We often talk about invasive species in our posts, most often plants. However, a new invader crustacean is threatening North Carolina and Virginia waters. The Rusty Crayfish, an invasive crayfish, has invaded the Catawba and Broad Rivers and associated water bodies in western North Carolina. Although only a few hundred miles from it’s native range in the Ohio river, the rusty crayfish can have detrimental impacts to North Carolina and Virginia waters, including Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston. The “Rusty” displaces native crayfish and feeds voraciously on fish eggs, making it a major threat to both gamefish and non-gamefish species. Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston support a number of sought after gamefish, including the largemouth bass and bluegill which can be impacted by the crayfishes enormous appetite. The crayfish can also reduce vegetation, posing a threat to native revegetation in the lakes. They have also been known to attack the feet of swimmers and waders!

The crayfish has made its way into waters previously uninhabited by the species through accidental introductions as bait. Non-resident anglers likely brought the species into the state as bait bought from their homes within it’s native range. Once introduced, the crayfish reproduces much longer than native species and can spread rapidly wreaking havoc on our local aquatic ecosystems and species. The species is impossible to remove once introduced, so preventing the spread is paramount according to state wildlife resources officials. It is currently illegal to transport rusty crayfish as bait In North Carolina.

Anglers can easily identify the rusty crayfish by a rusty-red colored spot on its sides, just in front of its tail. They also have black bands on the tips of their claws. Adults rarely reach more than 4 inches in length but have much larger claws than our native crayfish species. Although the crayfish have only been found thus far in the western portion of North Carolina, sightings elsewhere need be reported to biologist Thomas Russ at Thomas.russ@ncwildlife.org

For more information, visit the “web links for additional information”.

Photo Credit and information – NCWRC

Web Links For Additional Information:
Rusty Crayfish Information – ANS
Rusty Crayfish Information – NCWRC