Cherax pulcher – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cherax pulcher – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cherax pulcher are probably the most beautiful crayfish in the aquarium hobby. Cherax pulcher – pulcher meaning “beautiful” in Latin. Therefore, if you are thinking about the gorgeous display and species-only tanks, they should be an option for you to consider.

One of the great things about this species is that Cherax pulcher are easy to care for. They are pretty hardy crayfish and can withstand varied ranges of water parameters.

Being a recently discovered species, much is still unknown about Cherax pulcher. Nonetheless, in this guide, I gathered everything we currently know about this species including ideal tank setups, healthy diets, breeding, compatibility with plants and other species, etc.

Because of its exquisite coloring, therefore, its popularity with the aquarium trade and for consumption, there is a major population decline of Cherax pulcher species in the wild.

 Quick Notes about Cherax Pulcher

Name Cherax pulcher
Common Names Cherax Hoa Creek, Blue Moon crayfish, Cherax Irian Jaya, Colorful Crayfish, Thunderbolt Crayfish, Pink Coral Crayfish, Rosemoon Crayfish
Scientific Name Cherax (Astaconephrops) pulcher
Tank size (minimum) 15 gallons (~60 liters)
Keeping Easy-Medium
Breeding Medium-Difficult
Size 10 – 12 cm (4 – 5 inches)
Optimal Temperature 22 – 26 C (71 – 79 F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 4 – 12
Optimal KH 1 – 6
Nitrate Less than 20 ppm
Diet Omnivore 
Temperament Aggressive
Life span up to 5 year
Color Form White, blue and violet, or greenish-grey morph 

Taxonomy and History of the Cherax Pulcher

Christian Lukhaup (aka Shrimp king) identified the new species of freshwater crayfish as a Cherax pulcher in 2015.

Note: He also identified Vampire crabs (Geosesarma dennerle) and many other crabs, crayfish, and dwarf shrimp species.

According to Christian Lukhaup, it took him more than 10 years to find the location because pet shop traders and the tribal locals did not want to reveal it.

“Once I’d found some crayfish inside a cave, I turned around and saw them standing there with bows and arrows pointing at me,” he said. “I had to put them down. It seems the tribes relate the crayfish with pregnancy, and they thought if I took them no women would have children again.”

Origins, Natural Habitat of the Cherax Pulcher

Cherax pulcher – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - locationCherax pulcher has a very restricted range of distribution.

This species is endemic to Hoa Creek, close to the village Teminabuan in the southern-central part of the Kepala Burung (Vogelkop) Peninsula, West Papua, Indonesia.

These crayfish are found in rivers and streams with moderate to fast flow levels.

Description of the Cherax Pulcher

Cherax pulcher – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding
photo credit: Christian Lukhaup (ZooKeys 502: 1–10 (2015))

Cherax pulcher is a medium-sized crayfish that can reach 4 – 5 inches (10 – 12 centimeters) in length.

The bright and beautiful carapace of this species reminds an intergalactic sky with thousands of twinkling stars or a tropical sunset. No wonder why Cherax pulcher has been very popular in the ornamental fish trade in Europe, and Asia for about a decade already.

This species can have several colors morphs, the most common and popular are:

  • a white, blue and violet morph with blue and white chelae,
  • a greenish-grey morph with blue and white chelae.

Cherax pulcher has 3 spines on the carapace side. Compared to other crayfish species, they have rather large eyes. The anterior part of the carapace is pinkish to striking pink fading laterally to a greenish-grey. Walking legs light blue to dark blue.

The general life span of Cherax pulcher is up to 4 – 5 years with proper care.

The Behavior of the Cherax Pulcher

Cherax pulcher can make great aquarium pets if you understand their natural tendencies and behaviors and care for them accordingly.

Although they are not very aggressive as their bigger cousins (Blue crayfish, Red crayfishMarbled crayfishCherax Destructor, etc.), they are still not completely peaceful and inoffensive.

Like most crayfish species, Cherax pulcher is not social. On the contrary, they are solitary and territorial creatures. Even though they are not aggressive towards each other on a daily basis, but when aggression occurs it will happen rapidly and without warning.

Males are more aggressive and will likely attack other tank mates. From time to time, you will notice that one or two would lose a leg or claw. Some of these fights may end really badly for one of them. They will pinch and claw instinctively when they feel threatened.

Do not expect to see much of these guys. This species is nocturnal and spend most of their time hiding. The pick of their activity starts at dusk and gradually stops during the night, before sunrise.

This nocturnal behavior is not uncommon for grazing invertebrates and is mainly associated with attempting to avoid visual predators whilst feeding. However, it does not mean that you will never see them in a day time. This crayfish species is simply less active during this time.

Cherax pulcher are very good escape artists. It is good to have your tanks covered as much as you can.

Features:

  • Social: No
  • Active: No
  • Peaceful: No

Feeding Cherax Pulcher

Cherax pulcher are natural-born scavengers.

In the wild, they mainly feed on vegetable debris, roots, stems, and supplemented with dead insects, tadpoles, worms, larvae, etc. Basically, they are omnivores and can eat almost anything.

In captivity, for the best growth, Cherax pulcher need a good mix of meats and vegetation, where their feeds should contain protein at a level of about 20 – 30% of the diet.

Suggested foods for your crayfish are (some links to Amazon):

Important:  Despite your crayfish’s food desires, you should avoid giving protein-rich foods (such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, etc.) all the time. It should be given only as a treat or in addition to other food for extra nutrients.

Features:

  • Diet Type: Omnivore.
  • Food Preference: Mix of meats and vegetation.
  • Feeding Frequency: 3 – 4 times a week.

Rules of Diet in Captivity for Cherax pulcher

  • Feed them before lights out.
  • Leaves and vegetables should be their primal food. Oak leaves, Indian Almond leaves, Walnut leaves, etc. should be always available in the tank.
  • Leave their food for 24 hours before removing it. Leaves can be left for several days in the tank. Just make sure that whatever Cherax pulcher does not consume in one day is removed to prevent water contamination.
  • Keep in mind that crayfish often drag and store food in their hiding spots for later consumption. Check them from time to time to prevent any bacterial contaminations.
  • One of the most important things is that Cherax pulcher need diversity in food. Do not give them the same food all the time. Change their diet periodically.

You can read more about it in my articles:

Do not forget that calcium plays a huge role for crayfish. Therefore. I highly recommend reading my article “How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium”.

Are Cherax Pulcher Plant Safe?

No, Cherax pulcher are not plant safe. Like most crayfish species, they will try to eat, cut, shred, and uproot everything in the tank.

Therefore, 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.

You can also read my articles:

Keeping and Housing Cherax Pulcher

As with any fish, shrimp, or snail tank, make sure that the tank is set up correctly, and that the water is properly cycled. Don’t forget to do a 15-20% water change a week.

Tank Size:

A 15-gallon (60 liters) tank is recommended minimum for one Cherax pulcher. Personally, I’d start with 20-gallon (80 liters) tank per one crayfish!

Some reasons to have a larger tank:

  • The bigger the tank, the better it may be to set up with diverse areas for them to dwell.
  • Crayfish produce a lot of waste! So, it can be easier to keep your water parameters stable.

Tip: Cherax pulcher are great escape artists and will climb air hoses and silicon sealant because of this, you should place a fitted lid on the tank. When keeping any type of crayfish, it is a good idea to make sure the water line in your aquarium is not too high.

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Cherax pulcher snails will thrive in a range of 22 – 26 C (71 – 79 F). The temperature is one of the main factors affecting their growth, survival, and breeding patterns. Higher temperature will increase their metabolism and breeding rate but will reduce the lifespan.
pH: According to the study, in their natural habitat, the water has a pH 6.6. Therefore, optimal water pH should be provided for this species in the range of 6.5 – 7.5.
Hardness: KH > 1 and GH > 4.

Lighting:

Cherax pulcher do not really need light. They are nocturnal animals.

Therefore, lighting should be adapted to the needs of plants in the tank if you have one.

For more information, you can read my “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Aeration and Water Flow:

In nature, Cherax pulcher need high levels of oxygen to thrive. Because they have adapted to live in streams with a swift current.

Therefore, they will appreciate a well-oxygenated tank with decent water flow.

Substrate:

Even though Cherax pulcher can be kept in any tank with any substrate, it is still recommended to use smooth gravel over any other type.

  • Their natural environment is composed of smaller rocks, sand, gravel, and lots of boulders.

Note: My guess is that it is easier to grow algae and biofilm on them!

The substrate also plays a crucial role if you want to keep your pH less than 7.0 (neutral). In this case, you will need an active substrate. Active substrate means that it changes (in our case, it lowers) the water parameter (pH). For example, it can be ADA Amazonia aqua soil, Fluval Plant and Shrimp StratumAkadama-Bonsai soil, etc.

Decorations and Hiding Places:

Important: You need to provide a lot of places to hide. This is also crucial for the molting process (read more here about it)! Cannibalism after molting can become a huge problem as well.

Cherax pulcher will appreciate all types of leaves, rocks, woods, PVC pipes, bricks, etc. in your tank. They like spots that are as narrow as possible for themselves to fit in.

Important: Before putting Cherax pulcher into your tank do not forget to carefully acclimate them as all invertebrates. Do it very slowly. In general, 2 – 3 hours will be good enough.

Be careful with chemicals like copperCrayfish do not tolerate copper-based medications. 

Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Identifying and Sexing Cherax Pulcher

The gender of Cherax pulcher can be determined externally:

  1. Males are a little bit bigger than females. They also have much larger claws than females. Their tails are also narrower.
  2. Males of the species are more brightly colored than females.
  3. The female and male Cherax pulcher can be told apart by looking at the lower part of their abdomen (the lower part of the white section of the underbelly).

Males have an extra set of pleopods used for internal fertilization. Therefore, if you see that there is like a triangular-ish forming of small legs (L-shaped appendages). That will indicate a male. Females have seminal receptacles and lack the extra pleopods found behind the walking legs on males.

Breeding Cherax Pulcher

There is no much information regarding breeding Cherax pulcher. It is not because it is difficult but how rare this species in the aquarium trade. Nonetheless, I have found a few reports according to which:

  • Cherax pulcher become mature when they are about 8 – 10 months old and approximately 5 – 6 cm (2 – 2.5 inches) in total length.
  • Females can carry up to 50 eggs. Like all crayfish, females use their appendages to keep the eggs clean from dirt and well oxygenated.
  • The eggs will hatch in 30 – 40 days.
  • Even though they don’t seem to be particularly aggressive towards the young crayfish, it is still recommended to keep them in a separate tank with the same water parameters.
  • Compared to adults, tiny Cherax pulcher will need more protein to grow and in the absence of food can start cannibalizing fast.
  • Baby Cherax pulcher are very secretive and hide (often burrow) most of the time.

Cherax Pulcher and Suitable Tankmates

As previously stated, although they are not extremely aggressive as some other species, they are still not completely peaceful and inoffensive.

Cherax pulcher can also be antagonistic and territorial (especially males). Males are extremely likely to fight when housed together. Therefore, it can be risky to house multiple crayfish in the same tank.

Ideally, Cherax pulcher are usually better in solitary confinement. Multiple Cherax pulcher should be kept in groups of one male with 1 – 2 females. In this case, crayfish should be well-fed at all times and there must be a lot of hiding places. Nonetheless, even this way it is not possible to completely avoid aggression.

Fish:

No aggressive fish should be kept in the same tank with them.

At the same time, any fish that swim near the bottom of the tank is not a good option. The same is true of slow swimming fish. Cherax pulcher may behave aggressively towards a fish if they feel threatened. They do not have the capability to kill most fish, but they will not hesitate to take chunks of fins.

Note: Even though it is possible for crayfish to coexist with fish I would not recommend it.

Read my article “Can You Keep Crayfish With Other Fish?”.

Snails and Shrimp:

Snails and dwarf shrimp can easily become crayfish food. They may grab anything passing, swimming, or crawling by.

Although shrimp are usually too fast for the Cherax pulcher, you will still lose shrimp from time to time. In addition, any molting shrimp is an easy meal for a crayfish. If crayfish gets hold of a shrimp, the shrimp usually does not have any chances.

Personally, I never recommend keeping even dwarf crayfish species with shrimp. 

In Conclusion

Crayfish have become pretty popular as pets over the last few decades and the trade has increased hugely in recent years. They are a great option for someone looking for a change from fishkeeping.

Nonetheless, adding Cherax pulcher to your aquarium is a great idea, only if you are ready to fulfill their needs and provide a certain level of attention and care.

Having them as pets can be exciting but it is one big responsibility. After all, Cherax pulcher can live for several years.

Related articles:

Introduction to the Crayfish Care – Setup, Diet, and Facts.

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