Orange Crayfish – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Orange Crayfish (Cherax holthuisi) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cherax holthuisi, commonly known as Apricot crayfish or Orange crayfish, is a colorful and highly sought-after crayfish in the freshwater aquarium hobby owing to its distinct appearance, bright pigmentation, and ease of care.

Another great thing about this species is that these crayfish are relatively peaceful and easy to breed in freshwater tanks, making them a great choice even for beginner aquarists.

So, if you are looking for something unique to add to your aquarium then the Cherax holthuisi can be an interesting choice for you.

Keep reading for more information about this amazing crayfish, including how you can care for Cherax holthuisi in your aquarium, and if these crustaceans are the right pets for you at all. 

Quick Notes about Cherax Holthuisi

Name Orange crayfish
Other names Apricot crayfish, Apricot cherax, Orange Papua New Guinea crayfish
Scientific Name Cherax holthuisi
Tank size (minimum) 15 gallons (~60 liters)
Keeping Easy-medium
Breeding Easy-medium
Average size 3.2–3.7 inches (8 – 10 cm) long
Optimal Temperature 71 – 75 °F (22 – 24 °C)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 8.0
Optimal GH 3 – 12 
Diet Omnivore 
Temperament Conditionally Peaceful
Life span up to 7 years
Color Form Besides the orange ones there are also grey, whitish, yellow or bluish individuals

History and Taxonomy of Cherax Holthuisi

Orange Crayfish (Cherax holthuisi) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - carcinologists
Drs M. Boeseman, L.D. Brongersma and L.B. Holthuis in 1954 (photo origin)

In 1952, Dutch ichthyologist Dr. Marinus Boeseman collected 9 specimens of genus Cherax from locals on the shores of Lake Aitinjo. At that time, these unknown specimens were deposited in the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie as lots RMNH D 51503 and RMNH D 51504.

In 2006, German carcinologists Reinhard Pekny and Christian Lukhaup (aka Shrimp king) attempted to identify some exotic crayfish on the pet market in Germany. Surprisingly, their specimens matched Boeseman’s undescribed specimens.

A new species was called Cherax holthuisi in honor of Lipke Holthuis, the greatest carcinologist of our time.

Note: A carcinologist is a scientist who studies crustaceans or is otherwise involved in carcinology.

Distribution and Habitat of Cherax Holthuisi

Orange Crayfish (Cherax holthuisi) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding
photo by Christian Lukhaup

Cherax holthuisi is a crayfish endemic to West Papua, Indonesia. This species can be found only in the Aitinjo Lake on the Bird’s Head Peninsula at the western end of New Guinea, in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

The lake is relatively small, it is only 2.5 mi (4 kilometers) long and up to 1,150 ft (350 meters) wide, and is surrounded by steep mountains.

Cherax holthuisi is rather living underground than in the open.

Because Cherax holthuisi is one of the species from this region that are heavily exploited for ornamental purposes, it was included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Description of Cherax Holthuisi

Orange crayfish are not large animals. Generally, they grow only up to 3.2–3.7 inches (8 – 10 cm) long.

These crayfish are available in bright-colored morphs such as pink, orange, or pale yellow. However, blue, grey, and whitish strains of this species also exist in the aquarium trade due to selective breeding.

Note: Blue, grey, and whitish morphs come from the crayfish being bred in captivity and not in the wild. There is no information on who, how, when, and where these morphs originated for the first time. 

Difference between Cherax Holthuisi, Cherax Snowden, and Cherax Subterigneu

Unfortunately, it can be especially hard to tell these species apart when they are young. Even professional carcinologists acknowledge the fact that they really look extraordinarily similar, morphologically these species are almost identical.

Nonetheless, there are still some things that can help us out. Cherax holthuisi is mainly differentiated from the other species in the genus Cherax by the form of the rostrum, the shape of the claws, and the small size of its eyes.

  Cherax holthuisi

(Orange crayfish)

Cherax Snowden

(Orange Tip crayfish)

Cherax Subterigneus

(Black Orange Tip Crayfish)

Rostrum the rostrum has 2 indentations on each side, and several indistinct lobes and no spines present The rostrum has 2 rostral teeth on each side near the apex The rostrum in Cherax Subterigneu is 1.8-2.1 times as long as basal width while 1.5 times in Orange crayfish.
Claws   Tips of the chelae are striking orange They have broader and longer claws.

 

Eyes Small eyes compared to the eyes of other  Cherax species    
Main color Yellow Dark green to light green or greenish-gray Dark yellowish

Lifespan of Cherax Holthuisi

Currently, there is no data available on the maximum lifespan for Cherax holthuisi in the wild.

However, in captivity, Orange crayfish can live up to 5 – 7 years, if appropriately cared for.

Typical Behavior of Cherax Holthuisi

Fully grown Orange crayfish is one of the few types of crayfish that can be relatively safely kept in a community tank.

Although they are not very aggressive as their cousins (Blue crayfish, Red crayfishMarbled crayfishCherax Destructor, etc.). It is not recommended to keep several males in the group.

Due to their big claws, Orange crayfish move somewhat clumsily.

This species is not very active. Orange crayfish are nocturnal animals. The pick of their activity starts at dusk and gradually stops during the night, before sunrise.

However, once settled and in the absence of large or aggressive tank mates, they can crawl around the tank even during the day time.

Like all crayfish, they are also amazing climbers. Given the opportunity, they will try to get out of any tank.

Orange crayfish is a moderate burrowing species. It means that these crayfish are not diggers in their true sense, but they can push out some soil to make their own dens.

In the aquarium, they can be messy and/or destructive. These crayfish will move objects around and redecorate your aquascape to their liking. So, be aware of that before putting them into the display tank.

Features:

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

Diet of Cherax Holthuisi

Orange crayfishare predominantly omnivorous and detritivorous feeders. It means that they will add to the diet whatever they can catch or find on the bottom of your tank. This decomposing organic material serves as an important nutrient source for them.

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

Note: Crayfish do not even stop at cannibalism for meeting their protein requirements.

In captivity, Orange crayfish will eat a wide variety of foods including:

  • Blanched vegetables (broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, corn, spinach, peas, squash, leafy greens, etc.).
  • Fruits (Apple, banana, pear, melon, mango, etc.).
  • Detritus,
  • Leaf litter,
  • Seeds,
  • Frozen blood worms,
  • Detritus worms,
  • Tubifex worms,
  • Blackworms,
  • Earthworms,
  • Freshly crushed snails,
  • Dead fish or shrimp,
  • Commercial shrimp or fish food (Shrimp pellets., Shrimp Granules, Fish food TetraMin® flakes, etc. (links to check the price on Amazon).

It is recommended that the leaves (for example, Almond leaves, dead beech, oak leaves, etc.) should always be on the menu, as they feed on these and require the detritus from the leaves. 

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 invertebrates foods.

Important: Protein deficiency can hinder growth and leads to weight loss because protein is important to maintain vital organs. Whereas calcium is needed for several vital life processes in crayfish, the most obvious being the formation of exo-skeleton. Calcium carbonate is the basic natural compound of their exoskeleton.

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

Related article:

Features:

  • Diet Type: Mostly herbivorous /omnivore
  • Food Preference: Leaves and vegetables
  • Feeding Frequency: 3 – 4 times a week

How often should we change the food for Cherax Holthuisi?

Crayfish are not fast eaters. Leave their food for 24 hours before removing it. Leaves can be left for several days or even weeks in the tank, Orange crayfish will love that.

Tip: It is better to feed them at night (at least in the evening). After all, they are nocturnal animals. Therefore, by doing so, you will replicate the conditions and environment under which they eat naturally.

How Often to Feed Cherax Holthuisi?

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

Obviously, you will have to change it to your livestock’s requirements. It is extremely important to not let them starve or they can try to go after their tank mates (fish, fry, etc.) or even cannibalize.

Cherax Holthuisi and Live Plants

In nature, this species is found in dense aquatic vegetation. However, it is still not recommended keeping them in the planted tank.

Orange crayfish will eat, and cut just about any plant they can get their claws on. In addition, there is always the risk of them digging up the carefully set-up tank and destroying the plants.

So, the only viable options for this species are:

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

You can also read my articles:

Feeding Rules:

  • Leave their food for 12-24 hours before removing it. Leaves can be left for several days in the tank. Just make sure that whatever they do not consume in one day is removed to prevent water contamination.
  • Check the burrows. Keep in mind that Orange crayfish often drag and store food in their hiding spots for later consumption. Check them from time to time to prevent any bacterial contaminations.
  • Diversity. Do not give them the same food all the time. Provide various food items to diversify the diet. It will make them stronger and grow faster.
  • Aggression. They become more aggressive when hungry. Keep in mind that calcium and protein play fundamental roles in their life. If they do not get enough they also become aggressive and may even turn cannibalistic!

Keeping and Housing Cherax Holthuisi

Keeping Orange crayfish in a tank is not very difficult because they do not have strict water quality requirements.

Nonetheless, owning any pet carries significant responsibility and obligation to address its core needs! 

Therefore, before you even decide to bring Orange crayfish, make sure that the tank is properly cycled and filtration is working as it should, you should detect NO ammonia or nitrites.

Tank size:

Orange Crayfish (Cherax holthuisi) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - substrateKeep in mind that having too many Cherax holthuisi in insufficient space can easily lead to health problems, increased aggression, 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.

Therefore, the minimum recommended tank size for one Orange crayfish 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.

Tip: 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.

Important: 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 Orange crayfish is between the range of 71 – 75 °F (22 – 24 °C).

pH: Optimal water pH should be provided for this species in the range of 7.0 – 8.0. However, it will not be a problem if you have slightly acidic water (pH 6.5) in your freshwater aquarium.

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

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

These crayfish can live in tap water but you need to prepare it first. Age your water for a few days to remove chlorine.

Keep in mind that “aging” does not remove chloramines. Therefore, if your city water has it you will have to use special products (water conditioners) to neutralize it. Because it is the only way to get rid of chloramines in the water.

Filtration:

In terms of water quality, no special requirements. As long as you have got the filter that works great with the size of the tank you have got your crayfish will be fine.

In terms of maintenance, adult Orange crayfish may chip and chew on the sponge filter. Just keep that in mind. If you want to avoid this problem, there are two options here:

  1. Hang on the back,
  2. Canister filters.

Oxygen:

Oxygen is also required in aquarium water. It is achieved with an additional pump apart from the filter.

Lighting:

No special requirements. In the wild, Cherax holthuisi 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.

Substrate:

In the aquarium, Orange crayfish should be provided with small gravel and/or sand substrates into which they can burrow if they want to. It will be an ideal setup for them.

This way it will be easier to clean the substrate after feeding them.

Decorations and Hiding Spots:

The main purpose of incorporating decors in a tank is to replicate its natural habitat and provide the best environment for the crayfish. 

Shelter and protection is a key requirements for any crayfish.  Providing shelter during the mating season is important as it offers protection during periods of vulnerability such as molting, protects the broodstock against predation, and minimizes aggressive interactions.

Therefore, it is extremely important to give them a lot of places to hide, especially, if you decide to keep them in a community tank. A LOT!

Orange crayfish will appreciate all types of rocks, wood, PVC pipes, and other decorations to enrich the environment in your tank.

Tip: Crayfish prefer spots that are as narrow as possible for them to fit in.

Related article:

Acclimation:

Regardless of their hardiness, do not forget to acclimate crayfish before putting them into the tank.

Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Molt Cycle of Cherax Holthuisi

The crayfish exoskeleton is multi-layered and consists of calcified chitin and protein material.

The exoskeleton ensures protection of the internal organs of the crayfish, but, at the same time, it limits their growth. Therefore, growth and development involve periodic shedding and reconstruction of the hard calcified exoskeleton. 

When Orange crayfish is about to molt it becomes less active, stops eating, and seeks shelter of some kind where protection. Otherwise, they can easily fall prey to their tankmates.

Important:

  • NEVER disturb your crayfish when they are molting. They prefer to hide. 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
  • 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.

Related article:

Sexing Cherax Holthuisi

This species is sexually dimorphic. The gender of Orange crayfish can be determined externally:

  1. Claws. Males have larger claws than females.
  2. Shape. Females have a wide tail; their carapace is also slightly bigger.
  3. Abdomen. Males 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.

Related article:

Breeding Cherax Holthuisi

  • Do not keep too many animals in too small tanks,
  • Keep the optimal ratio of males and females (1:1),
  • Provide enough food (a high-quality diet),
  • Give them a lot of hiding places (especially the juveniles require numerous suitable
    shelters),
  • Ensure proper water quality with a sufficiently high oxygen level.

Mating:

If a female is ready and interested in mating, she will allow a male to approach. After that, the male flip over the female, clamps her claws and puts her on the back, and deposits the spermatophores in a protective receptacle in the female.

The female crayfish will then fold over her tail, placing spermatophores under her body so that she may fertilize her eggs.

Interesting fact: In the crayfish world, strength does not play any role in mating. Even when the female is bigger and stronger than the male, she will let him “defeat” her and flip over. The results of the study show that, if the females are not ready to mate, they will always escape even when the males are bigger and stronger.

Eggs:

The number of eggs varies with female size and water temperature:

  • Low temperatures reduce
  • The size of a female also positively correlates to the number of eggs she can carry. Large females can carry more eggs.

Females usually carry a few dozen of eggs. They use their appendages (pleopods) to keep the eggs clean from dirt and well-oxygenated.

Depending on the temperature, it usually takes from 4 – 6 weeks to hatch.

Hatching:

Cherax holthuisi have a direct development. They do not have larval stages and metamorphosis.

However, newly hatched young crayfish are incapable of living separately from the mother for the first several days. They molt a few times 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.

Cherax Holthuisi and Suitable Tankmates

Keeping Orange crayfish in a community tank together with fish, shrimp, snails, etc. requires some careful consideration.

Although these crayfish are not very aggressive, they are not social as well. They may behave aggressively if they feel threatened.

Fish:

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

Dwarf shrimp:

Orange crayfish usually do not usually hunt for dwarf shrimp.

Dwarf shrimp are too small and too fast for them. However, they are opportunistic and will eat whatever they catch. It means that you may still lose shrimp from time to time.

So, if you are seriously planning to breed dwarf shrimp, I strongly believe that keeping them together is not the best course of action.

Snails:

It will not be a good idea to keep ornamental snails with Orange crayfish.

There is a very high chance that crayfish will catch and eat them in the tank

Bad Tank Mates: 

You need to avoid keeping Orange crayfish with:

As we can see, the ideal situation for Orange crayfish is a species tank.

In Conclusion

An increasing number of colorful crayfish species are sold from New Guinea in the ornamental fish trade in Europe, Asia, and the United States and Cherax holthuisi is one of them.

Due to the fact that this species is included in the list of threatened species, we must be absolutely sure that our tanks are ideally set up according to their natural habitat.

Provide enough hiding places and avoid combining them with tank mates that do not harmonize due to their size, nutritional requirements, and origin. It will make them happy and healthy.

References:

  1. Lukhaup, C., and R. Pekny. “Cherax (Cherax) holthuisi, a new species of crayfish (Crustacea: Decapoda: Parastacidae) from the centre of the Vogelkop Peninsula in Irian Jaya (West New Guinea), Indonesia.” Zoologische Mededelingen 80, no. 1 (2006): 101-107.
  2. Patoka, Jiří, Martin Bláha, and Antonín Kouba. “Cherax (Cherax) subterigneus, a new crayfish (decapoda: Parastacidae) from West Papua, Indonesia.” Journal of Crustacean Biology 35, no. 6 (2015): 830-838.
  3. Patoka, J., L. Kalous, and O. Kopecký. “Imports of ornamental crayfish: the first decade from the Czech Republic’s perspective.” Knowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems 416 (2015): 04.
  4. Austin C.M., 2010a. Cherax holthuisi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/153651/0.
  5. Patoka, Jiří. “Crayfish of New Guinea: Current status, exploitation and threats.” Evolution, Habitat and Conservation Strategies. Nova (2020): 43-70. 

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