Cambarellus Puer – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cambarellus Puer – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cambarellus puer is one of the dwarf crayfish species which gain popularity in recent times. These small crustaceans can be great pets as they have a lot of personalities and are a load of fun to watch.

Cambarellus puer is easy to care for and breed quickly, making them a good choice for aquarium enthusiasts. In addition, these crayfish will not take up much space in the tank either because of their small size.

This care guide provides necessary information about the Cambarellus puer, including how to keep and care for it in a home aquarium.

Warning: NEVER release any crayfish species, including Cambarellus puer, into the wild.
Many crustacean decapod species are confirmed or suspected carriers of pathogens that can cause mass mortality among native crustaceans.

Quick Notes about Cambarellus Puer

Name Cambarellus puer
Common Names Swamp Dwarf Crayfish
Scientific Name Cambarellus puer
Tank size (optimal) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Easy
Breeding Easy
Size up to 3.7 cm (~ 1.5 inches)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 24°C  (~68 – 75°F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 8.0
Optimal GH 3 – 20 
Optimal KH 3 – 15
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Detritivore / omnivore
Temperament Conditionally Peaceful
Life span up to 2 years
Color Form Orange-red, light brown, grayish, or even blue

Origins and Natural Habitat

Cambarellus puer can be found from southern Illinois and Missouri southward along the Mississippi River to Louisiana and westward to southeastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas.

The range of Cambarellus puer is almost identical to that of Cambarellus shufeldtii, except that Cambarellus shufeldtii reaches further west into Texas. 

Their habitat is areas nearby the swamps, ditches, lakes, ponds, and sluggish streams. Cambarellus puer prefers shallow, slow-moving, muddy habitats with dense emergent and submerged vegetation where they can dig and hide.

Description

Cambarellus Puer – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding
photo credit: Christian Lukhaup (AKA Shrimp king)

Cambarellus puer is a small crayfish. The average body size of adults rarely exceeds 37 mm (or 1.5 inches) in total length.

According to the study, Cambarellus puer populations exhibit a pigmentation polymorphism. The carapace and abdomen either have:

  • two brown to black stripes or
  • two rows of spots running their entirety.

Interesting fact: These 2 color patterns are controlled by a single gene, with the striped phenotype being dominant over the spotted one.

Generally, the background color of the upper side and lateral sides of the carapace, abdomen, and claws can be orange-red, light brown, grayish, or even blue.

Note: Unfortunately, the blue strain is not stable and often turns brown after the molt. Therefore, If you are buying them, ask the seller about it.

The underside of the Cambarellus puer is usually white to cream in color.

The tips of the claws often lack orange coloration. They are also small and slender with short fingers.

Cambarellus Puer and other Dwarf Species of Crayfish

Most popular Dwarf Species of Crayfish in aquarium tradeThe main problem with dwarf crayfish species is that they look very similar. Even professional aquarists often have a very hard time distinguishing among them.

In addition, many of these species can crossbreed creating some new color morphs and patterns. As a result of this confusion, the likelihood that crayfish species that you may see on the Internet are hybrids is also very high.

Generally, these are the main colors and color patterns:

1. Cambarellus puer – orange-red to light brown.
2. Cambarellus ninae – brown-colored.
3. Cambarellus montezumae – yellow-colored.
4. Cambarellus patzcuarensis  – orange-colored.
5. Cambarellus shufeldtii – grey/reddish to brown-colored.
6. Cambarellus texanus – olive to brown-colored.
7. Cambarellus Diminutus – grey/reddish to brown or blue coloration.

Lifespan

The lifespan of Cambarellus puer is only about 1.5 years. Under optimal conditions, they can live a little longer up to 2 years in the tank. 

Behavior

Cambarellus puer is not as aggressive as their cousins (Dwarf Mexican crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis)). You will not see them running around with claws and legs missing all the time.

On the contrary, they are considered to be social animals and benefit from being in the company of their species. Nonetheless, it is also not that simple.

Despite their small size, Cambarellus puer is also not completely peaceful and inoffensive. These crayfish have complex territorial interactions and in the overcrowded tank, they may fight and, thus, regulate their number this way.

Cambarellus puer can dig at the substrates, however, they are not obligate burrowers.

This is especially great for planted tanks because you do not have to worry that they ruin your aquascape or make a mess.

Features:

  • Social: Yes
  • Active: Yes
  • Peaceful: Yes (generally)
  • Burrowers: No (generally)

Feeding

Cambarellus puer are opportunistic eaters. They can eat about anything edible they come across.

In captivity, for the best growth, these crayfish need a good mix of meats and vegetation.

Foods Cambarellus Puer will enjoy (examples with links to check the price on Amazon), for example:

It is also recommended to regularly give them leaves (like Almond leaves, beech leaves, oak leaves, etc.) as they feed on these and require the detritus from the leaves.

Like all crustaceans, Cambarellus puer has a multi-layered exoskeleton hardened by calcium salts except around the joints where the integument is soft and flexible.

That is why it is absolutely important to supplement their diet with eggshells, cuttlebone, etc. Also, make sure they get enough calcium (for the exoskeleton) by regularly feeding specialized invert foods. 

I highly recommend reading my article “How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium”.

Related article:

Features:

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Feeding Frequency: 3 – 4 times a week

How often should We Change the Food?

We can leave their food for 24 hours before removing it.

We need to remove uneaten food. Otherwise, it will foul up the water and cause a lot of problems (such as Black bearded algaeHydrasPlanaria, etc.).

In addition, it would be better to feed Cambarellus puer at night or in the evening because they are nocturnal animals and by doing so you are recreating natural conditions for them.

Note: To keep them healthy, it is recommended to change their diet at least every week or two. Do not give them the same food all the time.

How Often to Feed Cambarellus Puer?

Adults can be fed 3 – 4 times a week whereas juveniles Cambarellus puer should be fed daily. 

In any case, the most important rule is that you should not let them starve. Otherwise, despite their relatively peaceful temper, they can even cannibalize.

Cambarellus Puer and Live Plants

Like most crayfish species, in nature, Cambarellus puer occurs in heavily vegetated water bodies.

However, it should not worry you because they mostly use plants as hiding spots.

Cambarellus puer does not eat healthy plants. Therefore, this species can be kept even in beautifully planted aquariums.

Keeping and Housing Cambarellus Puer

Cambarellus puer care is quite easy and straightforward. These crustaceans are not high-maintenance pets and adapt well to life in captivity and can stay pretty healthy in most situations.

Of course, you still need to address their core needs! Here are some care guidelines to help you out.

Tank Size:

The minimum recommended tank size for Cambarellus puer is a 5-gallon (20-liter) tank.

Ideally, a 10-gallon tank (40 liters) will suit them way better. Like most crayfish species, they are pretty active and need a lot of room to crawl, eat and explore.

It can be really hard to achieve in small tanks. In addition, keeping stable water parameters in nano tanks can be a challenge even for experienced aquarists. Unfortunately, in small tanks, everything can go wrong very fast.

A group of up to 3 – 5 crayfish can live very comfortably in a 10-gallon tank if they have enough hiding places. I have to repeat – it is all about hiding places!

Tip: Cambarellus puer is a great escape artist. Therefore, use a tight-fitting lid.

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Ideally, it should be around 20 – 24 °C (68 – 75 °F). However, Cambarellus puer can easily survive in a wide range of temperature conditions 15 – 30 C (59 – 86 F). So, in most cases, room temperature will suit them fine.

pH: pH should be provided for this species in the range of 6.5 – 8.0.

Hardness: They will appreciate optimal KH 3 – 15 and GH between 3 – 20 GH.

Filtration:

It really does not matter much. You can choose whatever filter you like. 

Nonetheless, for small tanks, sponge or Matten filters are the best options. Cambarellus puer will not damage and tear apart the sponge as large crayfish species often do. In addition, these filters have lots of advantages:

  • cheap,
  • easy to maintain, and clean,
  • they provide a lot of surfaces to graze on,
  • safe for the baby crayfish.

Note: Canister or hang on the back filters are great for large tanks. Just keep in mind that you will have to cover filter intake with a sponge if you decide to breed Cambarellus puer.

You can also read my article “The Best Filtration System for Breeding Shrimp” (the principle with dwarf crayfish is the same).

Although some aquarists can keep Cambarellus puer in the tap water, I always recommend using RO/DI water remineralized with Salty Shrimp GH/KH+.

This way you can control your water parameters and create the optimal conditions for your pet.

Lighting:

No special requirements. Cambarellus puer is a nocturnal animal.

If you have plants, lighting should be adapted to their needs.

Read more about it in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Substrate:

To replicate their natural environment, provide Cambarellus puer with soil and/or sand substrates. In the aquarium, it will be an ideal setup for them.

Generally, 3 – 4 inches (7-10 cm) will be deep enough for them to construct their burrows if necessary.

Decorations:

In aquariums, decorations play an important role for the animals – they provide hiding places (shelter and protection) and minimize stress to your crayfish. 

Shelter and protection is a key requirement for any freshwater crayfish. This is extremely important!

Cambarellus puer needs a lot of hiding places to be happy. A LOT!

There should be plenty of dark areas for them to hide in and these should be created out of stones, driftwood, PVC pipe, plastic tunnels, plants, etc.

Note: If you are planning to keep several Cambarellus puer, or they are going to be in a community tank, every animal will need several hiding places to feel secure in different parts of the tank! This is extremely important especially during molting.

In addition, do not forget to acclimate them (read more about this process).  

Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Molting and Cambarellus Puer

A heavy exoskeleton ensures protection of the internal organs, unfortunately, it also limits the growth of the animal.

In order to grow, Cambarellus puer will have to shed its exoskeleton in a process called molting. Molting also provides an opportunity to repair damage and to replace lost appendages, something that can occur in a community tank.

This process consists of 4 phases:

  1. pre-molt,
  2. molt,
  3. post-molt.
  4. inter-molt.

When crayfish is about to molt it starts looking for a place to hide. Otherwise, they can easily fall prey to their tankmates.

Important:

  • NEVER disturb your crayfish when they are molting. Do not panic even if you have not seen them for a few days in a row! Give them time. This is the most stressful moment in their life.
  • 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.

You can read more about it in my article “Crayfish and Molting Process.

Cambarellus Puer Male and Female Difference

Cambarellus puer is gonochoristic (each individual organism is either male or female). Their gender can also be determined externally:

  1. Females are a little bit larger than males.
  2. The female claws are shorter and thicker. Males of Cambarellus puer have relatively slender and long claws.
  3. The male reproductive system consists of a trilobed organ (Y-shaped) with paired pereopods. Females have seminal receptacles and lack the extra pleopods found behind the walking legs. There will not be that triangular-ish forming of small legs. What you will see is a small nub. That will indicate a female.

Breeding Cambarellus Puer

Mating:

The male and female place their bodies “face-to-face”. The male stays on top, using his claws to hold the female’s claws. Generally, this process lasts a few minutes.

In the wild, Cambarellus puer has two periods of reproductive activity, one in late winter to early spring and another in mid-summer.

Interesting facts:

  • Most males will not breed during their first year of life.
  • In any freshwater crayfish species, males do not display any form of mate guarding neither pre-copulatory nor post-copulatory. As a result, females can mate with several males.

Eggs:

Ovigerous females can carry a few dozens of eggs. The egg’s diameter ranges from 1.0 to 1.1 mm.

Depending on the temperature, it takes 4-5 weeks to hatch. Freshwater crayfish do not have larval stages, so what emerges from the egg is a juvenile crayfish that already possesses most of the normal adult appendages.

Young crayfish:

After hatching, juveniles remain attached to the female pleopods by the unique telson thread.

Females secrete some form of pheromones which are called maternal pheromones. They encourage the young to stay close and under the protection of the mother. In science, the chemical nature of the brooding attractant remains unknown.

Young Cambarellus puer stays with mother for the first two molts (about 7 – 10 days).

Rearing tank:

Interesting fact: Given the chance, some non-ovigerous female crayfish and males may eat juveniles. However, once females become ovigerous they do not attack juveniles. The effectiveness of an attractive chemical signal declines with time, and females become predatory again.

Therefore, after hatching and separation from the mother, it is recommended to keep baby Cambarellus puer in a separate tank to prevent any potential aggression from the adults.

Feed Dwarf crayfish babies daily. As long as they are well-fed, it will decrease their aggression towards each other.

Cambarellus Puer and Tankmates

Cambarellus puer is probably one of the most social and peaceful crayfish species, but only under several conditions:

  • Males to females ratio (1:3). In the small enclosures, males, in particular, are extremely likely to fight.
  • The tank should have lots and lots of hiding places.
  • They should not be hungry. These small crayfish will compete with each other for food. It can also affect their behavior (making them more aggressive).

Note: Keep in mind that following these rules cannot guarantee any result and you will have to intervene if necessary. Just like in the human world, you can have a crazy crayfish that will attack everything it sees.

Fish:

No aggressive, bottom-dwelling, slow-moving, or fish with long fins (like Betta) should be kept in the same tank with Cambarellus puer.

People often keep them with small and peaceful fish like Guppies, Neons, Mollies, Endlers, Dwarf swordtails, etc.

Shrimp:

There are many reports where people kept Cambarellus puer in shrimp tanks without casualties among the shrimp.

However, I would still be very cautious and would not put them with expensive shrimp. There is always the chance they can be caught by a crayfish, especially when shrimp molt

Note: If you still want to keep them together – keep Cambarellus puer well-fed at all times, it will reduce their potential aggression. Also, make sure that there are enough hiding places for the shrimp and crayfish.

Snails:

Cambarellus puer usually does not mess with big snails, it takes too much time and energy for that.

However, as with shrimp, they can nip off their antennae periodically.

But baby snails can end up a snack.

Summary of Bad Tank Mates for Cambarellus Puer: 

In Conclusion

Cambarellus puer is a hardy animal. It is very easy to care for. The only problem is that this species is pretty rare in the pet trade. 

Let me know if you have any questions that I did not cover in this guide. I’ll be glad to help!

References:

  1. Crayfishes (Decapoda : Cambaridae) of Oklahoma: identification, distributions, and natural history. Zootaxa 3717 (2): 101–157
  2. Black, J.B. (1963) Comparison of the male reproductive cycles in the Dwarf crayfishes Cambarellus-shufeldti and Cambarellus-puer American Zoologist, 3, 524–524.
  3. Black, J.B. (1966) Cyclic male reproductive activities in the dwarf crawfishes Cambarellus shufeldtii (Faxon) and Cambarellus puer (Hobbs). American Microscopial Society Transactions, 85, 214–232.
  4. Crayfish Growth and Reproduction. Biology and Ecology of Crayfish (pp.62-116).

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