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Al Agnew

Big River crawdads

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I mentioned in the post I just finished about looking for crayfish with the Nature Conservancy lady, and not finding any.  But a couple weeks ago, Mitch Fields and I were on a float trip on the upper river, and we stopped and spent a bit of time in one little spot hunting crawdads, and found four different species in an area the size of the average living room.  Which was pretty cool.  And also brings up a bit of a mystery.

The most common crayfish species in the Missouri Ozarks is probably the golden crayfish.  This is the one you usually see with the light olive to yellowish body with very dark brown bands across it.  Goldens have big, powerful pincers and a very hard shell.  Bass eat them like candy, but in reality they don't like them as well as another common species on Big River.  And that one is a mystery species.  It's olive gray to grayish brown in color, with indistinct darker bands running along the sides of the middle section of the body, and curving upwards at the rear of this middle section.  It has a relatively thin shell, and small (though fairly strong) pincers.  Bass REALLY like these.  So what species is it?  I don't know.  In body and pincer shape it looks like a papershell crayfish, though the photos of the papershell in the "Crayfish of Missouri" book don't have the slightly darker banding in the right place...but the papershell is not known to exist south of the Missouri River.  As close as I can come is the spothanded crayfish.  Though none of the photos of spothanded look a lot like it.  Some show a crayfish with pincers far too heavy and powerful looking.  But one photo shows one that has the right body shape and pincer size, though the markings aren't right.  And the book notes that spothanded crayfish have the widest variation in appearance of any Missouri species, and may in fact be several different species--the biologists don't have everything figured out yet, apparently.

So in that one spot on Big River, Mitch and I found that species, which I'll tentatively call the spothanded crayfish.  We caught the species that is native ONLY to Big River (in all the world, apparently), the belted crayfish.  They look like goldens with the dark bands across their bodies, though the background color is a darker, more brownish olive.  And the dark band that in goldens is only at the rear of the head portion, spans both the rear the head and the front of the middle in belteds.  We found what I thought were goldens, but in looking at the book again, I think they may have been the saddlebacked crayfish, which is native only to the Meramec river system.  And finally, the woodland crayfish, which in all the world is native only to the upper Black River, Courtois, Huzzah, and Big River and the tributaries running into them.

Now Mitch and company are going to have to figure out how to color their Hi Def Craws to match all these species!

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Crayfish do inter-breed, making some ID problematic, only way to know for sure is DNA profiling....unsure if that has ever been done for Missouri Crayfish...., usually Taxon methodology, I bet a PHD could be had with DNA studies with Ozark crayfishes, if you REALLY want to find them you'll have to go out at night, you'll find  1000 fold more that way.....in the upper center creek drainage there is a tiny 1" size very heavy shell with thick stubby claws not quite unlike the The Neosho midget crayfish....they are usually very darkly colored and worthless as bait, seems you only find them in very cold almost trout habitat,.......... I have caught stream bred trout in Jones and Jenkins creek rare but they are there perhaps one day the MDC will acquire this watershed before the land gets as developed...in my youth I mink trapped the area, never froze over much due to all the springs, a few smallies, but too cold for the most part...interesting stream very hard to get access these days all the new bridges are not fisherman friendly in my part especially for this old man

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I have never been pinched by crawdads.  Therefore, I have been hesitant to pick up the larger ones.   How bad is the pain when you do get pinched?  I am salute it is relative, just curious.  

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I had just watched a video on another site where a Box Crab cracked the shell of a mussel and then demolished the mussel. I will not be letting a crab get ahold of me.

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They usually don't break the skin.  Painful, but not so painful that I avoid being pinched at all costs.  More like...I rather not get pinched, but I'm not going to be too concerned if it happens.  Those long-pincered crayfish really look mean--those are big pincers.  I think I'd be a little more careful with them.

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