Cambarus Bartonii – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cambarus Bartonii – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

While some crayfish species have gained popularity among enthusiasts, numerous other species with equally captivating features, are often overlooked as potential pets – Cambarus bartonii is one of them.

Cambarus bartonii is a very hardy animal. This species easily tolerates low pH values and thrives in cold waters.

In this article, I will examine the biology, habitat, behavior, and care needs of Cambarus bartonii.

Quick Notes about Cambarus Bartonii

Name Cambarus bartonii
Scientific Name Cambarus bartonii
Other names Appalachian Crayfish, Common Crayfish
Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Easy
Breeding Easy
Average size up to 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm) long
Optimal Temperature 50 – 70°F (10 – 21°C)
Optimal PH 6.0 – 7.0
Optimal GH 3 – 12 
Diet Omnivore 
Temperament Aggressive
Life span up to 5 years
Color Form Brown

Etymology of Cambarus Bartonii

The word “Cambarus” originates from the Latin word “Gambarus,” which itself is a modification of the Greek word “Kammaros” meaning “Sea crab or Lobster”.

The species name “Bartonii” supposedly can be traced back to honor the American botanist Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815).

Taxonomy of Cambarus Bartonii

Cambarus Bartonii – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding
photo source

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Infraorder: Astacidea
Family: Cambaridae
Genus: Cambarus
Species: Cambarus bartonii

It is worth noting that the taxonomy of this species is not completely clear as there are also at least several subspecies, such as:

  • Cambarus bartonii bartonii
  • Cambarus bartonii carinirostris
  • Cambarus bartonii cavatus
  • Cambarus bartonii montanus 

Distribution of Cambarus Bartonii

Cambarus Bartonii – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - destributionThis species has an extensive distribution along the east coast of North America, from Georgia to Nova Scotia, and inland to the Ohio River and Great Lakes drainages.

Cambarus bartonii can be found in the United States: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Habitat of Cambarus Bartonii

Generally, Cambarus bartonii is found on rocky substrates in fast-flowing sections of streams and rivers due to their superior ability to hold station in fast currents.

Their populations can be also found in intermittent streams, ponds, and lakes but the abundance is greatly reduced.

Description of Cambarus Bartonii

Cambarus Bartonii – profile
Photo by Carl Williams (source

Cambarus bartonii is a medium-sized crayfish that usually grows up to 3 inches (7 – 8 cm), but in exceptional cases, it can reach up to 4 inches (10 cm).

Distinguishing characteristics:

Carapace. The carapace is subcylindrical and is slightly flattened dorsoventrally.

Rostrum. The rostrum is with parallel or slightly concave margins.

Claws. Chela is smooth and robust. In males, its length is 80-110% of the total carapace length. In females, it is about 72 – 88% of the total carapace length.

Color. Coloration for the majority of animals consists of various shades of brown, ranging from weak beiges to deep chestnuts to tan with ventral surfaces fading to cream. The body can be pigmented. Chelae do not have ornamentation.

Interesting fact: Chemical monitoring is an important source of information for crustaceans about changes in their environment. They rely heavily on chemical information. Therefore, 30-40% of crayfish brain volume is devoted to the processing of olfactory input.

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Lifespan of Cambarus Bartonii

Currently, there are no studies regarding the maximum lifespan of these crustaceans. However, some researchers believe that Cambarus bartonii should live at least 4 years in the wild. This is because the maturation period for this species takes nearly 3 years.

Therefore, in an aquarium with proper conditions, feeding, and the absence of predator stress, they should live for at least 5 years.

Typical Behavior of Cambarus Bartonii

Although Cambarus bartonii can crawl on the land for some time, this species is still considered fully aquatic. These crayfish require permanent bodies of water for survival since they live in open water.

Like most crayfish species, they are also nocturnal animals. This nocturnal behavior is very common for invertebrates and is mainly associated with attempting to avoid visual predators whilst feeding.

Cambarus bartonii is classified as secondary burrowers. It means that they do not rely on burrows and do not spend all of their time there. Their burrows are intricate, with central shafts ranging in depth from 1 – 3 ft (0.3 m to 1 m).

Signal crayfish are territorial and have moderately aggressive temperaments. According to the studies, Cambarus bartonii often tend to retreat and lose ground when encountering crayfish of different species that are of the same size.


  • Social: No
  • Active: No
  • Peaceful: No
  • Territorial: Yes
  • Burrowers: Yes

Diet of Cambarus Bartonii

Cambarus bartonii is considered a predator and a scavenger.

As opportunistic omnivores, according to the study, they feed on live and decaying vegetation, algae, aquatic insect larvae, various types of worms, small fishes, salamanders, frogs, tadpoles, and dead animal matter; cannibalism is also fairly common.

If these crayfish are kept as pets in aquariums, suggested foods include (some links to Amazon):


  • Diet Type: Omnivorous
  • Food Preference: Mix of meats and vegetation.
  • Feeding Frequency: 3 – 4 times a week for adults. Daily for juveniles.

Rules of Diet in Captivity for Cambarus Bartonii

  • Leave their food for 24 hours before removing it. To prevent water contamination, leftover feed should be removed by siphoning before fresh food was added. Leaves can be left for several days in the tank.
  • Leave old exoskeletons. Do not remove molted exoskeletons. They will eat it later.
  • Check their hiding places. Keep in mind that Cambarus bartonii may drag and store food in their hiding spots for later consumption. Check them from time to time to prevent any bacterial contaminations.
  • Crayfish need diversity in food. Do not give them the same food all the time. Change their diet periodically.

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Are Cambarus Bartonii Plant Safe?

No, they are not. There is a very high chance that they will eat, cut, and shred any plant they can get.

It is not recommended to keep them in planted tanks. The only viable options for this species are:

  • plastic plants,
  • floating plants,
  • some cheap plants that you are ready to lose.

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Calcium and Crayfish

Crayfish, like other crustaceans, depend on calcium, particularly during their molting period.

Calcium is probably the most important and abundant cation in the crayfish and is stored primarily in the exoskeleton as CaC03. As the crayfish molts to allow growth, large amounts of Ca must also be accumulated from the environment to form and harden the exoskeleton during postmolt.

Crayfish store only 10 to 20% of the Ca required to harden a new exoskeleton in the gastrolith, but lose as much as 50% of the total body Ca during molting.

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Tank Requirements and Water Conditions

Cambarus bartonii are pretty hardy animals and easily adapt well to life in captivity.

Nonetheless, if you want to make them happy, 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 one Cambarus bartonii is a 10-gallon (40-liter) tank. A pair (male and female) will require at least 15 gallons (60 liters).

Of course, having a larger tank is always preferable for the stability of water chemistry. In addition, it can be easier to make diverse areas for them to hide.


  • Keep in mind that having too many crayfish in insufficient space will definitely lead to increased aggression, injuries, and cannibalism. Overcrowding is the main source of stress for crayfish. This is particularly important when you have more than one male, as they are more aggressive than females.
  • Long tanks are better than tall tanks of the same size for keeping any crayfish species. Unlike fish, they need mostly a place to crawl from side to side, not up and down.
  • Crayfish are very good escape artists. It is absolutely necessary to cover the tank. Keep in mind that they are strong enough to move the lid. Make sure your tank has a stable lid!

Water Parameters:

Temperature The ideal water temperature for keeping Cambarus bartonii is between the range of 60 – 70°F (15 – 20°C). This species prefers cold water.

In nature, Cambarw bartonii is eurythermal, tolerating temperatures from nearly 32°F (0°C) to 86°F (30°C). Laboratory studies have determined the ultimate upper incipient lethal temperature for adult C. bartonii to be 91.5°F (33°C).

pH: Optimal water pH should be provided for this species in the range of 6.0 – 7.0. Unlike most crayfish species, Cambarus bartonii thrives in acidic water. Results of the experiments showed that adult species tolerated (LC50) values of pH 2.43 for 96 hours.

Nonetheless, the deleterious effects at sublethal pH values, include: hindered reproductive success, increased disease susceptibility, decreased feeding activity, and impaired chemoreception of food.

Note: Lowering the water temperature increased the acid tolerance and survival time of intermolt adults during severe acidification

Hardness: These crayfish will appreciate optimal KH 1 – 6 and GH between 3 – 12.

Maintenance: Do 20 – 25 % water changes every week.


Cambarus bartonii live in fast-flowing water. Thus, oxygen is required in the aquarium. It is achieved with an additional pump apart from the filter.


There are no special requirements. As long as you have got the filter that works great with the size of the tank you have got you will be fine.


No special requirements. In the wild, Cambarus bartonii are nocturnal animals and used to live with very little light.

If you have plants or other animals in the tank, lighting should be adapted to their needs.


No special requirements. As long as there are many hiding places, there is no need for a deep substrate.  

However, if you decided to have one, a steeply sloping bed suitable for burrowing will be the best choice.


Decorations in an aquarium play a role that goes beyond pleasing us visually.

For the crayfish, they serve different functions, specifically providing shelter. So, the more decorations you have, the happier your pets will be.

They will appreciate all types of leaves, rocks, driftwood, PVC pipes, etc. in your tank.

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Breeding Cambarus Bartonii


Cambarus bartonii exhibits obvious sexual dimorphism.

  • Claws. Males have almost 20% larger claws than females of the same size.
  • Shape. Males are slightly larger but females have wider tails.
  • Abdomen. Male crayfish have two L-shaped appendages (semen transfer organs) behind their legs called claspers. The females have a circular semen receptacle between the bases of the last two pairs of walking legs.

Sexually mature females can be also identified by their full, white cement glands located on the ventral surface of the uropods.

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This species reaches sexual maturity in the 3rd year at a size of 1 inch (or 2.5 cm) of the carapace or about 2 inches (or 5 cm) total length.


In nature, Cambarus bartonii mates in the fall and spawns in early spring.


Females carry eggs for approximately one month prior to hatching.


Newly hatched young crayfish are incapable of living separately from the mother for the first 2 weeks. They need to molt before they become completely independent.

After separation from the mother, it is recommended to keep baby crayfish in a rearing tank to prevent potential aggression from the adults.


It is not recommended to keep Cambarus bartonii with other crayfish species or even conspecifics. They will fight eventually and more aggressive crayfish species can become dominant.

These crayfish can be hostile to fishes, crabsdwarf frogs, and especially freshwater snails

Bottom-dwelling, slow-moving, or fish with long fins (like Betta) will be the first ones to get hurt.

Although these crayfish do not usually hunt for dwarf shrimp, they can definitely catch weak, or molting shrimp.

In Conclusion

Cambarus bartonii are very undemanding and easy to care for, even for beginners. They are well-suited for a low-tech aquarium without heating, especially if you have acidic water.

However, if you decide to keep these crayfish, you should be aware of their aggressive nature and the limited choices of potential aquarium mates for them.

Related articles:

  1. How to Set Up a Crayfish Tank
  2. 55 Most Popular Questions about Crayfish
  3. 7 Most Popular Aquarium Crayfish Species


  1. Dunham, David W. “Aggressive interactions between the crayfishes Cambarus bartonii bartonii and C. robustus (Decapoda: Cambaridae): interspecific and intraspecific contests.” Journal of Crustacean Biology19, no. 1 (1999): 131-146.
  2. Thoma, Roger F., and Raymond F. Jezerinac. “The taxonomic status and zoogeography of Cambarus bartonii carinirostris Hay, 1914 (Crustacea: Decapoda: Cambaridae).” PROCEEDINGS-BIOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF WASHINGTON112 (1999): 97-105.
  3. Hadley, Kristopher R., Andrew M. Paterson, Ron A. Reid, James A. Rusak, Keith M. Somers, Ron Ingram, and John P. Smol. “Altered pH and reduced calcium levels drive near extirpation of native crayfish, Cambarus bartonii, in Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada.” Freshwater Science34, no. 3 (2015): 918-932.
  4. Dunham, D. W., K. A. Ciruna, and H. H. Harvey. “Chemosensory role of antennules in the behavioral integration of feeding by the crayfish Cambarus bartonii.” Journal of Crustacean Biology17, no. 1 (1997): 27-32.
  5. Distefano, Robert J., Richard J. Neves, Louis A. Helfrich, and Mark C. Lewis. “Response of the crayfish Cambarus bartonii bartonii to acid exposure in southern Appalachian streams.” Canadian Journal of Zoology69, no. 6 (1991): 1585-1591.
  6. Sherba, M., D. W. Dunham, and H. H. Harvey. “Sublethal copper toxicity and food response in the freshwater crayfish Cambarus bartonii (Cambaridae, Decapoda, Crustacea).” Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety46, no. 3 (2000): 329-333.
  7. Hartman, Kyle J., Christopher D. Horn, and Patricia M. Mazik. “Influence of elevated temperature and acid mine drainage on mortality of the crayfish Cambarus bartonii.” Journal of Freshwater Ecology25, no. 1 (2010): 19-30.
  8. DiStefano, Robert J. “Effects of acidification on the crayfish Cambarus bartonii bartonii in southern Appalachian streams.” PhD diss., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1987.
  9. Appalachian brook crayfish (Cambarus bartonii). Ecological Risk Screening Summary
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, June 2015

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