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Rusty crayfish fact sheet
Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) are native to streams in the Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee region.There are more than 350 species of crayfish in North America.Sixty-five percent of crayfish belong to the genus, Orconectes.They have an average length of 2 1/2 inches.
The physical characteristics of the crayfish
are dark, rusty spots on each side of their carapace.
They have grayish-green to reddish-brown smooth claws.
One limiting factor of rusty crayfish is that they need permanent lakes or streams that provide tolerable water quality year round.
Their higher metabolic rate causes them to devour more aquatic plants than most organisms.
Spread by anglers who use them as bait, rusty crayfish are prolific and can severely reduce lake and stream vegetation, depriving native fish and their prey of cover and food.They also reduce native crayfish with native crayfish
Rusty Crayfish is an aggressive invader.Most everywhere it is released it becomes established.It prefers nutrient rich streams and lakes, so the modern world is perfect for Rusty Crayfish.Once established it quickly out competes native crayfish and frequently eliminates aquatic vegetation.
Many species of fish in N.America have consequently disappeared from lakes invaded by Rusty Crayfish after the aquatic plant communities have been destroyed.It is native to southwestern Ohio, eastern Indiana and adjacent areas of Kentucky.
It has invaded Lake Erie and taken over the shallow shoreline areas and moved up many of the nutrient polluted tributaries, eliminating native populations of Orconectes propinquus and Orconectes sanbornii as it advanced.It is a popular bait species owing to the ease with which it can be caught.
Competition & Impact on ecosystem
Rusty Crayfish can displace native crayfish species by one of two ways.They can either be aggressive through competition with other crayfish or they can increase the fish predation on the other species of crayfish because of their size and ability to withstand the threats of fish.
These crayfish impact the aquatic system by destroying the aquatic plant beds and reducing biological diversity.Rusty Crayfish can harm unproductive lakes where aquatic plants aren't abundant, as well.
Rusty Crayfish may cause a variety of negative environmental and economic impacts when introduced to new waters.Rusty crayfish displace other crayfish species through a combination of crayfish-to-crayfish competition and increased fish predation (DiDonato and Lodge 1994; Garvey et al.1994; Hill and Lodge 1993,
Reference).The reason for increased fish predation on native crayfish is two-fold.First, rusty crayfish force the native species from the best daytime hiding places and second, native crayfish try to swim away from a fish attack, which makes them more vulnerable
Rusty crayfish, on the other hand, assume a claws-up defensive posture which reduces susceptibility to fish predation.
Perhaps the most serious impact is the destruction of aquatic plant beds.Rusty crayfish have been shown to reduce aquatic plant abundance and species diversity (Lodge and Lorman 1987; Olsen et al.1991,
Reference).This can be especially damaging in relatively unproductive northern lakes, where beds of aquatic plants are not abundant.
Submerged aquatic plants are important in these systems for:
habitat for invertebrates (which provide food for fish and ducks), shelter for young gamefish, panfish, or forage species of fish, nesting substrate for fish, and erosion control (by minimizing waves).
Although other crayfish eat aquatic plants, rusty crayfish eat even more because they have a higher metabolic rate and appetite (Jones and Momot 1983,
They also grow larger, hide less from predators -- and therefore feed longer (Stein 1977,
Reference) -- and attain high population densities.
Rusty Crayfish, especially juveniles, feed heavily on benthic invertebrates like mayflies, stoneflies, midges, and side-swimmers.It has been estimated that Rusty Crayfish might consume twice as much food as similar-sized O.virilis because of a higher metabolic rate (Momot 1992,
So, rusty crayfish are more likely to compete with juvenile game fish and forage species for benthic invertebrates than are native crayfish species.Displacement of native crayfish by rusty crayfish, therefore, could result in less food for fish.
Crayfish are eaten by fish, but because of their thick exoskeleton (shell) relative to soft tissue, their food quality is not as high as many of the invertebrates that they replace.Less food or lower food quality means slower growth, which can reduce fish survival.
Harm fish populations by eating fish eggs
It has been suggested that Rusty Crayfish harm fish populations by eating fish eggs.
While Rusty Crayfish have been observed to consume fish eggs under various circumstances (Horns and Magnuson 1981, Reference), there is no scientific study directly linking fishery declines with crayfish egg predation.
It's likely that those fish species that lay eggs in relatively warm water (greater than 50 F) are more susceptible to crayfish predation than fish that spawn during colder water periods (Momot 1992,
Reference).For instance, warm-water spawners like smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and sunfish are more likely to be affected than cool-water spawners like lake trout, walleye or northern pike.
However, Wisconsin DNR Fisheries Manager, Harland Carlson, has observed actively feeding crayfish during lake trout spawning in November (water temperature 46 to 50 F).
Reduced reproductive success of walleye in Lake Metonga, Wisconsin was reported following the Rusty Crayfish invasion (Lodge et al.1985,
Reference); however, walleye reproduction
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