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Painted Mudbug

A most remarkable beast follows; something one certainly doesn’t see everyday. For most – maybe all! readers, I bet this would be a “life crustacean”.

Many thanks to Mark Dilley for not only finding these critters, but letting me share his stunning photographs.

I’ll bet you’ve seen these in your wanderings. Small chimney-like structures of mud, surrounding the entrance to a subterranean cavity. They are the work of crayfish, and there are a number of species that create these dwellings. Crayfish burrows typically are found in more less permanently muddy areas; oft-flooded fields and meadows, wetland margins, springy areas, floodplains and the like. The inhabitants spend the day in the cool, moist confines of the den, emerging at night to lurk at or near the entrance, grabbing any small animal unlucky enough to happen by.

Once in a while, one gets very lucky, as Mark did, and finds one of the armored troglodytes out and about. Bet you’ve never seen a blue crayfish! This is the Painted Mudbug, Cambarus polychromatus, and for something plated and primitive, it is quite the stunner. This one was only described in 2005 and is known in only a handful of states; a great find by Mark.

Studying nocturnal, subterranean crayfish is not easy. One of the methods employed by researchers is the use of a strong pump. Running a tube down into the burrow, they utilize suction to vacuum out the contents and see who is home. This can be done without harming the inhabitants, and has revealed all kinds of interesting information about crayfish and the other critters that share the burrows.

Excellent shot here, showing the mudbug’s formidable pincers. The world of subterranean crayfish is a very poorly known realm, but a fascinating one. For instance, the burrows excavated by the crayfish are inhabited by a great many other animals – everything from tiny invertebrates to large dragonfly larvae. It’s thought that the federally endangered Hine’s Emerald dragonfly’s larvae may make extensive use of crayfish burrows; hence the difficulty of finding them in the larval stage.

We are fortunate to have one of the world’s leading experts on crayfish living in Ohio, Roger Thoma. He helped Mark pin down the ID of the Painted Mudbug, as well as the drab critter above. It is the Little Brown Mudbug, Cambarus thomai, Roger’s namesake! Discovered by Roger, this obscure animal was only described in 1993 and thus far is known only in five Midwestern states.


DebM said…
Hi Jim--those native crayfish are making me jealous. I was out at camp today and the Big Darby is absolutely teeming with rusty crayfish. Big ones, teeny ones, and all sizes in between. But I got a lifer wildflower--as best I can tell it is Ruellia strepens. Of course I didn't have my camera. Not sure why I haven't seen it before--I must not get out enough in June--have to do something about that. When I got home there was a giant swallowtail nectaring on my patio! First time ever that I've seen one in the suburbs. I did grab my camera for that. Can't complain about a day spent in the creek with a bunch of kids, a lifer wildflower, and a new butterfly for my yard list!

Deb Marsh
Wow, I will be looking at crayfish and their chimneys in a much different light now. Wondering who is really inhabiting the towers. I learn so much from your outings.

I would love to run into some of those Lady Slippers too. They are gorgeous.
dAwN said…
Great photos..I never knew that these critters lived in a home like that...nice!
Dave Lewis said…
Laurie and I saw a Crayfish at Ottawa along the back ponds today. I didn't realize that they lived in burrows. I thought he looked out of place on the dry gravel path.
Marvin said…
Definitely a life crustacean for me. Not many mudbugs up on our rocky ridge.

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