The Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish
by Web Wheeler
Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish photo taken in natural daylight.
Author's Preface: Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I have been a tropical fish hobbyist since the age of nine. More than 40 years later, I still consider myself primarily a hobbyist. I have been involved in many aspects of the aquarium trade: I have owned and operated an aquarium products import / export business, I have been a commercial breeder and wholesaler of tropical fish and I have owned and operated a retail pet store. This is where the story of the Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish begins.
In the final days before selling my pet store in October of 2001 a customer asked if I would be interested in buying some juvenile Electric Blue Crayfish. Knowing that female Electric Blue Crayfish were hard to get, I said, 'Sure, how many do you have?'.
The next day the customer came back with eight babies and I bought them all. After selling my pet store I was once again keeping tropical fish, and now crayfish, as a hobby.
During the next several months the little Electric Blue Crayfish grew rapidly, and by January of 2002 one of the females was carrying eggs. I separated this female from the others by placing her into a five-gallon bucket until the eggs hatched and the babies were on their own. There were now about seventy-five baby crayfish in the bucket, and when I removed the adult female I noticed that about a dozen of the babies had red eyes! I had never heard of a red-eyed Electric Blue Crayfish before, so I decided to separate these from the rest and raise them on their own. In all other respects, these red-eyed crayfish grew and behaved the same as the normal black-eyed variety. But they were very aggressive and cannibalistic, and within a few months, these red-eyed crayfish had killed and eaten each other until there were only four or five left. By the end of May 2002, I lost my only red-eyed male!
Suspecting that the red-eyed trait may be recessive to black, I was faced with the task of having to breed one of my other black-eyed males to the remaining red-eyed females. If my suspicions were correct, this pairing would produce all black-eyed offspring. This is exactly what happened! I then bred the offspring to each other, and voila, I had more red-eyed babies! This time I was going to be more careful to insure that I always had at least one male and one female red-eyed crayfish available, so I separated the males into one tank and the females into another tank, and by the end of 2003 I was breeding and producing red-eyed Electric Blue Crayfish. The red-eyed Electric Blue Crayfish do breed true, i.e. 100 percent red-eyed offspring, if both the mother and father have red eyes.
Care and Breeding of the Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish
Note: I have inserted the description, "Dragon™", into the "Electric Blue Crayfish" common name to distinguish the ones with red eyes from the ones with black eyes.
The Electric Blue Crayfish and the Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish are genetic variations of the naturally occurring crayfish, Procambarus alleni - a rather plain, brown crayfish that is found east of the St. Johns River and in peninsular Florida, in and south of Levy and Marion counties. It is also present in some of the Florida Keys.
Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish are comfortable over of a broad range of temperature and aquarium water chemistry. A water temperature between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a pH range between 6.5 and 8.5 with medium to hard water is easily tolerated.
Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish are bottom dwelling nocturnal opportunistic predatory omnivorous scavengers, meaning that they are most active at night and will eat some plant and most animal matter they come across. They will also capture, kill and eat whatever they can. Though they are capable of killing and eating small fish, they rarely do this because they are not really very good predators. They often get a bad rap for killing and eating aquarium fish when in fact they are just caught in the act of scavenging a fish that had already died from other causes. Foods that Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish are fond of are small pieces of raw potato, romaine lettuce, sinking tropical fish food pellets and commercially manufactured foods that are designed for feeding shrimps, crabs and crayfish. Crayfish primarily locate their food by smell, and it can be quite comical to watch them dashing about looking for a tasty morsel just dropped into the aquarium, or trying to compete with other aquarium fish in a feeding frenzy.
Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish make excellent scavengers in aquariums with fish that swim from the middle to the top of the tank or when kept with fish that are as large or larger than they are, and where the main focus is not on keeping live plants. They will also do well individually in something as small as a two-gallon goldfish bowl, provided their water is kept clean and they have a rock or piece of driftwood that provides access to the surface. Crayfish can and will come out of the water if the water conditions are poor, such as when the oxygen content is low or the water is foul. This activity will let the owner know that something needs to be done immediately to correct the situation.
If several adult crayfish are kept in the same aquarium, one square foot of aquarium floor space per adult crayfish is ideal. Occasionally crayfish will loose antennae, claws, and legs in their skirmishes with other tank mates; however, as long as the crayfish can walk upright and has at least one claw to defend itself it will be fine. At least one hiding spot should be provided for each crayfish. Hiding spots may be as simple as under a rock or piece of driftwood, to inside an ornamental seashell, which they will defend against all intruders. A hiding spot is especially important as a refuge while they are molting - a process of shedding their old exoskeleton and growing a one in order to accommodate their growth. Young, growing crayfish molt quite often but as they age their molts become less frequent.
The molting process takes anywhere from several hours to a day to complete. During this time, the crayfish are especially vulnerable to attack. To molt, the crayfish must flip over onto its back and split its exoskeleton. After loosening its claws and tail from the old exoskeleton, the crayfish violently flips free and immediately seeks refuge while its soft exoskeleton hardens. Once the new exoskeleton has hardened, the Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish often eats its old exoskeleton to regain lost nutrients, or other crayfish that share the same aquarium may eat the discarded old exoskeleton.
Previously lost appendages may be regenerated during the molting process. It can be quite amazing to see a crayfish that had only one claw or missing legs before its molt appear almost perfectly normal afterwards.
The Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish reaches sexual maturity between three and six months of age. Males (cocks) may be distinguished from females (hens) by the size and shape of their pincers as well as differences in their reproductive organs. The male crayfish will have long, slender pincers while the female will have shorter, thicker ones. If the crayfish is flipped over, an observer will be able to see that the male has two sperm ducts, or gonopods, located at the top of its abdomen between its walking legs and its swimmerets. These organs are absent in the female.
Male Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish exist in two forms: Form I - a breeding form, and Form II - a non-breeding form. The difference between these two forms is rather difficult for the novice to distinguish, but may be easily deduced. If, when a male and female are introduced to each other, the male tries to mate with the female then he is in Form I. Otherwise, he is in Form II.
When a male in Form I encounters a female that is ready and willing to mate he will grab her pincers up over her head and will position himself on top of her in a vent-to-vent position. This mating activity will proceed for several minutes while they both appear to be fairly motionless. After mating both crayfish will separate. At this point the female should be isolated and well fed until she produces eggs, which may take up to a month to occur. If, after a month, nothing happens then another mating should be attempted. Multiple pairings within a shorter time are pointless because each time a male and female crayfish mate the sperm plug from the previous mating is replaced and the whole egg-laying process starts over.
The female Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish will produce between fifty and several hundred one-sixteenth-inch dark brown to black eggs (berries), which she will carry between her swimmerets. The eggs will hatch around 21 days later and the young crayfish may remain attached to the female for another week or so. During the time the female is carrying eggs and young, she will be very reclusive and may not even come out in the open to eat. If this is the case, discontinue feeding her during this time. After the baby crayfish leave the female she should be removed. At this point the babies should be fed with crushed tropical fish food flakes or pellets.
If you have questions, comments, or to learn more about the Electric Blue Dragon™ Crayfish, you are welcomed to become a member of ATVIIR: Forums and join the "General Aquarium Forum".