19 Jun 2007

The Clawed Ant Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

Yesterday I happened across a strange little creature that I was hoping you would be able to identify. I had never seen anything like it before, so I will describe it the best I can in hopes that you will be able to shed some light on this mystery.

At first, it looked like an ant crawling around at my feet, but upon closer inspection, I noticed that this ant-like critter had what appeared to be lobster claws. Is it even possible for crustaceans to be that small? Or am I just trying to make an erroneous connection?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

-Steve Kissinger

Dear Gentle Sir:

I assume you were speaking of an experience in a creek, pond, or river?

If so, the creature you observed that resembled a small clawed ant is none other than the Clawed Ant Crayfish (Pacifastacus myrminex), a member of a wide and varied Californian genus that includes several small cave and aquifer species. The myrminex is one of a few that lives topside.

So named for its small size and dark coloration, the Clawed Ant Crayfish lives in slow-moving creeks with sandy bottoms. It is a detrivore, feeding on tiny organic matter such as algae and insect larva. They grow to no more than two centimeters but their claws are, by proportion, the largest of any cray species.

This relatively uncommon species is endangered due to their high sensitivity to chemical pollutants. Indeed, until the Eighties, many people dumped ant poison in their watersheds thinking they were combatting their ant problems. Instead, they decimated the Clawed Ant population.

Today these gentle crustaceans are making a comeback thanks in part to environmental awareness and strict pollution laws. Please be sure to leave the Clawed Ant Crayfish unmolested should you observe one.

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