Red Claw Crayfish – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Red Claw Crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cherax quadricarinatus, generally known as the Red claw crayfish, are commonly traded as pets.

Due to its vibrant coloration, flexible diet, fast growth, high fecundity, and stress tolerance, Red claw crayfish can be an ideal low-maintenance candidate for large freshwater aquariums.

Red claw crayfish are highly adaptable to various water quality parameters such as different levels of ammonia, nitrites, pH, hardness, alkalinity, temperature, and oxygen.

Keep reading for more information on the Red claw crayfish, this guide covers details on its appearance, behavior, feeding habits, care, and lots more.

Warning: NEVER release the Red claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) into the wild! This species is nationally and globally classified as an invasive species. Unfortunately, aquarium releases account for many aquatic invasive species.

The introduction and spreading of non-indigenous species of aquatic fauna has caused and still causes, strong ecological impacts in freshwater environments
worldwide.

This is one of the leading threats to freshwater biodiversity.

Quick Notes about Redclaw Crayfish

Name Red Claw crayfish
Common Names Redclaw crayfish, Red clawed Yabby, Australian Red clawed crayfish, Blue lobster, Blue yabby, Giant crayfish
Scientific Name Cherax quadricarinatus
Tank size (optimal) 30 gallons (~120 liters)
Keeping Easy
Breeding Easy-Medium
Size up to 13 inches (35 cm)
Optimal Temperature 73 – 82°F (23 – 28°C)
Optimal PH 7.0 – 8.5
Optimal GH 3 – 25 
Optimal KH 3 – 20
Diet Detritivore / omnivore
Temperament Conditionally peaceful as adults
Aggressive as juveniles
Life span up to 5 years
Color Form Blue (dark to light blue)

Distribution of Red Claw Crayfish

Cherax quadricarinatus is a tropical species of freshwater crayfish native to the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia and southern New Guinea.

However, being a successful invasive species, it is now widespread globally out of its native range as a result of the aquaculture and aquarium trade.

Cherax quadricarinatus has become successfully established in different aquatic ecosystems in Europe (the Iberian Peninsula), Asia (Singapore, Israel), South Africa, , Latin America (Ecuador, Argentina, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, and others), and even in Los Angeles, California (Lake Balboa).

Note: Currently, Cherax quadricarinatus is considered as the 2nd most cosmopolitan crayfish species globally, after the Red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii).

Habitat of Red Claw Crayfish

These crayfish prefer high turbidity and slow-moving rivers, lakes, lagoons, or static water holes.

However, were also found in freshwater irrigation channels, fast-flowing rivers and streams, and brackish-water lagoons.

In all cases, rocky habitat with plenty of caves for exploring, foraging, and protection during molting is their preference. 

Description of Red Claw Crayfish

Red Claw Crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - color morphs
Cherax quadricarinatus color morphs

Cherax quadricarinatus is a large-sized crayfish that can reach 13 inches (up to 35 cm) in length at optimal conditions. Males can reach a maximum weight of 500 g (1.1 lb) and females 400 g (0.9 lb).

In general, this species has a dark blue body (carapace) mottled with beige and red/brown spots, with red leg joints. However, in the aquarium trade, it is possible to find some other color variations with a greenish or grey tint.

In juveniles, the color pattern is a little bit different in usually ranges from light blue to light gray, mottled in white with whitish leg joints.

The unique features of the Red claw crayfish include:

  • the presence of four distinct anterior ridges of the carapace,
  • a red-colored patch on the outer margin of the claw (a trait of males), hence the common name.

Lifespan of Red Claw Crayfish

The lifespan of the Red claw crayfish is about 4-5 years long. However, under optimal conditions, they can live up to 6 years in the tank. 

Behavior of Red Claw Crayfish

Despite their large size, adult Red claw crayfish are generally gregarious and non-aggressive, amenable to stocking at relatively high densities in the ponds.

Note: It does not mean that they are social. No, they can just tolerate high stocking densities better when other crayfish species.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about juveniles. The juveniles of this species are pretty aggressive and display a strong competition for resources. According to multiple reports, cannibalism is one of the main causes of low survival in many aquaculture species for the juvenile stage.

Red claw crayfish are nocturnal species that active in the late evening and at night. Their activity gradually stops before sunrise. After that, they usually prefer to find a place to hide in the natural environment.

Cherax quadricarinatus is a non-burrowing species. These crayfish are very good escape artists. It is good to have your tanks covered as much as you can.

Features:

  • Social: No
  • Active: No
  • Peaceful: Generally Yes (adults), No (juveniles)
  • Burrowers: No (generally)

Feeding Red Claw Crayfish

Red claw crayfish are omnivorous and extremely opportunistic eaters. It means that they can eat about anything edible they come across.

Adult individuals will perform well even on a relatively low-protein diet with a high proportion of cheap plant material.

However, this is not recommended for hatchlings and juveniles as it does have adverse effects on growth and aggression. The optimal food for juveniles is zooplankton.

In captivity, for the best growth, Red claw crayfish need a good mix of meats and vegetation, where their feeds should contain protein at a level of about:

  • 20 – 30% of the diet for adults.
  • 30 – 40 % for

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

Features:

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

Tip: It is better to feed them in the evening. Red claw crayfish are nocturnal animals. So, they come out and feed better when the lights are turned down/off, as compared to when lights are on.  

Rules of Diet in Captivity for Red Claw Crayfish

  • Feed them in the evening before lights out. They are nocturnal animals. So, they come out and feed better when the lights are turned down/off, as compared to when lights are on.  
  • Leave their food for 24 hours before removing it. Leaves can be left for several days in the tank. Just make sure that whatever Red claw crayfish do 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 Red claw crayfish 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 in crayfish. Therefore. I highly recommend reading my article “How to Supplement Shrimp and Snails with Calcium”.

Are Red Claw Crayfish Plant Safe?

The short answer is no! Cherax quadricarinatus are not plant safe and cannot be kept in planted tanks.

Like most crayfish species, they will eat, cut, and shred almost everything in the tank.

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 Red Claw Crayfish

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

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:

Red claw crayfish need a large space to survive because of their growth potential. Hence, a 30 gallon (~120 liters) is a recommended tank size per one adult crayfish. 

Remember, these crayfish can grow up to 10-13 inches (25 – 35 cm)!

They are very good escape artists. So, it is good to have your tanks covered as much as you can. Red claw crayfish are also pretty strong and can move light lids, so keep that in mind.

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Ideally, it should be around 73 – 82°F (23 – 28°C). Red claw crayfish are very hardy animals. Their lethal temperature limits are around 50 – 95°F (10 – 35°C). The growth ceases when the temperature falls below 60°F (15°C). So, in most cases, room temperature will suit them fine.

pH: pH should be provided for this species in the range of 7.0 – 8.5.

Hardness: They will appreciate optimal KH 3 – 20 and GH between 3 – 25 GH.

Salinity tolerance: Cherax quadricarinatus inhabit freshwater systems but they can grow well within salinity lower than 10 psu (ppt) through positive gut health and immune adjustment. However, high salinity will cause more opportunistic pathogenic bacteria leading to immune damage.

Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate tolerance:

Meade and Watts (1995) investigated survival rates of juvenile Red claw crayfish under exposure to different concentrations of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Note: In science, LC50 is the lethal concentration required to kill 50% of the snail population.

  • Ammonia. Crayfish exposed to 50, 100, and 200 mg L-1total ammonia concentrations survived an average of 40, 36, and 14 h, respectively.
  • Nitrite. Crayfish exposed to 25, 50, and 100 mg L-1nitrite concentrations survived an average of 96, 22, and 5 h, respectively.
  • Nitrate. No mortalities were observed in crayfish exposed to nitrate concentrations up to 1000 mg/L.

Even though Red claw crayfish are extremely tolerant to ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, it is not recommended to test their limits. The most susceptible organ of crustaceans is the gills, eventually, a high level of Nitrogenous wastes will cause severe gill damage.

Therefore, 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.

Dissolved oxygen:

Red claw crayfish are able to survive for some time under conditions of very low dissolved oxygen (1 ppm).

Survival experiment showed that:

  • crayfish under air exposure started dying after 24 h,
  • survival rate decreased to 62.2% after 36 h,
  • survival rate decreased to 20.0% and 48 h respectively.

Filtration:

There are only two options here – Hang on the back and Canister filters.

Having sponge filters in the aquarium with Red claw crayfish is just a very bad idea. The point is that these crayfish will definitely chip, chew and break apart the sponge.

Lighting:

No special requirements. Red claw crayfish are nocturnal animals.

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:

Their captive habitat must attempt to replicate their natural environment as much as possible. Thus stones and gravel would be the best choice. Substrate should be comfortable and easy to hide.

It may sound trivial but it is not.

Experiments showed that such substrate increased the survival, the total number of molting, and growth rate.

  Natural environment No substrate
Survival 81.25±8.84% 37.50±8.84%
Weight gain 347.36 ±6.04% 122.60±20.51%

Decorations and Hiding Spots:

Red claw crayfish need hiding places to thrive in survive. Artificial shelters are essential and they should be abundant!

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.

Stacks of PVC pipes, mesh bundles, driftwood, etc. provide enough shelter, especially in the grow-out phase.

Molt Cycle of Red Claw Crayfish

In crustaceans, growth, and development involve periodic shedding and reconstruction of the hard calcified exoskeleton. 

For example, under optimal conditions, the average weight after:

  • 3 months is 0.35-0.7oz 1(10-20g)
  • 4 months is 1-1.4oz (30-40g)
  • 6 months is 1.7-2.1oz (50-60g)
  • 9 months is 2.4-2.8 (70-80g)

The molt cycle is divided into four stages:

  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.

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

Red Claw Crayfish – Male and Female Differences

Cherax quadricarinatus are sexually dimorphic. There are a few indicators that give away the gender of the animal.

  1. Growth rate. The Red claw crayfish males grow faster and bigger than females.
  2. Pereopods (legs). To be precise, by the gonopore position. Males have an opening on one of the 5th legs and a female opening on the opposite 3rd leg.
  3. Claws. Dimorphism is confirmed with the major chelae of male crabs reaching larger sizes (wider and longer) than those of females with a similar carapace length.
  4. Males also have the red patch on the claws.

Breeding Red Claw Crayfish

Maturity:

Red claw crayfish reach sexual maturity at 6-12 months with a bodyweight of approximately 0.11 – 0.26 lb (50-120 g) 

Mating:

Unlike most crayfish species, the males do initiate the process and use the claws to grasp and hold the female during copulation.

In Cherax quadricarinatus, females approach males and almost invariably initiate the mating activity.

In their turn, males arch the abdomen and rollover backward on their dorsal side to assume the position beneath the female. On average, copulation lasts for a few minutes during which males and females stay in this position.

Eggs:

Eggs become fertilized within 24 hours after spawning. The reproduction will only occur while water temperature remains above 73°F (23°C).

The size of the Red claw crayfish positively correlates to the number of eggs she can carry. Females of this species can usually have anywhere between 300 – 1000 eggs per brood. 

The eggs are held under the female’s abdomen. Berried females use their pleopods to keep eggs cleaned and well aerated.

Depending on the temperature, eggs are ready to hatch within 6-8 weeks. For example,

  • 42 days at 79°F(26°C)
  • 39 days at 82.5°F (28°C)

During embryonic development, eggs change color from green to brown and orange.

Hatching:

Red Claw Crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - hatchlingsRed claw crayfish have no free-living larval stages, еhe larvae develop within the eggs.

Although, around 90-85% hatch, survival to the juvenile stage is much lower.

Newly hatched young are incapable of living separately from the mother for the first 7-10 days. After that, they leave their mother in 1-3 days as completely independent miniature adults.

Generally, there is no cannibalism of eggs and young by brooding females.

Juveniles require an abundance of planktonic organisms (phytoplankton and zooplankton) which they can utilize as food. According to the study, juvenile Red claw crayfish have slightly different feeding habits to the adults. As a result, without proper diet, juveniles become cannibalistic, leaving very few survivors.

During early juvenile stages, they become subject to cannibalism of newly molted individuals, and/or larger individuals preying on smaller individuals. The fact that juveniles molt frequently and that competition for resources leads to size hierarchy among individuals only aggravates the situation.

Note: Red claw crayfish can spawn all year at 77°F (25°C). Females can spawn up to 4 times per year.

In Conclusion

Cherax quadricarinatus is fast-growing species of freshwater crayfish that is tolerant to a broad range of environmental conditions. Keeping them in the aquarium is easy and simple. It made them one of the most popular pet-traded species.

They have a lot of character, personality, and can be a great addition to your home tank. Red claw crayfish will certainly keep you occupied. Just do not forget how big they can grow.

Related articles:

References:

  1. Growth and intestinal health of the red claw crayfish, Cherax quadricarinatus, reared under different salinities. Aquaculture. Volume 524, 15 July 2020, 735256
  2. Development of Mass Production Hatchery Technology for the Redclaw Crayfish, Cherax quadricarinatus. Freshwater Crayfish 25(1):1–6, 2020
  3. Growth and health status of the red claw crayfish, cheraxquadricarinatus, fed diets with four typical plant protein sources as a replacement for fish meal. Aquaculture nutrition. Volume 27, Issue 3. June 2021. Pages 795-806
  4. Replacement of fish meal with poultry by-product meal in practical diets for redclaw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus). Aquaculture nutrition. Volume 14, Issue 2. April 2008. Pages 139-142
  5. Effects of feeding practical diets containing different protein levels, with or without fish meal, on growth, survival, body composition and processing traits of male and female Australian red claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) grown in ponds. Aquaculture nutrition. Volume 12, Issue 3. June 2006. Pages 227-238
  6. JONES, C. & F. GHERARDI. 2011. Cherax quadricarinatus (redclaw crayfish). In: Inva-sive Species Compendium. CAB Internatio-nal, Wallingford, UK.
  7. KARPLUS, I., M. ZORAN, A. MILSTEIN, S. HARPAZ, Y. ERAN, D. JOSEPH & A. SAGI. 1998. Culture of the Australian red-claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) in Israel: III. Survival in earthen ponds under ambient winter temperatures. Aquaculture,
    166(3-4): 259-267. DOI: 10.1016/S0044-8486 (98)00290-7
  8. Breeding Redclaw. Management and Selection of Broodstock. Department of Primary Industries. 1998
  9. Mating behaviorand a behavioral assay for female receptivity in the Red-Claw Cherax Jornal of Crustacean biology. 19(3): 493-497,1999
  10. Ghanawi, J., Soud, I.P., 2012. Molting, reproductive biology, and hatchery management of redclaw crayfish Cherax quadricarinatus (von Martens 1868). Aquaculture. 358- 359, 183–195.
  11. Effect of Substrate on Growth, Survival and Molting in Juvenile Red Claw, Cherax quadricarinatus. N. Fatihah. 2020
  12. Toxicity of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate to juvenile Australian crayfish, Cherax quadricarinatus. Journal of Shellfish Research, 1995. 14:341-346

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