Natural Selections: Procambarus Clarkii

Whether you know them as crawfish, mudbugs, Louisiana lobsters or crayfish, everyone in and around Mobile Bay is familiar with these resilient freshwater crustaceans. You know how to peel them. You know they taste delicious. But did you know that they sometimes eat their own exoskeletons? There’s much more to learn about the red swamp crawfish than just your neighbor’s secret seasoning combination.

BAMA’S BEST Alabama is home to 83 different species – more than any other state.

TALL TAILS Having a straight tail has nothing to do with how long a crawfish has been dead, according to a recent study by the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. It is more likely the result of too many being cooked in one pot.

BYE-BYE BABY “Their life cycle is fascinating, ” says Dr. LaDon Swann, local director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. “When the spring's  flooding brings them out of their burrows, baby crawfish are attached to the underside of the mother, much like spiders. The babies keep growing, detach when they’re big enough to survive on their own and eventually go back and burrow themselves. The cycle just repeats itself.”

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ALIEN INVASION The red swamp crawfish has been introduced to many non-native habitats, such as Europe, Japan and even the River Nile, as bait, pets and a commercial food source. They have become an unwanted, invasive pest in these areas, killing off other species, causing problems with irrigation and introducing new parasites. “Some think they’re a nuisance, but not here, ” Swann says. “Because Mobile is in their natural range.”

’TIS THE SEASON “Crawfish season usually runs from Thanksgiving to July 4, depending on weather, ” says Becky “Momma” Devery, of Mudbugs at the Loop. “They don’t like freezing cold like we had in February, and they don’t like extreme heat.”

MADE IN CHINA When you buy frozen crawfish tails, chances are that they came all the way from the Red Dragon country, where they have a longer harvest season than in Louisiana. When buying frozen, be sure to ask from whence the mudbugs originated.

ESCAPE ARTISTS “They normally crawl forward on their legs, but when trying to escape their enemies, crawfish swim backwards, ” Swann says. “They have tons of muscles in their tails, so swinging it back and forth helps them move in reverse quickly.” Another protective mechanism, the ability to move their eyes independently of one another, allows them to remain aware of possible predators. 

TASTE BUDS White river crawfish are one of the two edible species commercially available in the United States. Although their meat tastes almost identical, the red swamp variety is preferred in the culinary world solely because of their bright crimson hue.

Natural Selections is a new department that focuses on local flora and fauna. Email topic suggestions to us at [email protected].

text by HALEY POTTS • illustration by kelan mercer

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