The Murray River crayfish (Eustacus armatus) is the second largest freshwater crayfish in the world (1), and the largest in the genus Eustacus (3). Large white claws and a particularly spiny abdomen distinguish the Murray River crayfish from other crayfish species. The hard plate, or carapace, just behind the head of the Murray River crayfish is dark to medium green or brown and can occasionally have a slight blue tinge. The segments of the abdomen also have a blue to green tinge and the abdominal spines are pale orange, cream or white. Smaller individuals may have green and yellow mottling on their claws rather then the characteristic white colouration (3).
Like all crayfish, the Murray River crayfish has a tough exoskeleton for protection, as well as four pairs of walking legs and four pairs of small swimming legs called swimmerets. The tail of the Murray River crayfish acts as a directional aid and is also used for propulsion, enabling the Murray River crayfish to quickly propel itself backwards to evade predators (4).
The Murray River crayfish has eyes on the ends of stalks that project away from its head. In addition, the Murray River crayfish also has a pair of antennae, one of which is long and whip-like (4).
There is little obvious difference between male and female Murray River crayfish, but when directly compared, the female has a wider abdomen (4).
- Also known as
- Murray spiny crayfish.
- Adult length: 20 - 30 cm (2)
- Adult weight: 3 kg (2)
Murray River crayfish biology
The diet of the Murray River crayfish is typical of many crayfish eating small aquatic species including insect larvae, water snails and tadpoles, as well as plant material including roots (4). The Murray River crayfish typically waits in the opening of its burrow in the river bank with antennae protruding to detect passing prey. Prey is grasped using its long, thick pincers and is dragged back into the burrow to be eaten (2).
The Murray River crayfish reaches sexual maturity between five and nine years old (2). In late May (2), the female Murray River crayfish lays between 200 and 1,200 eggs which attach to the fine hairs on the swimmerets (4). The eggs hatch in October (2), and the first few days of the juveniles life are spent under the protection of the females body. The young crayfish are then left to fend for themselves, remaining hidden in the riverbed until November or December (2). The Murray River crayfish will moult ten times in its first year (2).
Like other crustaceans, the Murray River crayfish can detect chemical cues released from injured crayfish or other species, or from predators (5), alerting them to potential danger.
Murray River crayfish range
The Murray River crayfish is endemic to Australia. It is the most widespread of its genus, being found in river catchments in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory (1).
Murray River crayfish habitat
The Murray River crayfish occurs in a range of habitats, from small upland streams to large lowland rivers, although it prefers fast-flowing, well-oxygenated waters at low altitudes (6).
During the day the Murray River crayfish can be found in burrows along the river bank and also underneath boulders and logs (2). Clay banks, woody debris and deep holes are important features of the Murray River crayfish’s habitats (1).
Murray River crayfish status
The Murray River crayfish is classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Murray River crayfish threats
The Murray River crayfish is threatened by changes to its habitat, pollution, overfishing and some introduced species (1).
River constructions that regulate the flow of water, such as dams and weirs, affect the behaviour of the Murray River crayfish, disrupting the breeding cycle. Agrochemicals and other agricultural run-off can affect the health of prey species upon which the Murray River crayfish depends (1). Invasive species such as foxes, goats, cats, pigs and fish have been shown to adversely affect other species of crayfish and are present in the Murray River crayfish’s range (1).
Recreational hunting of the Murray River crayfish may be leading to population declines. Preferential selection of larger individuals has the potential to damage reproductive success of females and stunt the size of the whole population (1).
Murray River crayfish conservation
Local protections of the Murray River crayfish are in place and hunting is banned or limited in parts of its range. However each state has different regulations and classifications of the Murray River crayfish conservation status so conservation efforts are likely to be disjointed and complicated. More research is recommended to investigate the known and potential threats to the Murray River crayfish (1).
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- In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustacea (such as crabs), some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen.
- A pair of sensory structures on the head of invertebrates.
- The top shell of a turtle or tortoise. In arthropods (insects, crabs etc), the fused head and thorax (the part of the body located near the head), also known as the ‘cephalothorax’.
- Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- An external skeleton that supports and protects an animal’s body
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Invasive alien
- Species introduced deliberately or unintentionally outside their natural habitats where they have the ability to establish themselves, invade, outcompete natives and take over the new environments.
- In insects, a stage of growth whereby the hard outer layer of the body (the exoskeleton) is shed and the body becomes larger.
IUCN (February 2011)
Jones, H.A. (2011) Crustaceans and molluscs. In: Rogers, K. and Ralph, T.J. (Eds.) Floodplain and Wetland Biota in the Murray-Darling Basin: Water and Habitat Requirements. CSIRO Publishing, Australia.
AustraliaCapital TerritoryGovernment: Territory and Municipal Services (February, 2011)
Huxley, T.H. (1884) The Crayfish: An Introduction to the Study of Zoology. C. Negan Paul and Co., London.
Hazlett, A. (2011) Chemical cues and reducing the risk of predation.In: Breithaupt, T. and Thiel, M. (Eds.)Chemical Communication in Crustaceans. Springer, New York.
Coughran, J. (2008) Distinct Groups in the Genus Euastacus? Freshwater Crayfish, 16: 123-130.