Are Crayfish good pets for beginners? Pros and Cons

Crayfish as Pets Pros and Cons

When you think of aquarium pets you probably picture fish, snails, and maybe even dwarf shrimp. But, did you know that crayfish are also excellent first-time pets?

Crayfish have a lot of character, personality, and can be a great addition to your home aquarium. They are extremely adaptable creatures. Therefore, even beginners will be able to keep them without problems since they are hardy and undemanding.

Nonetheless, owning any pet carries significant responsibility and obligation to address their core needs, so that they could live their lives to the fullest potential.

In this article, I will be talking about both the joys of crayfish ownership as well as the downsides. I will start with the Pros and continue to the Cons.

List of Pros and Cons

Pros

  1. Low-maintenance pets
  2. Easy to Feed
  3. Different Tank Setups
  4. Personality
  5. Cheap maintenance
  6. Robust and Sturdy
  7. Independent
  8. Size variations to choose from
  9. Can breed in captivity
  10. Exotic animals

Cons

  1. Not Social (Aggressive and Territorial)
  2. Do not Bond
  3. Do not Play
  4. No Handling
  5. Messy (Destructive)
  6. Escape Artists
  7. Molting and Special Care

Pros

1. Low-maintenance Pets

If you have a busy life, owning a pet may be very overwhelming. Therefore, you need ones that assert their presence without taking too much out of you, crayfish are perfect. 

Basically, all they need is cycled aquarium with enough hiding places. Crayfish are easy to take care of once you have set up their tank.  Crayfish are way easier to maintain and take care of than more traditional fish. 

Nonetheless, please remember, just because a pet is low-maintenance doesn’t mean that you can absolutely neglect their tank. 

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2. Easy to Feed

 Crayfish are super simple to feed. They are scavengers, meaning they can eat anything they can find and catch, whether it’s dead or alive (both meat and plants).

A few examples of suitable food items for your pet crayfish:

  • Algae wafers
  • Fish foods
  • Shrimp foods
  • Live bloodworms
  • Frozen foods (frozen bloodworms, freeze-dried krill, etc.)
  • Insects
  • Live and/or decaying plants
  • Vegetables, etc.

Another great advantage is that crayfish can easily live without food for a few days. So, even if you are going to be gone for a week, you can leave some extra food (that will not deteriorate your water) and they will be fine.

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3. Different Tank Setups

Although most crayfish species are fully aquatic, they can also crawl on land in some circumstances.

Their ability to breathe air makes them a good paludarium animal as well. So, instead of the aquarium, you can keep them in a paludarium setup (a semi-aquatic habitat).

Note: Oxygen uptake in crayfish occurs across the gills that are situated in two (one on
each side) narrow branchial chambers. For renewal of the water near gills, crayfish use a very efficient pumping system consisting of two specialized appendages (scaphognathites).

4. Personality

These little critters have their own personalities that change from crayfish to crayfish.

Some can be on the shy side, others more outgoing, and/or readily display aggressive postures towards anything around them.

This type of behavior will never fail to make you smile.

5. Cheap Maintenance

The cost of keeping crayfish as a pet will not cost an arm and a leg. This includes adequate housing, food, and accessories.

Basically, you can start with a standard aquarium, an inert substrate, an aquarium filter, and an air pump.

6. Robust and Sturdy

A practical reason to get a pet crayfish is that these crustaceans very rarely get sick (compared to fish or dwarf shrimp).

These animals have an elaborate innate immune system. Thus, they are not susceptible to many different health issues and they are naturally immune to human diseases.

According to the study, some of the important mechanisms of the innate immune system in crayfish include phagocytosis, antibacterial peptide production, the pro-phenyloxidase system, clotting mechanisms, and encapsulation responses.

7. Independent

Crayfish are solitary and prefer to live their lives in isolation. They do not care much about other crayfish unless they decide to mate.

They do not bond with the owner and do not need your attention. So, … eventually, when the time comes, they will not completely break your heart.

Crayfish are great pets for those who do not handle losing their animals.

8. Size Variations to Choose From

There are a few dozen crayfish species that are commonly traded in the aquarium hobby. Some of them can grow pretty large whereas others will not take up much space in the tank because of their small size.

Examples: Crayfish Size and Their Tank Size Requirements

Species Size Tank Size Requirements
Cambarellus diminutus up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Brazos Dwarf Crayfish up to 1.5 inches (3 – 3.5 cm) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Cambarellus texanus  up to 1.5 inches (3 – 3.5 cm) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Dwarf Mexican crayfish up to 2 inches (4 – 5 cm) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Cuban crayfish 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7 cm) long 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Marbled crayfish up to 3 – 5  inches (7 – 12 cm) 20 gallons (~90 liters)
Procambarus milleri
up to 3 – 4  inches (7 – 10 cm) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Blue crayfish 4 – 5 inches (10 – 12 cm) 20 gallons (~90 liters)
Procarambus Clarkii 4 – 5 inches (10 – 12 cm) 20 gallons (~90 liters)
Cherax pulcher 4 – 5 inches (10 – 12 cm) 15 gallons (~60 liters)
Cherax destructor 4 – 8 inches (10 – 20 cm) 30 gallons (~120 liters)
Red claw crayfish up to 13 inches (35 cm) 30 gallons (~120 liters)

9. Can Breed in Captivity

Crayfish are fairly easy to breed even in the home aquarium. It is usually achieved through simple co-habitation of the tank.

Interesting fact: Most crayfish species have high parental care for their young. After hatching, babies attach to pleopods (swimmerets) on the female’s abdomen. She will carry the young and release them when they get big enough.

10. Exotic Animals

You can’t surprise anybody with fish keeping. More than 140 million freshwater fish are owned by American households only! Based on the total number, this is probably the most popular pet category in the world.

However, keeping crayfish is completely another story. It takes lots of courage and a particular interest in these creatures to keep them as pets.

Cons

1. Not Social (Aggressive and Territorial)

Generally, crayfish species do not exhibit social behavior. In crayfish, ‘social phases’ are usually restricted to interactions during mating and the maternal care of offspring.

Crayfish can be extraordinarily aggressive beasts. In addition, just like in the human world, you can have a ‘crazy’ crayfish that will attack everything it sees. Also, as they age, crayfish tend to become more aggressive.

Even dwarf crayfish species (Cambarellus spp.) are not completely peaceful and inoffensive. In order to keep them in the same tank, we need to follow some rules, such as lots of hiding places, sufficient feeding, and male to female ratio. Males, in particular, are extremely likely to fight.

Important: Following these rules cannot guarantee a ‘peaceful outcome’ and you will have to intervene if necessary.

2. Do not Bond

Crayfish do not bond with their owners because these animals do not have long-term memory responses. That is why they do not recognize their owners.

The best you can get from crayfish is that they may recognize you as a low threat. Everything else is just beyond their abilities.

3. Do not Play

Crayfish do not play. All their actions are based exclusively on their instinctual nature.

Crayfish are not smart enough to understand the concept of playing – this is just beyond their abilities and nervous system.

Strictly speaking, they do not even have a brain. Instead, they have nerve cells concentrated in a set of ganglia. The ganglia interconnect by bundles of nerve fibers that transport the signals at high speed. This is a very rudimentary ‘brain’.

4. No Handling

Crayfish do not like to be handled.

They are wild animals and cannot be tamed. Never forget about it. They are not pets you can play with. Do not take them out just because you want to.

In addition, they can pinch you. So, it is important to know how to handle them when necessary.

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5. Messy (Destructive)

Substrate. Crayfish are pretty messy. They are good diggers and often construct burrows. In addition, they are pretty strong to move objects.

Therefore, it is unlikely that they will leave the tank the way that it was initially set up. With time, crayfish will rearrange it, digging into the substrate and dragging anything that is light enough for them to move.

Be prepared that crayfish will redecorate your aquascape to their liking.

Plants. Their destructive nature (except, dwarf crayfish species like Brazos Dwarf Crayfish, Dwarf Mexican crayfish, etc.) makes them unsuitable for beautiful planted tanks.

Keep in mind that large crayfish species will eat, cut, and uproot any plant in the tank. They are absolutely not plant safe. In aquariums, crayfish often become lawnmowers and there is nothing we can do about it.

Equipment. Large crayfish can also damage cables and filters.

6. Escape Artists

All crayfish are very good escape artists. They will use silicon sealant, cables, tubes, or other items that go in and out of the tank to climb out and escape.

Therefore, the top of their tank should be properly secured with a lid to prevent escape.

7. Molting and Special Care

Crayfish have a rigid exoskeleton that prevents their growth. The old exoskeleton must be shed periodically (a process called molting or ecdysis) in order for them to grow and restore lost limbs.

Molting is a critical but extremely vulnerable time for crayfish. The new exoskeleton is soft, therefore, crayfish are unable to make normal movements. Once the new exoskeleton has hardened the animal can move again.

It is very important to remember some rules:

  • NEVER disturb your crayfish when they are molting.
  • When they prepare to molt they usually hide. So, do not panic even if you have not seen them for a few days in a row.
  • Keep putting and replacing food in the tank! You never know when they can come up from the molt.
  • Keep giving them calcium-rich food.
  • Also, do not remove the old exoskeleton from the tank. It contains lots of minerals and your crayfish will eat it later.

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Selecting the Right Pet Crayfish

Before you adopt a pet crayfish, you need to find out about its behavior, feeding preferences, and care requirements. That way, you would be acquainted with the do’s and don’ts as well as how to properly handle and take care of it.

Check the life expectancy of the crayfish species you would like to keep. Small species generally live up to 2 years whereas the lifespan of large ones can be up to 8 years, provided that their environment and diets are carefully managed.

Important: if you have kids in your house, crayfish pets belong to the “look but DO NOT touch” category.

In Conclusion

Of course, there are no pets that are for everyone. Nonetheless, despite the Cons, I still believe that having crayfish as pets is far more rewarding than it is detrimental.

I definitely recommend crayfish as pets, they are fun to watch and do not require a lot of attention.

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