Invasive crayfish found in Texas pond

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Researchers have collected invasive crayfish from the pond of an apartment complex in Texas, marking the first time the large crustaceans have been collected in the state and only the second time they’ve been detected in the wild nationwide, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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Cherax quadricarinatus, also known as Australian redclaw crayfish, freshwater blueclaw crayfish and blue lobster, “can reproduce prolifically,” officials said. Females of the species brood up to five times a year, with 1,000 eggs in each clutch.

Researchers from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley collected crayfish from an apartment complex pond in the Brownsville area in January and February. Last month, Archis Grubh, an aquatic biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, found three more of the crayfish between the apartment pond and a resaca two miles away, officials said.

“We don’t know when these invasive crayfish were first introduced or how far they have spread, but we do know they can have a negative effect on local species and biodiversity,” Grubh said Thursday in a news release.

Officials and researchers have collected both male and female crayfish, raising the possibility that they could reproduce. Authorities noted that an Austrian redclaw crayfish with several young was initially identified in the area on iNaturalist in 2013. One was also identified in the Los Angeles area in 2018, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

It was not immediately clear how the crayfish arrived in Texas, although officials speculated it may have been released into the wild by an aquarium owner. Austrian redclaw crayfish are among the exotic species prohibited in the state.

“Release of aquarium life is unfortunately a key means by which invasive species such as these crayfish are introduced,” Monica McGarrity, senior scientist for aquatic invasive species with Texas Parks and Wildlife, said in a news release. “Well-meaning, uninformed aquarium owners sometimes release their pets thinking they’re doing the best thing for them, but if they do survive, they can become invasive and harm the native aquatic species and ecosystem.”

Officials said that Australian redclaw crayfish can grow to a maximum size of 2 pounds within one year. They “significantly alter habitat and vegetation” while posing a threat to native crayfish by providing more competition, according to authorities.

The crayfish are characterized by their large size, including large left claws that have red patches on their outer edges, and four distinct ridges seen on the tops of their heads.

Anyone who spots the invasive critters is asked to contact wildlife officials.