able to free themselves entirely out of their shells, and they eventually die.

Molting is normal, and you can expect it to happen a couple more times in the future. An important thing to note, though, is that the new shell is soft and pliable, which makes it easy prey. You need to make sure your crawdad can hide from intruders until its shell is hard enough to protect itself.

Depending on the species, crayfish can live 3 to 5 years while in captivity. However, the crayfish lifespan tends to be shorter in the wild.

Crayfish Breeding

Crayfish are easy to breed as long as you keep the water warm and clean to ensure breeding behavior. If you have a pair, the two will do their own thing.

Mating starts with the male grabbing the female and flipping her onto her side or back. The male will push its sperm tube through one of its pleopods and deposit its sperm into the female’s annulus ventralis, a pocket to hold the sperm. Mating finishes about 15 minutes, and the female will start laying eggs within a few hours afterward.

The eggs would look like berries found on the female’s underside, where they are well-oxygenated by the swimmerets’ constant movements. In the next three weeks, the female would rarely leave her hideout.

In a community aquarium, it is better to separate the female before the eggs hatch. It would be best if you housed the young crayfish in a smaller aquarium because they can be a tempting food source for other aquarium species. A young crayfish will happily accept commercial feed, frozen meaty items, and blanched vegetables.

What to Feed Crayfish

Australian crayfish

Crayfish are omnivorous creatures and enjoy both meat and plant food types. In their native environment, they would eat leaves, rotting wood, roots, and moss. Likewise, they hunt small invertebrates and may occasionally eat live crayfish and frogs. Those who dwell nearby caves even dine on bat excrement whenever available.

In captivity, you can feed them:

  • frozen red worms, snails, mussels, shrimp, krill, and artemia
  • fresh, finely chopped carrots, corn, and cucumbers
  • all kinds of fish feed, such as flakes, wafers, and pellets

Crayfish are one of the most accessible pets to feed because they will eat anything offered to them. On the downside, they will also munch on decorative aquarium plants to their hearts’ content.

Although crayfish eat fish, this is not an issue if you do not have bottom-dwellers. Crayfish are incapable of catching fast top and middle swimmers. However, injured, sick, and recently deceased fish is a treat!

Crayfish Tank Mates

Yes, but not all. Smaller species, such as the Cambarellus shufeldti (Shufeld’s Dwarf Crayfish) and Cambarellus patzcuarensis (Orange Dwarf Crayfish), are too small to threaten their tank mates. Their minimal aggression allows them to live harmoniously with others.

Livebearers, mollies, neon tetras, platies, swordtails, and small catfish are ideal community fish to keep with this species.

On the other hand, large crayfish species are notably aggressive and opportunistic eaters to boot. On the bright side, you can keep small fish and big fish, as long as they are not bottom-dwellers.

Excellent options include Malawi cichlids, Ancistrus catfish, Gibbiceps catfish, and goldfish.

Besides, the fish will avoid the crayfish once they get used to the fact that there is an angry, slow-moving predator below. Not to mention, the crayfish’s claws are too slow and heavy to allow them to catch fish.

Keeping Two or More in One Tank

If you plan to keep two or more crayfish in one tank, we suggest you get the Procambarus milleri. Also known as the Miami Cave Crayfish, this crayfish type is on the tolerant side.

Other types, like the Marron Crayfish, are challenging to keep together. These solitary decapods display aggression towards their species and observe social hierarchy during feeding times. Another example is the larger, more dominant Cherax. It will eat first and may sometimes eat the smaller live crayfish.

How to Make a Crayfish Habitat: Peaceful, Diverse Aquarium

You need to mimic a crayfish’s natural environment if you want to create the best crayfish habitat at home. However, if there is one thing you should not replicate, it is the murkiness.

– Tank Size

If you plan on keeping a single crayfish, you might be successful with a 10-gallon tank for the Dwarf species and 30-gallons or more for the larger species.

If you want your crawdad to be the centerpiece of a community aquarium, opt for the biggest tank possible. This holds true, especially if you plan on adding small schools of medium to large freshwater fish. More volume means there is plenty of swimming room; thus, there is little chance that your crawdaddy will have fish for dinner.

Another important consideration is the footprint of the tank. A crayfish needs adequate space to roam around.

– Water Parameters

The Procambarus clarkii (Louisiana Crayfish) is adaptable to different captive setups, and it can even survive in poor water conditions. However, not all crayfish are as hardy as this species. As with most invertebrates, elevated nitrate levels are bad news for this decapod.

So aside from keeping the water well-oxygenated, make sure to bring the nitrate levels down. Aim for 0 ppm. But how do you lower nitrates in a freshwater aquarium?

  • Avoid overstocking and overfeeding
  • Get rid of detritus and decaying matter
  • Clean filters regularly

The pH should also be neutral to slightly alkaline. Otherwise, it will be difficult for your crayfish to maintain the integrity of its shell.

– Temperature

For some species, a slight change in the temperature can trigger aggression. The temperature also affects the growth and breeding capabilities of some crayfish.

That said, here are the recommended temperatures for the following species:

  • Procamarus alleni (Florida Lobster): The optimal temperature range for the electric blue crayfish is between 68° to 80° F. Depending on the temperature, juveniles can shed every couple of days.
  • Cherax Destructor (Australian Crayfish): Commonly known as Yabbies, these crayfish have a wide temperature tolerance. Regardless, you don’t want to exceed between the 68° to 82° F range. A lower temperature prevents young crayfish from growing. Anything higher than the recommended temperature may cause them to die, as well. The temperature should sit anywhere between 73° or 75° F during egg incubation to speed up development.
  • Cherax quadricarinatus (Red Claw): Adults can survive well-oxygenated water up to 95° F, but they stop breeding beyond 90° F.
  • Cherax tenuimanus (Marron): With this species, you are looking somewhere between 60° to 72° F. Marrons are sensitive to high temperatures. They could die when temperatures rise above 80° F.
  • Procambarus milleri (Miami Cave Crayfish): The optimal temperature range for this species is 68° and 86° F.

– Plants

Crayfish are ravaging omnivores, making themselves difficult to keep in a planted aquarium. So, exercise caution when adding live plants to your aquarium.

Instead of rooted plants, opt for free-floating ones or those that attach directly to rocks and driftwood, such as:

  • Anubias
  • Java Fern
  • Java Moss
  • Bolbitus Heudelotii (African Water Fern)
  • Hemianthus (Dwarf Baby Tears)

A determined crayfish may still snack on them, but they can’t uproot these plants by digging. Providing your crayfish with blanched vegetables is also an excellent strategy to keep their attention away from the plants.

– Substrate and Decorations

When in the wild, crayfish reside in crevices or dens, which they defend against other meddling critters. Offer many hiding places in the aquarium. Females, in particular, need to hide for days in caves while carrying their young.

Make sure the decor won’t pile up and help your crayfish crawl up to the waterline. To be safe, consider using a top for your aquarium.

You can use sand, pebbles, crushed shells, or anything compatible with the other residing fish for the substrate. Crayfish are not picky when it comes to the substrate, but they like to create burrows.

– Equipment

Make sure you have an efficient filtration system, as crayfish produce a ton of waste. Unless you live in a tropical area, you should consider using a heater to stabilize water temperature during the colder months.


Louisiana crayfish or procambraus clarkiiFish are not the only fascinating creatures that will give life to your tank. Besides, keeping crayfish also has its advantages. For one, they will happily nosh on the things you want to get rid of your aquarium, including leftover fish feed, algae, and bacteria-rich detritus.

But before you get one for your tank, don’t forget that:

  • Aggressive species are best kept alone
  • Crayfish may peacefully coexist with mid- and top-dwelling fish, but bottom feeders are at risk of getting eaten
  • Each species have different temperature requirements
  • Crayfish need caves where they can hide during molting
  • It would be best if you covered your tank to prevent any crayfish from escaping

As you can see, taking care of crayfish is not that tedious. Hopefully, you find this freshwater crayfish care guide helpful.

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