22 Nov 2004

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Dear Blue Lobster:

Our blue crayfish is about 4" long (from end of tail to tip of pinchers). She went through a molt about 4 weeks ago and was her normal self until last week. She seems to lay about for long periods of time and does not seem to be interested in eating. The water checks out as being healthy. There are quite a few water plants in this 10 gallon tank. Any guesses as to what the problem might be?

Thank you.

Dear Gentle Sir:

After eliminating water quality and environment, it sounds like your crayfish has the Winter Blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This ailment is brought about when certain chemicals in the brain, dependent upon exposure to natural sunlight, are secreted less frequently than needed. The result is depression that begins in the Autumn and intensifies throughout the Winter.

Crustaceans in temperate and arctic environs show increased depression during periods of the year with shorter days, and during these times crayfish suicide is not uncommon. Scandinavia and Alaska, where there may not be sun for weeks or months at a time, have the highest cray-suicide rates of anywhere in the world; however, any case of SAD, no matter its location, is a serious one. Thankfully, there are many treatments today that range from light therapy to counseling to medication.

One of the first things a cray-caretaker should do is make sure there are a variety of activities for the cray. Are there plenty of caves and tunnels for your chitonous friend to explore? Perhaps a hamster wheel or a pack of wily ghost shrimp might be in order to keep your cray's metabolism up. Exercise is usually a successful treatment for depression, with 67% of crayfish, and 58% of all decapods, reporting an increase in energy and mood after just one month of 30 minutes daily exercise.

The addition of special bulbs to your aquarium setup can help mimic the natural UV rays of the sun that a cray would enjoy in the summer months. Though more expensive, they not only energize the mood of your tank but also help clear up gill flukes, shell infections, and acne. Should the cost of such light prove prohibitive, however, a weekly trip to your local tanning salon will do. Simply set your cray in a tanning bed for the maximum time limit. Be sure to ask your tanning salon clerk about discounts for crustaceans!

Another folk remedy is to pour one cup of coffee into your cray's tank every morning. Used as a trick by trappers trying to capture sluggish crays, the caffeine stimulates the cray's heart rate and blood pressure. Include a teaspoon or more of sugar for an added kick, but be ready to clean the tank: As with humans, caffeine acts as a stimulant to the lower bowel system and your cray will expel an unbelievable amount of feces soon after he's had his morning cup. Keep that scrubber handy!

Should the above home remedies not produce improvements in your cray's health, seek professional help. Regular counseling with a psychologist might be necessary, and certain prescription drugs are available to your cray as well. Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil have all shown great promise in mood normalization for many crayfish mental health problems including bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, clinical depression, and seasonal affective disorder.

With time, patience, and perhaps medical care, your cray should his creepy-crawly self in no time at all.

8 Sept 2004

The Malaysian Prawn

Dear Blue Lobster:

Can anyone provide me some info about macrobrachium species (shrimps). I think i have Macrobrachium Lar.(according to a german site but they are not sure, but mine look the same as the pic there). I want to know everything about this species....

Dear Gentle Sir:

The macrobrachium genus, also known as the Malaysian Prawns, is a member of the shrimp family and consists of about 30 species. The macrobrachium, or large arm, genus lives throughout south-east Asia. Unfortunantly, due to its relative rarity in the aquarium world, some species of Malaysian Prawn are sold by some unscrupulous store owners as blue lobsters. Thanks to a growing popularity that began in the late Eighties, more and more people are being introduced to this wonderful animal under its proper name. Raising Malaysian Prawns makes an excellent sister hobby to raising crays, crabs, and shield shrimp.

Care and feeding are similar to those of crayfish, though water pH should be just slighty (7.2) alkaline. Water temperature should be from 20-22 degrees Celsius, slightly warmer than what most crays prefer. Be sure to include plenty of live food such as earthworms, leeches, and maggots. Plants are important too, as a diet poor in chlorophyll can cause loss of pigmentation and abnormal molts leading to death. A fluorescent light should illuminate the tank eight hours a day to simulate a normal day cycle. Do not leave pets or small children unattended with a Malaysian Prawn.

Scientists believe the Malaysian Prawn descended from marine species some 13,000 to 18,000 years ago, after the end of the last Ice Age. Its last common ancestor with crayfish, however, probably lived well over 500 million years ago. While it prefers fresh water during most of its life it must return to brackish water to mate. In Malaysia and surrounding regions it is not unusual to see parades of these gentle creatures frantically scurrying over dry land during mating season. Some countries have even instituted fines for harming the prawn during their migration.

The most pressing issue concerning the Malaysian Prawn currently is whether it would be victorious against a crayfish of similar size and aggression in a fight. Animal Planet recently aired a series that staged various species of animals in fantasy fights. Unfortunantly, only computer models were used, though there is a push for actual animal fights in the next season. Reportedly producers are looking at pitting a Giant Tasmanian Freshwater Lobster (astacopsis gouldi) against a Long-Armed Malaysian Prawn (macrobrachium rosenbergii) for the season pilot. Crustaceanists everywhere eagerly await the results.

23 Jul 2004

When Is a Decapod Not a Decapod?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I cant believe it Chomper ripped off bloodreds arm, I hope it grows back, bloodred is acting normal, I didnt even seem to scare her when it came off any thoughts?

Dear Gentle Sir:

Crayfish, like most other aquatic crustaceans, have the ability to lose a limb without suffering dire consequences. In times of danger, stress, or anxiety crays can drop limbs off at will and so what happened to your cray's arm was actually a defensive move on her part. Long periods of depression in decapods like shrimp, crabs, and crays can also result in a seemingly random loss of limbs. Scientists have studied this ability for decades.

With the advent of DNA research, the ability to drop limbs at will has been isolated to the brachioperditis gene in the decopod family. Experiments in turning the brachioperditis gene off have resulted in crays who can no longer drop limbs under duress; likewise, other tests where the effect of the brachioperditis is intensified have resulted in crays that can remove their heads for short periods of time. Scientists desire to eventually splice the brachioperditis gene into humans.

After your cray's next molt a smaller version of her old arm should return that will grow with subsequent molts. In the meantime, she may experience what's known as phantom pain, a condition where an acute ache in the missing limb can be felt. Use an eye dropper to deliver painkillers, such as morphine, in liquid form to the cray until her next molt and all should be well.

21 Jul 2004

Caring for Adolescent Crays

Dear Blue Lobster:

i just got 3 baby lobsters they are family will they stil fight i was just asking i have them in a 15 gallon.

Dear Gentle Sir:

Just like any other family, your crays are dependent upon a stable home. Without their mother or father to care for them, you must provide the guidance and discretion required to raise a healthy family. Fighting is only one small facet of these young crays' behavior that will need touched upon in the years ahead as they mature and hopefully become self-sufficient, productive members of society. The dangers of letting these orphans grow up without a loving environment make it clear that you must provide a loving home.

Crayfish juvenile delinquency is a widespread problem in aquariums today, and one that does not garner the attention it deserves. One out of every five crayfish tanks is home to young crayfish with a history of illegal activity; it is estimated that 22% of all crays under the age of three will commit a violent act before their first thirty molts. Criminal tendencies especially present themselves in mixed environs where crays of different species grow up together. Such problems increase when other crustacean families, like prawn, crabs, and water fleas, cohabit. Animals of other phyla are also at risk for a clawing by unorderly cray youth.

To prevent unruliness and ensure a stable home, make sure your crays have plenty of hiding places, at least five gallons of water each to themselves, plenty of live plants in the tank to munch on, and healthy interaction with you, their new foster parent. Nothing is more important to a young cray than to know that they have a strong base where they can feel comfortable and unthreatened.

Open dialog helps maintain such an environment, so make sure to play with the crays early on, letting them become acclimated to physical activity with you. Touch is important at such a young age. As they mature, be sure to listen to their questions and comments regarding the tank and their food. It's hard to make a healthy home in a poorly-built house. When puberty hits and the crays start becoming territorial, increase the size of the tank and perhaps introduce more physical activity to help them burn off their frustrations. That algae brush is good for more than cleaning the sides of the tank!

Checking the childcare section at your local bookseller might aid in raising the crays as the years go by as undoubtedly unexpected problems crop up. With plenty of interaction and an attentive eye, you should be able to not only keep your crays from fighting but also nurture them into robust adults that can one day birth their own little cray-families.

Just think: One day you'll have grand-children to spoil!

11 Jul 2004

Postpartum Depression in Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

We have a lone blue lobster in a tank with a pair of young Oscars. She has her cave and has dug it out (barricading the front) and retreated there for the last few weeks. She used to come out often to terrorize the fish and explore the tank. Now she only comes out to collect an algae wafer and only if it is right in front of her cave. Tonight we prepared to move the tank from one house to another, and in moving her we noticed she had about 25 small black eggs attached to her tail. She has been the only crustacean in the tank since we got her about 8 months ago. Immaculate conception or can they store the sperm for a REALLY long time after mating? :-) How long does it take the eggs to hatch and once they hatch, how long is it safe to leave her with then before she will start snacking on them? Thanks!!

K Sutter

Dear Gentle Sir:

Indeed, female crays can store sperm for years, silently producing broods based on one male's donation for several seasons. Female crays do this by use of a special compartment in their exoskeletons called the cambarum, where sperm is kept sealed off from the outside world. During mating season the female's mating instinct guides her to open the cambarum and smear the sperm across her face and vagina several times a day.

After fertilization, female crayfish will produce hundreds of eggs and carry them under her tail, at which point she is referred to as in berry. Sadly, if your female is carrying only twenty-five, the eggs were likely infertile or water conditions killed the eggs off before they could mature. In humans, this would be akin to carrying a still-born baby, giving birth to it, and dressing the tiny corpse in infant clothes and attempting to breast-feed it.

You may want to seek therapy for your female cray. Postpartum depression is a very real and very acute condition in crayfish just as it is in humans. You can take actions in your own home alongside the therapy, such as using live foods like earthworms, maggots, and dragonfly larva, exposing the cray to sunlight, and playing loud, cheerful music at all hours of the night. Your doctor may recommend psychoactive drugs for your cray, usually administered by eyedropper into the tank water.

With consistent treatment, your cray should recover from her depression and lead a long, healthy life. Good luck to you and your lady cray.

10 May 2004

The Case of the Alaskan Crawdad

Dear Blue Lobster:

I just read this this article about a crayfish being discovered in Alaska. According to the story, no crays are native to Alaska and they actually present a threat to native wildlife. How did the crayfish get all the way to Alaska?

Dear Gentle Sir:

The response to discovery of a live crayfish in the wilds of Alaska has caused quite a stir in the crustacean community. The primary concern is to stop the spread of this non-native species. As the story notes, foreign crayfish can become 90% of the biomass in a susceptible ecosystem if left unchecked. Though physically tiny, the crayfish found in the Kenai Peninsula could mean a breakdown of the foodchain, decimation of the fishing industry, and a cooling of regional temperatures as trees and other plant life dies off. Some scientists fear pestilence and famine further down the line if the crays are not stopped.

The question of how the cray arrived in Alaska has been pushed to the back-burner, but let's examine it here for a second. In any introduction of a foreign species to an ecosystem there are three primary methods of transmission. Manual transmission implies some person or persons acted to release the organism into the wild. This can mean a deliberate attempt to establish a species or simply an unscrupulous pet owner loosing their animal to be rid of its burden.

Neoautoestablishmentism describes a situation where an individual or species will migrate to a foreign area. Some new factor in their own ecosystem forces them to seek out new regions to live in, and can include pollution, disease, change in climate, and depression. In this case there is no human intervention behind the migration, but this can be even more deadly for a habitat: By the time authorities notice changes in the ecology, damage may be too extensive to repair or halt.

The third way new species enter into new territories is, simply put, aliens. For centuries mankind has reported abductions and experimentation by people from the sky. In recent history we note saucer-like objects filled with grey, large-headed humanoids. Scientists theorize that these eery beings are cataloging species and studying how the ecology of our planet works and that the introduction of organisms into foreign systems are actually performed by aliens themselves.

In the case of this cray being found thousands of miles away from its natural clime in chilly Alaska, it's a safe bet to blame aliens. Clearly the crayfish is incapable of flight, and the land mass is far too large to cover for such a small, water-dependent creature. Only a glowing orb piloted by bug-eyed extraterrestrials can adequately explain the crawdad's presence in the swamps of Kenai. And sadly for Kenai, these aliens spell ecological trouble.

14 Jan 2004

The Case of the Burrowing Hermit

Dear Blue Lobster:

Is molting-time the only time hermit crabs burrow down into the substrate? My small hermie has completely buried herself down under the moss that is in one corner of her habitat. The habitat is a 20-gallon aquarium with about 3 inches of sand over 80% of it. For variety, I put a gravel area in one corner and a moss area in another. Maybe she just likes the moss, but I am concerned that she might be starting to molt. There are 3 other crabs in the tank, one a little bit larger than her, and 2 that are quite a bit larger.

... I know you aren't supposed to move a molting crab, but considering that she's buried herself in moss rather than sand (and the moss isn't even very moist), and she is not isolated from these larger hermies.... Should I just leave her be??

Dear Gentle Sir:

It sounds to me like your hermit crab is depressed. Like people, hermit crabs often seek dark places when experiencing emotional lows. Since your crab is not fully-grown, this could be a case of adolescent depression as your hermit tries to find its place in the world and establish a unique personal identity for itself; however, it's also possible that this is a chronic hormonal imbalance that will require medication and therapy. Hurry your hermit crab to the vet to get a full diagnosis.

In the meantime, you can try to brighten your hermit crab's life up a little with some music. As your hermit crab lives in the sand, under bright lights, something upbeat like the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean are good choices. Place a little speaker next to or inside of the tank and play at a moderate volume. Your hermit and his tank mates can have little beach parties which will also induce exercise and a friendly environment, two things great for beating depression. Avoid music like Depeche Mode or Nine Inch Nails which will only serve to further sink your crab into melancholy.

Another idea to bring joy into your hermit crab's life is to introduce decorations to the tank. You can find a variety of miniature castles at your local pet supply store, as well as fake divers, treasure chests, and palm trees. Action figures could add a new dimension of life to the tank too. Fellow crustaceans will make your hermit crab feel more at ease with his new plastic neighbors and engender a sense of crustacean fraternization that will boost his confidence, making him feel part of the in crowd.

12 Jan 2004

Largest Cray Ever Found?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I read that one of the largest crayfish ever found was 90lbs and 6 feet long. They found it in Louisiana in 1934 and named it Old Papa Spice. They did not say, but I assume it would be a Red Swamp cray since they are native to that area. Does anyone know if this is true? If anyone has any info on this please email me. It sounds crazy, but I dont know why it would be made up.

Thanks, Daniel

Dear Gentle Sir:

Crayfish come in all sizes, some no larger than the top knuckle of your pinky and some larger than your average lapdog. Of course no one cares about the smallest ones when there are real monsters creeping around the dark corners of the world. Through time there have been some very large crayfish indeed, so let's look at a few examples of record-breaking crays.

Ol' Papa Épicé astounded Louisiana in 1934, but let's not forget that for publicity's sake the accepted measurement of 6 feet included his antennae. More accurate reports claim that the actual length from head to tail was 3 feet, 4 inches and weight was somewhere around 30lbs. Nonetheless these numbers are impressive since no other American cray reaches anywhere near these proportions. Since the species was never recorded doubts of authenticity suggest that the cray may have been a marine lobster introduced into a brackish swamp pool. DNA testing of the carapace has been inconclusive thus far.

In Borneo during World War II another creature waved its gargantuan claws into history. Bagaton (Kadazan-Dusun for big jar) was found by Australian marines patrolling swamps. Measuring an amazing 4 feet, 2 inches and weighing 49lbs, Bagaton resembled marine lobsters from that region of the world but was caught in a freshwater pool. Taxonomists theorize that Bagaton is a marine species that had re-adapted to fresh water within the last several millennia. Again, lack of further scientific testing leaves us with more questions than answers, though the Bagaton corpse is still in relatively good condition for future research.

Prehistoric crayfish and lobsters handily beat today's record-holders for size and weight. Cruising the warm, shallow seas millions of years ago we find several bizarre specimens. The Anomalocarids, ancient crustaceans with pincer-like appendages and flexible body armor, actively swam and hunted food. Some species grew to lengths of five feet. Meganychus grew to lengths of eight feet and featured a set of claws that spanned four feet when fully splayed! Another genus, Gigaeurys, was almost as long as it was wide (six feet) and is thought to have been an evolutionary dead end that was as closely related to crabs as it was to true lobsters and crays.

Other, even larger, prehistoric fossils found off the coast of Japan inspired myths of the Ebirah, a giant sea monster that guarded an island of treasure from the outside world. Thanks to the myths and the fossil species, this 20 foot long primitive lobster relative, thought to be capable of vocalizations meant to stun prey, eventually found its way into cinema in the 1966 Toho masterpiece Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. Sadly for crustaceanists everywhere Godzilla made short work of the giant lobster champion with his atomic breath.

11 Jan 2004

The Case of the Disappearing Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have one female blue crayfish living in a 15 gallon tank with a filter. Lately, the tank has been getting green on the inside walls and you cannot see the crayfish! I have to clean the tank out regularly, and every time it comes back. Am I doing something wrong? I at first thought I was overfeeding her, but I didn't feed her as often and it came back. If anybody can help, it would be appreciated.

Dear Gentle Sir:

It sounds to me like you have an algae problem! Though usually not serious, algae can effect water pH and oxygen levels. In the very least it's unsightly, like streaks in your toilet bowl during a family gathering. There are a few simple steps you can take to prevent this algae, none of which are very expensive.

  • Run your lights no more than eight hours a day. Any more than this and the algae will experience abnormal growth. Most crayfish habitat doesn't experience any more than eight hours of sun a day, so the cray won't be phased at all. Remember, like vampires, crayfish stalk for food at night under the cover of darkness and so prefer the dim shade that an unlit tank affords.

  • Get a scrubber. These simple tools are have a foam pad on the end, one side of which has a mildly abrasive surface. Going over the tank walls with a scrubber once a week is usually enough to maintain visibility and there's little to no disruption to the tank itself, especially when compared with introducing other animals into the aquarium. They usually sell for around a dollar.

  • Ghost Shrimp! These magical creatures, transparent save for their internal organs, sift through detritus and debris. Algae growth can be spurred by decaying foodstuffs so a fleet of Ghost Shrimp scanning the tank floor can prevent the cloudiness an algal bloom brings to the environment. At just 33¢ a piece you can not only clean up the tank for very cheap but also add some excitement with their gentle antics.

Good luck with your algal problems and just remember: Several cultures harvest kelp and algae to make flour and baked goods. Perhaps if you find it impossible to control the algal bloom you can do reap the benefits of a free food source! Your crayfish will not mind the intrusion, thinking it playtime with some five-legged water creature. Remember to tickle his or her belly; they love it and wriggle wildy in carefree abandon! Bon appétit and happy scrubbing!

7 Jan 2004

The Case of the Upside-Down Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have had my crayfish for just about two years. Today we found him laying upside down in the tank. When we went to get him thinking he was dead he started walking around. Then a few momoents later he was on his side again. I am guessing he is coming to an end? Anyone ever had this happen.


Dear Gentle Sir:

Remember dear old Dad, reclining in his hammock, content and at peace with the world after a hard day's work? He wanted nothing more than to just sit back and relax with a nice iced tea and the breeze to keep him company, cooling him in the dying glow of the summer sun. In many ways, your crayfish is behaving a lot like dear old Dad, reclining nude on its back, waving its legs gently. There is one thing, however, that differs sharply.

Your crayfish is about to die very, very soon.

How would you treat your dying father? Make your cray as comfortable as possible: monitor the water temperature and test the pH and water chemistry. Throw a live maggot or worm to him occasionally, even holding it with some sort of instrument up to its mouth-parts. Perhaps moving the cray to a softer spot might help, and covering him in water vegetation before you go to bed for the night would be appropriate too. Fortunately your crayfish needs no bed-pan, but be sure to knock loose any feces that may be trailing from its anus.

Concerns after your crayfish die are much different. You will have to decide on disposal. Some choose a simple flush down a toilet, while others opt to stuff and mount the cray for continued enjoyment throughout the years. One little girl who wrote in claimed that she buried her crayfish under her back yard in a shoe box, complete with eulogy! Though frowned upon my most serious crustaceanists, cooking and eating the dead crayfish is an option too, but be sure that the cray is either still alive or freshly dead as dead crayfish harbor many disgusting bacteria that don't belong in the human gut!

As for your own grieving, I suggest getting a new crayfish as soon as possible. Perhaps it would feel good to start with a crayby or maybe to go out and buy that exotic that yabby you've always fantasized about. Whatever the case, grief is often overcome while keeping busy and there's no better way to keep busy than with a new cray. Even a fiddler crab harem or some ghost shrimp might be a good way to get back on the crustacean horse after this crushing personal blow to you.

With much sympathy I wish you luck.