Crawdads are small, lobster-like crustaceans that can be found in most freshwater sources across the United States.
They are opportunistic scavengers, territorial, mildly aggressive, and the favorite snack of painted turtles. Most people use them as bait, or as food for their pet turtles. Some fish owners us them to help keep their tanks clean, but I will be telling you how to keep them as pets. They can be very interesting and entertaining animals for those who take the time to appreciate them.
You can find crawdads in most pet stores, but if you’re like me and enjoy catching your pets, this should help you out. Crawdads can be found in most rivers and lakes near the shore. They like to hide under rocks and logs until nightfall when they venture out to hunt, but they will greedily eat anything that comes close enough for them to grab. There are several methods for catching these animals, but my favorite is probably the easiest. Just take a fishing pole with a piece of worm on the end of it, or even a simple piece of string with meat tied to one end of it. Lower it into the water in front of several rocks and wriggle it a bit.
If there is a crawdad present, it will come out and grab hold of the bait. Most crawdads are too greedy to let go of a meal. you can usually pull them right out of the water and lower them into a bucket. If this is too boring for you and you like to get you feet wet, you can also go around turning over rocks with a butterfly net or mino net in hand to scoop the little guys up. Keep in mind that crawdads can swim backwards very fast using their tails. You can also lure them out of their hiding spots with bait and then use a net to catch them; this is a much less destructive method.
Any aquarium bigger than 5 gallons should be fine for a single crawdad. Make sure the water is at least 3 or 4 inches deep, (deeper water won’t bother him) and provide hiding places for your new pet; crawdads are very shy creatures and may become stressed if there is no shelter. You also need a good lid with no large holes. Crawdads are surprising climbers and can even jump out of the water like a dolphin when they want to, so you have to escape-proof your setup. One of the biggest problems in keeping crawdads is the PH level of your tank, it needs to be neutral, or 7. An easy way to regulate this is with eggshells. Just take a few bits of eggshell from your breakfast, sterilize it by boiling or microwaving, and put it in the tank.
If the tank gets acidic it will dissolve the eggshell and balance the tank again. Your crawdad will also eat the shells to replenish its own minerals and stay healthy. For substrate, gravel seems to work well, and it helps to have at least one tank decoration that sticks out of the water. Crawdads love to climb at night and can venture out of the water for short periods of time. You also need to keep the temp between 70 and 80 degrees for a healthy pet. Crawdads breath with gills, so you will need to aerate the water just like with a fish. Crawdads will eat aquatic plants so keep this in mind when making your setup. I also recommend getting a piece of driftwood or a rock from a river as it will have bacteria necessary for a well balanced tank.
Crawdads will eat nearly anything they can get hold of, but they don’t actually need that much food. If you are keeping a crawdad by itself, a small amount of sinking fish food twice a day should be plenty. You don’t need to place the food near your pets hiding spot as it will smell the food and go out looking for it. If you are keeping it in a tank with fish, then it will eat the leftovers from when you feed them.
Crawdads are very solitary animals and don’t like others of their own kind in close proximity. If you are going to keep more than one of these territorial little guys, make sure you have a large tank, hiding spots on opposite ends, and food dropped in different places so they don’t fight each other. Even with these precautions there is the possibility that they will fight and injure or even kill each other. As for other animals such as fish, crawdads will kill anything they can catch and overpower, but if your fish are large and healthy they should be able to stay away from crawdads on the bottom. Algae eaters, despite being slow bottom feeders, seem to get along well with crawdads for some reason, so you shouldn’t have to worry about that, but any fish that is sick or weak will probably be eaten by the crustaceans. What ever you do, do NOT put you crawdad in with turtles unless you want him to be a snack. Painted turtles love to eat crawdads.
Crawdads are not the kinda pet that you pet. They are aggressive and will pinch you hard if they get the chance. The best way to pick them up is with your thumb and forefinger gripping them just behind the head where their pincers can’t get you. Don’t grab the tail as this is the most flexible part of the animal’s body, and it can whip around and get a hold of you.
For the most part I recommend against breeding your pet crawdads, as it will take a serious effort to raise the babies, but if you are prepared for that you must first raise the temp in the tank to about 80 degrees. Maintain this temperature and keep an eye on your pets. When the male wants to mate, he will grasp the female’s pincers and flip her over. About 20 days later, the female will lay eggs and gather them up under her tail. When this happens, you should transfer her to another tank as she will be vulnerable to the male during this time. Don’t use a net since you might lose some of the eggs. just corral her into a small container with some water in it and transfer her that way. In this new tank, have several layers of hole-filled- bags like the kind you get potatoes or fruit in, this will give the babies some hiding places.
You should also give the mom a place to hide so she feels safe. She might not eat much, but give her some food every other day just in case. Maintain the temp at about 80 during this entire time to help the eggs hatch and babies mature. When they do, the babies will still cling to mom for awhile. When you see them crawling about on their own, it’s time to separate mom as she will now eat them if she gets the chance. Gently wiggle her in the water to make sure all the babies have been dislodged, and return her to her normal tank. Now the really tedious part. The babies will hide in the bag holes from each other for some time. Crush up and sprinkle fish flakes around the tank about 3 times a day so they don’t get hungry and eat each other.
After a few weeks, you are going to have to split them up into small groups of about 20 in different containers. this is to prevent overcrowding and cannibalism. Make sure you provide enough hiding places in the new containers for them to hide from each other. After a month or two, repeat this process, now breaking them down into groups of about 10. Even in ideal conditions, only about 70% of the babies will grow up. Once they get to be about an inch and a half long, it’s time to give them all their own place, or sell them
Like all arthropods, crawdads shed their skin as they grow old, but don’t remove this from the tank. Your pet will eat it to replenish minerals in its body. Most health issues with crawdads have no cure, but they can be avoided by keeping a clean tank with ideal temp and ph. Crawdads live from 3-20 years depending on the species and how well you take care of them, and can grow pretty big. Crawdads are nocturnal animals and primarily come out at night, but if they feel safe in a tank, you may see them wandering during the day as well. Crawdads will often take the gravel in a tank and make hills around their homes in order to make it more difficult for predators to get them. They have limited regenerative capabilities which means they can re-grow limbs when they shed their skin. Crawdads are fascinating pets that liven up any aquarium, and I highly recommend them.