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Texas Prairie Crawdad


There is no way to know for sure how long a prairie crawfish has lived in the area north and northeast of Dallas but it is probable that it has been in residence for an extremely long time. Before the Lone Star, Columbus, and the Kichai, in the same prairie and the same spots as it lives now. A long time. Ancestors to members of the present colonies no doubt saw passing buffalo, lived among the great stands of nine foot grasses, and saw the first cut of the plow.

The Texas prairie crawdad (= crawfish) is an upland creature living in fields rather than ditches, lakes or streams. Home base is a tunnel that extends downward into the earth. There the critter lives with black eyes, waving antennae and bright blue or purple claws protruding from the burrow opening from dusk to dawn. During daytime, it stays safely below, usually at the burrow bottom where the tunnel meets the water table. When disturbed, a prairie crawdad is quicker than most burrowing crawdads in the backward retreat down a burrow hole. Being a deep tunneler, it has a nice weeee drop, to maybe ten feet or more. On wet humid nights, the prairie crawdad emerges to wander a short distance in search of food, a mate or trouble. In times of drought, the Texas prairie crawdad will plug the burrow opening with clay and wait underground for damper times.

Nobody paid much attention to the presence of prairie crawfishes, it seems, until they showed up in snake traps at Parkhill Prairie grassland preserve about 18 years ago. Ken Steigman of the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary, McKinney, took interest in the colorful creatures and had them examined by a crawfish expert at the Smithsonian Institution. The crawfish was determined to be a new species so a description was published and the animal was given the name Procambarus steigmani in honor of the discoverer. Later, reports were made of prairie crawdads from several locations in northeastern Texas.

The presence of prairie crawfishes around the Metroplex represents the lower portion of the range of such crawfishes in North America. Their distribution is within the central prairie, is generally north and west of the Ozark-Ouachita highland from Illinois through Iowa and southward through Missouri, eastern Arkansas, and western Oklahoma across the Red River into northeastern Texas.

The two recognized Texas prairie burrowers are certainly beauties. The females have chocolate brown upper bodies with blue or purple claws. The males have cherry red or reddish brown upper bodies with bright blue claws.

A female of Texas prairie crawfish is the cover girl of a new book on Texas crawdads (See This excellent book, Texas Crawdads, serves as a field guide and information source for all of Texas’ 40 crawfish varieties. The authors will have a table at the grand opening of the Audubon Trinity River Nature Center on October 18 and 19. Attendees may review display copies or purchase a book. A set of unique and feisty critters will also be displayed and kids or kids-at-heart will have opportunity to boast about their crawdadding adventures.



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