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Posts Tagged ‘crayfish’

Dead Blue Crayfish

One of the mysteries of the day is why there was a dead blue crayfish on top of my garbage bin this morning. I don’t know the species or how it got there.  Still vexed.

crayfish

crayfish 1

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A crayfish

This is something you don’t expect to find in a mud puddle, but it’s been raining so much that all sorts of creatures are on the move.

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From the Charleston Gazette:

A West Liberty University scientist has identified a new crayfish species that lives only in West Virginia.

Zac Loughman, an assistant professor of biology at the Wheeling-area school, discovered the creature in the upper Greenbrier River and several of its tributaries.

“Other biologists had found it; they just didn’t realize it was a unique species,” said Loughman. “It looks sort of like another species, Cambarus robustus, that’s also found in the Greenbrier watershed.

“In fact, the first guy to ever do work on crayfish in West Virginia, a Harvard scientist named Walter Faxon, talked very briefly about it in a paper published back around 1900. He said the Cambarus robustus specimens he collected in the area around Durbin were slightly different from other specimens he’d found.”

More than a century later, Loughman noticed the differences, too. When I grabbed one for the first time, I thought, ‘Wait a minute.’ I couldn’t tell exactly what was different about it, but I knew something was different,” he said.

Back at his lab, Loughman compared the specimen against a robustus specimen.

“The claw on the new crayfish was much more elongated than a robustus claw. The new animal was much more streamlined, skinnier at all stages of life than robustus. And there were all kind of differences with [the portion of the crayfish’s exoskeleton that extends between its eyestalks].”

After a thorough check of the scientific record, Loughman realized he’d identified a completely new species. He named it Cambarus smilax, the Greenbrier crayfish.

“The greenbrier plant is part of the genus Smilax,” Loughman explained. “I thought smilax would be appropriate for the species’ scientific name. Plus, it sounds kind of cool.”

Loughman documented the discovery in a scientific paper co-authored by West Virginia University biologist Stuart Welsh, Loughman’s collaborator in an ongoing Division of Natural Resources-sponsored assessment of the state’s crayfish; and Thomas Simon, a senior research scientist at Indiana State University.

After identifying the new species, Loughman and his West Liberty biology students set about determining the extent of its range. They combed the Greenbrier Valley and took samples.

“We found that you start seeing it around Anthony,” Loughman said. “It becomes more and more common as you head upriver.”

The new species is pretty good-sized. It averages 3 to 3 1/2 inches from the tip of its tail to the tip of its nose, and 5 to 6 inches from the tip of its tail to the tips of its claws.

Twenty-three crayfish species live within West Virginia’s borders. Only three are completely endemic — the Elk River crayfish, the Greenbrier Cave crayfish and now the Greenbrier crayfish. Loughman said the new species is abundant through its range, but added that the range isn’t very large.

“Because of the limited range, it was suggested that the species be considered ‘threatened’ within the state,” he said. “The DNR hasn’t yet decided whether to put it on the protected list. If [DNR officials] consider it worthy of federal protection, they’ll make that recommendation to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Loughman considers the new species’ population to be stable.

“If some sort of environmental problem arose in the headwaters of the Greenbrier, the Greenbrier crayfish would be in trouble,” he said. “Fortunately, most of the river’s upper headwaters lie within the Monongahela National Forest and are pretty well protected.”

The new crayfish’s natural predators include smallmouth bass, rock bass, raccoons and the giant salamanders known as “hellbenders.” Loughman and his associates also have discovered that it and other crayfish species play an important role in any river’s ecosystem.

“If anyone asks, ‘Why should I care about a crawdad?’ they should consider this,” Loughman said. “Crayfish are always digging. They stay in a burrow for two to three weeks, then leave. The holes they leave behind become hiding places for other critters, including fish. Young smallmouth bass and channel catfish are heavily dependent on crayfish holes.”

Loughman said his discovery of the new crayfish species is significant for two reasons.

“One, it’s a species found only in West Virginia,” he said, “and two, it increases the state’s biological diversity by one organism.”

Crawdad? In my part of the state, they are crawcrabs!

For those of you who don’t know what a greenbrier is, it is a plant that grows along the forest floor and produces long vines that rap up with adjacent plants of the sames species. It is quite thorny– almost like natural barbed wire. And it is very common in West Virginia.

The southeastern part of West Virginia drained by the Greenbrier River, and there is a Greenbrier County, which is also where Traveller, Robert E. Lee’s famous war horse was born. Lee purchased him while on assignment at the beginning of the war, which was to keep West Virginia from seceding from Virginia and joining the union. There is also the Greenbrier Resort, which is home to the old Congressional bunker.

Every child who has walked in the woods has encountered greenbrier thorns, it hurts.

When we were kids and were found crying, it would be said that we were “singing greenbrier.”

I remember spending a lot of time catching “crawcrabs” in the creeks. When my mother’s family would have a family reunion on Memorial Day weekend, most of the kids would just spend the whole time in the creek catching crayfish.

They weren’t of this unique species. In fact, we never stopped to think about what species they actually were. It was just a lot fun.

I was always a water rat. It was always hard to keep me out of the creeks and mud holes. Sometimes, I have to fight the temptation even now.

I’ve always been excited when I hear of new species being discovered. This one just happens to be closer to home.

 

 

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