31 Dec 2006

An American Crayfish in London

Dear Blue Lobster:

I'm an American student moving to England to finish my degree and I plan on taking my crayfish with me. What do I need to know about caring for my cray in the UK? Is there anything I should be aware of?


Dear Gentle Sir:

First of all, if you're moving to England you should get used to the British spelling of lobstour, which is used to refer what Americans call crayfish or crawdads and is analogous to American English lobster.

In England, a lobstour's pincer and crusher claws are on reverse sides compared to an American cray's, which are thought to have crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia some forty to fifty thousand years ago and are of different physical types than European crays. Today America and Europe are home to unique genera and species, though some American crays have made their way over the Atlantic to become pest species in the Old World.

Bringing your American cray to England can be quite a test. England only allows so many immigrant crays into the country, so a certain amount of smuggling may be involved. You should read up on how to properly ship a cray, and apply and international and local laws regarding your country of destination. Realize that the punishment for illegal immigration is usually detainment followed by deportation, for both the cray and its owner. Be careful!

When rearing a New World cray with aquarium hardware designed for Old World lobstours, one might want to take care to assure maximum comforts for the cray. You'll be using Celsius temperatures in England which are lethal to American crays. Be sure to bring an American heater that uses Farenheit units to warm the tank. Also beware of differences in units of measure, primarily between inches and centimeters. Tanks rated for centimeters might not take your cray, which grows in inches.

So what do you do if your cray has grown too large to house in cramped, claustrophobic Britain? The easiest answer is to release him in a local stream or pond, but pressure from animal rights extremists has made it illegal to release non-native species in British water tables. I would instead suggest placing the cray in a saltwater bath, allowing it to empty its bowels, and shipping it to a friend in a country that doesn't have prison time for returning a crayfish to nature.

Good luck, and I hope you and your cray avoid deportation!

27 Dec 2006

Fresh Crabs

Dear Blue Lobster:

As a kid, I always enjoyed hunting for crabs. It was just a lot of goddamned fun. Now, as a successful restauranteur, I don't have that kind of time. As I said, I'm very successful. I wonder, is there any way I could use an old water well behind my restaraunt to grow my own damn crabs?


Dear Gentle Sir:

As a restauranteur, you most likely serve marine species of crab, probably either the Blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) or the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister). Other species are fished and sold commercially in other parts of the world as well. But all of these species are salt-water, and well water is fresh water. Without the proper salinity, any marine species will perish in a matter of hours or days.

Having said that, there are ways to modify your well to accommodate such creatures.

First, your well should have a surface area of at least thirty square feet, which will ensure plenty of oxygen will be able to admix with the water. Without this admixture, your crabs will suffocate. Call a land contractor to redig and rebuild your well. This could run into several thousands of dollars, so when planning this with your contractor, be sure to make the well large enough so that you can later harvest profitably.

Secondly, get to know a local chemical supply company. You'll need unrefined sea salt (actually a medley of minerals harvested from sea water) to augment your fresh water. Optimally, you should buy from a supplier who harvests from the same waters as the crabs you wish to grow come from. In a pinch, however, pet store sea salt can be used.

After careful measurement of your well water, you will then formulate the proper dosage of sea minerals to mimic the crabs' natural habitat. You may have to call upon marine researchers from the area your crabs originate to ask about water conditions. A friendly professor at a local university might also be a good resource.

Once you have an appropriate well, you must buy live crab specimens and, once received, dump them into the well. You can do this by taking them out of their packaging, clipping the bands around their claws, and literally just tossing them down the well. After they have settled, which take anywhere from a couple of hours to a day, you can begin feeding them.

Proper feed for crabs is the same no matter the species. Earthworms, maggots, snails, and leftover shrimp and lobster scraps may be tossed into the well. Vegetables are also important, and you may feed them based on how you want to flavor them later. Onions, garlic, leeks, etc. all work well for Italian seafood tastes. Leafy greens can be thrown in as filler too.

If you live in a temperate clime, feed them daily during the summer and reduce this to once every two or three days during the winter. The reason for this is that crabs are exothermic (meaning their body temps are the same as their environment) and their metabolism slows or quickens depending on the weather and water temp.

With your new venture in place, your patrons should notice and appreciate the freshness of your well-bred crabs. Good luck with your business!

22 Dec 2006

The Glass Lobster

Dear Blue Lobster:

i heard someone is selling glass lobsters. can you help me before christmas please my wife will kill me and i think it would make a great tankmate for my cray


Dear Gentle Sir:

The Glass Lobster you refer to is one of the rarest invertebrates in the world with a population of under ten thousand living in the benthic depths of the Indian Ocean.

The first specimen was discovered in 1889 by German biologist Dr. Friederich Hummer on an expedition to survey prawn popluations near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Examining a catch on a local fishing vessel, he noticed what he first thought to be an oversized shrimp. He preserved the creature for study and later, after having collected several more specimens, submitted his research for the Homarus albus, or White Lobster.

Because specimens to this point had all been found dead, their flesh had turned white, obscuring their translucency. It was only decades later, with the advent of SCUBA, that a live specimen was photographed and found to be translucent. The name was subsequently changed to Homarus vitreus, Latin for "Glass Lobster."

Due to the Glass Lobster's deep-sea habitat, live specimens are difficult to keep in captivity for any length of time. It is also illegal to farm, poach, or otherwise collect Glass Lobsters for anything other than scientific study due to their suspected low population numbers. In other words, Glass Lobsters are not going to inhabit anyone's aquarium grottos any time soon.

To console you and your wife in this holiday season, I do suggest the next best thing: Taf Lebel Schaefer's Lobster, a beautiful piece done in glass and silver, that retails for a reasonable $3,700. It's sure to add class and sparkle to any crystal or glass collection or, if you can't resist, your aquarium.

Happy holidays!

18 Dec 2006

The Dragon Cray

Dear Blue Lobster:

Does Taiwan have crayfish, or Asia, for that matter? If so, what kind?

I'm planning a trip to Asia for a year, will be giving my crays to someone else but plan to carry on the hobby if they have crays there. I'd bring the crays along but of course that wouldn't be allowed.

I'd heard they have "the dragon cray", sixteen inches in length, three-clawed, spiked tail and firy red. But I'm not sure if this is just a myth.


Dear Gentle Sir:

Asia is home to a wide variety of cray species, most of which have yet to be scientifically described but are incredibly diverse and, in some cases, unlike any other species in the world.

Japan's national invertebrate is Cambaroides japonicus, the Japanese Crayfish. Usually an unassuming greenish-brown, it only reaches four centimeters in length and is one of the quicker crayfish in the world. It is closely related to Korea's own national invertebrate, Cambaroides similis, the Korean Crayfish.

Also in Japan was Ebirah, an ancient lobster relative that reached lengths of six meters and tooled around the shallows in search of beached marine life. It's theorized that it could use sound to stun prey underwater, but without a completely intact carapace this remains unknown. It also inspired Godzilla's foe in ゴジラ・エビラ・モスラ 南海の大決闘 (1966).

Taiwan, sadly, is without native cray species. The Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) and the Signal Cray (Pacifastacus leniusculus) have both infested Taiwanese waters in what is thought to be an attempt by the People's Republic of China to weaken the tiny island nation's ecology. One can find shops and cafes offering steamed, boiled, or fried 小龍蝦 (soei leng-hei, or "little lobsters") all over cosmopolitan Taiwan.

The Dragon Cray is an unidentified member of the Cambroides genus that lives in the warm rivers and lakes of southern Chine and reaches up to sixteen inches in length. It is bright red and during its mating phase it shows bright blue mottling along its carapace and claws. Allusions to a pointed tale are probably incidental descriptions of the cray folding its tail-fins, while the third claw is completely mythical but has parallels seen in Chinese mythology.

The PRC has strict policies regarding even the study of native cray and crustacean species and a so-called Bamboo Curtain has fallen, making scientific cooperation with Chinese institutions strained. If visiting China, don't expect observation of the Dragon Cray or any other species.

Have a great trip otherwise, and bring back some pictures to share with us!

12 Dec 2006

True vs. Genetic Crays?

Dear Blue Lobster:

Hi, I was looking at some crayfish for sale and the seller has 2 of the same crayfish, One is true and one is genetic. Does anyone know the differance.


Dear Gentle Sir:

In arthropod nomenclature, "true" and "genetic" refer to the breeding background of the specimen in question.

True refers to specimens that have been naturally bred without the intervention of humans in the breeding process. So, for instance, crays in the wild are typically true specimens. Crays in fisheries or ponds, despite being housed by man, are also considered true specimens since their reproduction happens naturally.

Genetic specimens, on the other hand, have had some kind of human influence on their reproduction. In this case, "genetic" is short for "genetically engineered." For instance, all cray hybrids that do not occur in nature and only happen in artifical environments are considered genetic.

While in most cases a distinction between true and genetic animals is unimportant, researchers may need a specimen of a certain type, while some individuals prefer not to own or eat anything that has been genetically engineered. In these cases, knowing the birthright of your crustacean is important.

When purchasing crays, or indeed any crustacean, dealers label whether or not a specimen is true or genetic. However, the labels made have been made arbitrarily in order to boost the price of the creature. The only way to avoid this is to research the dealer. Are they reputable? Is there anyone else that has purchased from them?

Hopefully the dealer in question here is reputable and and isn't trying to charge you for a deceptively labeled animal. Good luck!

23 Nov 2006

Should Crustaceans Exercise?

Dear Blue Lobster:

my doctor recommends both diet and exercise, and while my crustaceans always get live food, i don't have them in an exercise program. i recently stumbled upon the movie below and wondered if this is some form of animal cruelty, or should i be doing this with my crayfish and fiddler crabs?


Dear Gentle Sir:

Indeed, this is animal cruelty: This poor shrimp is being subjected to a strenuous physical activity without basic consideration for its person. While exercise is a good idea for any animal, the way in which it is executed here is not ideal. There are better ways to exercise your cray, shrimp, or crab.

The issue: Where are the jams?

Music is a great motivational tool when exercising. From the jogging revolution of the late Seventies with spandexed yuppies polluting the streets listening to their Walkmans to today's youth cavorting about campus equipped with their slick, shiny iPods, music is a nigh-universal animus for working out.

So what is to be done with your small family of fiddler crabs? What kind of music should you blast into the tank while you force them to run for miles on end on their little treadmill? It's hard to gauge a crustacean's taste in pop culture, so it's best to keep it simple and play something you know it will appreciate. This leaves only one choice: the all-time greatest workout track ever: The Final Countdown.

In this futuristic rock track, synthesizers and men in strained falsetto deliver a rousing anthem that has driven many an athlete to the next level. Your crabs and crays can march straight to Valhalla on their treadmills, hearts pumping pure adrenaline through their little spiny bodies as the lead melody repeats throughout the song. After an hour or so on the treadmill, they can raise their tiny claws in the air, cutting through the pain barrier and reaching a natural high they just can't experience sitting under a rock all day.

To illustrate the point, here's a video someone made of their shrimp's daily training regiment. Note the exertion and endurance as well as the use of its pleopods (swimmerets) as it practices for the International Crustacean Marathon later in the year.

Heading for Venus...

31 Oct 2006

The Curse of the Bankala

Dear Blue Lobster:

I just read about a weird crustacean in Borneo that lives underground and looks like a cross between a lobster and a shrimp. Do you have any information about it? What is it? Where does it come from?


Dear Gentle Sir:

This strange crustacean near the city of Kota Kinabalu on the tiny island of Borneo baffles scientists with its unusual morphology. The static claws, for instance, are three times longer than the mobile claw appendage. Most crays have claws that are roughly the same size or at a one-to-two ratio. It is also able to snap its claws so hard it makes an audible clacking sound, much like a Mantis Shrimp. Another distinguishing feature is its tail, which is long and gangly and is incapable of the characteristic cray/lobster tail-flip locomotion.

Natives, who gave this mystery crustacean its name, say the crature is familiar but elusive. The indigenous population have long held modern buildings and technology to be an offense to the spirits of their ancestors. In order to take revenge, their ancestors' spirits arise from the mud in the form of these strange crustaceans and attempt to cut the city-goers' fingers off. Indeed, the name of the city, Kinabalu, means revered place of the dead in the local tongue.

Strangely, scientists have not been able to extract DNA from the animal for genetic testing and everyone involved in the capture or study of specimens has died under mysterious cicumstances.

24 Oct 2006

Crustacean Cohabitation

Dear Blue Lobster:

What do you guys think of keeping shrimp and crabs together? I was very close to buying some "mini crabs" from petsmart today but when the lady was trying to catch one i saw a lot of them were dead and decided i should wait until they got in some healthy ones, or just go to another store. But anyways, should the two species of inverts be kept apart?

Dear Gentle Sir:

I personally recommend mixing crustacean species to ascertain your own results on cohabitation compatibility. Many species are compatible and may actually complement one another, while others disagree spectacularly and engage in magnificent battles to the death. Regardless of the outcome, however, the only way to find out is to try!

Crayfish are almost always aggressive to other species, and such creatures will trigger their defense behavior. That is, the cray will become enraged and try to tear its tankmate limb from limb. For instance, a fiddler crab (Uca sp.) stands little chance against a cray and will, within minutes, become a twitching stub devoid of legs at the bottom of the tank. Fiddlers are social animals and do not have the aggressive territoriality that the solitary crayfish does.

Shrimp species are much easier to mix with crays, especially ones that lack enlarged chelae (pincers). Ghost shrimp, also known as Glass shrimp, are sold cheaply in pet stores and forage for detritus. Crays will eat them if they're fast enough to catch one, though more often than not you will find the shrimp peacefully riding the cray, picking its shell clean of debris. In turn, the cray will eat the shrimp when they die.

Other species are even more potential fun for cohabiting, however. For instance, the Shield Shrimp is an excellent addition to any tank with more than its share of slow, weak, or sick specimens. Fairy shrimp, brine shrimp, and daphnia are examples of smaller crustaceans that can serve as zoopankton for larger creatures. They also exhibit wonderful aquatic acrobatics as they wend to and fro in the swirling currents of your watery biosphere.

Please share the results of your experimentation with us, preferably with hi-rez pics!

18 Oct 2006

A Look at the Lazarus Shrimp

Dear Blue Lobster:

I just bought a triops packet, i have no idea what it is but it says it's the world's oldest crustacean so i thought i'd ask you. they sell something called daphnia to hatch and raise for food, but the guy at the store said you can just let them eat one another.


Dear Gentle Sir:

A usually unheard of but incredibly old type of crustacean, the Lazarus shrimp (also known as the the shield shrimp or triops) is the perfect kind of crustacean to introduce into your aquarium. It displays interesting behavior and gives you a glimpse into the past while at the same time entertains for hours on end with its antics.

Diverging from other crustaceans early on, the modern form of the shield shrimp has not changed for 220 million years, making it quite possibly the world's oldest extant group. It is commonly believed to be related to the Horseshoe Crab, though this is not true. Their similar physical characteristics are due to convergent evolution, or one species liking the look of another and evolving to match it.

Being so old requires being crotchety and the shield shrimp does not disappoint in this regard. Used to a short life in a rapidly-drying seasonal pool, the shrimp hatches within four hours of exposure to water and begins molting incessantly. It feeds on anything smaller than itself, so have plenty of sea monkeys handy. If sea monkeys can not be found, it is perfectly suitable to let the triops cannablize until only one, the greatest and strongest, is left in the tank.

After natural selection has worked its magic, it's time to introduce your powerful triop into your community tank! Make sure there's nothing smaller than it in there, as it would prove to be an unfair fight. A crayfish of similar size would make for an excellent battle, and a dozen or so ghost shrimp will provide additional targets for both the cray's and the triop's predatory advances. In addition, they'll serve to help "clean up" the loser after the victor is done eating his fill.

I suggest while your cray and triop get to know one another you film in high speed so that when played back, the creatures look large and slow. Filmed properly and with the addition of some monster movie music, you will have a short five minute clip begging to be uploaded to YouTube or Google Video. Perhaps you can title it something using their taxonomic names to make it sound exotic. For instance, Procambarus vs. Triops sounds like something any child would love to tune into on a Saturday morning.

Good luck with your Shield Shrimp and please share the link to your monster movie once complete!

14 Oct 2006

The Hairy Kiwa

Dear Blue Lobster:

I've heard about a weird new hairy lobster that lives at the bottom of the ocean. It's supposed to be a living fossil or something. Do you have the scoop on it?

Dear Gentle Sir:

The Hairy Kiwa is unlike anything ever seen before. Found at depths of 2,300 meters near thermal vents, the Kiwa's pincers, legs, and antennae are covered in fine white celae, or hair. They're also blind, as the benthic deep offers little or no light by which an animal could navigate. In fact, its eyes have devolved into an extra set of antennae for the creature. The Kiwa's body is also strange, its abdomen reduced but not merged with the thorax, as in primitive crabs.

Theories abound regarding the animal's fur coat. One camp suggests the hairs are a way to collect and harvest bacteria, abundant in the warm waters near the vents. Other groups say that the animals use them as sensory devices to compensate for the lack of light. A third group suggests that the celae might have a role in mating, as one male was found adorned with sea shells and had used mud to arrange its hair into intricate patterns. Females sometimes remove some or all of their hair entirely in order to captivate males.

The Hairy Kiwa's only know relative is the Squat Lobster, a member of the same superfamily and similar in body layout. It is thought that the two species are separated by 15 million years of evolution and are remnants of a lineage that eventually led to true crabs and their allies.

Indeed, one could call both the Squat Lobster and the Hairy Kiwa "living fossils," as they retain certain primitive features no longer found in other living species.

Whatever the reason behind the Kiwa's hirsutism and ancient body shape, scientists are attempting to isolate an amino acid found in the Kiwa's blood for hair loss treatment and hope to market a pill based on it within the next few years

10 Oct 2006

I'm Moving. Can I Bring My Crays?

Dear Blue Lobster:

i am moving out of my ex wife's house (love stinks) and i want to bring my oh so precious crays with me. i was thinking of syphoning about a quarter of the water in my crays' tanks in individual buckets and then putting them in the tank in my new place plus some fresh water.

i'm kind of lost on what would be the most sound way of doing this...any suggestions?

Dear Gentle Sir:

Moving can be a traumatic time for crays and indeed all species of crustacea. Given proper preparation, however, you can minimize the impact the move has on your little fellow.

How you transport your cray depends on how far you're moving. If you're no farther than an hour from your new destination, you can allow your cray the freedom on perching on your should as you drive. You'll be able to tell it's having a good time as it sways his claws in the air along to the rhythm of the radio or some car songs you and your family might sing. Just remember to dropper it with water every few minutes lest it dry out.

Longer trips require some sort of water for the cray to rest in. A cray traveling over an hour should be accompanied by a five gallon bucket of water filled all the way to the top and sealed — and don't be afraid to pound the lid on with a rubber mallet or hammer. You may want to throw a few food pellets in with the cray. If it seems especially jumpy, grind and add a motion sickness pill or two to the water.

Long-distance moves that involve cross-country driving or flying are best done through airmail for the crayfish. With the following steps you can ensure your cray will meet you at your destination alive and healthy.

  1. Reduce the temperature of your tank by a few degrees a day over the course of several weeks until it's near freezing. (Colder climate crays' temps can be lowered a little more rapidly than tropical species.) You can plan on feeding them less during this period, as their metabolism will slow and you don't want to soil the water.

  2. Call your local United States Postal Service branch and ask about sending items requiring refrigeration (but don't tell them it's a live animal!) The night before you're due to ship, keep the cray in a bowl of water in your refrigerator. At this point it should be almost catatonic.

  3. Using the special packaging and cold-packs specified by the USPS, carefully wrap your cray tightly. I recommend sealing your cray in a plastic baggy filled with water and arranging several cold-packs snugly around it until the padded box or envelope you're using is tight.

  4. Ship your cray so that it will arrive a day or so after you do. The sooner you release your cray from its packing the better, and it wouldn't do to let it sit at your front door day after day waiting on your arrival. You might need to talk to your USPS branch about rates and shipping times.

  5. Optimally you will have shipped your tank's gravel and decorations as well, in which case you can just add these to the tank. Make sure to use cold water at first because too much of a change in temperature could shock your cray. After a few hours, your cray should come to life.

With the right planning and care, your cray will survive the move mostly intact, ready to help you settle in at your new residence.