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12 March 2015. Photo by Chris Skelton. Image may be subject to copyright.
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Cambarus doughertyensis Cooper and Skelton, 2003

Dougherty Burrowing Crayfish

Federal Protection: No US federal protection

State Protection: Endangered

Global Rank: G1

State Rank: S1

SWAP High Priority Species (SGCN): Yes

Element Occurrences (EOs) in Georgia: 1

Habitat Summary for element in Georgia: Primary burrower in wooded wetlands; black sticky clay soil


Description

The body of the Dougherty Burrowing Crayfish is a brownish-orange and the claws somewhat brighter orange. The areola is obliterated and the abdomen is obviously narrower than the cephalothorax. Claws of adults can be robust and there are two rows of tubercles along the mesial margin of the palm. This species reaches a maximum total body length of about 75 mm (3 in).

Similar Species

No other burrowing species are known from the location where this crayfish is found.

Habitat

This species inhabits complex burrows in a wooded wetland.

Diet

No studies of the Dougherty Burrowing Crayfish are known and the diet of burrowing crayfishes in general is poorly understood. Crayfishes are considered opportunistic omnivores and likely feed on a variety of items, both plant and animal, living or dead. Burrowing crayfishes may forage around the mouths of their burrows, eat organisms that crawl or fall into the burrow, or eat worms that inadvertently tunnel through a burrow wall.

Life History

Burrowing crayfishes inhabit a system of tunnels that may be very complex with several openings to the surface. Openings to the tunnels are often marked by piles of dirt or mud pellets (chimneys). Depending on the soil type and moisture content, these chimneys can reach heights of 15 cm (6 inches) or more. These crayfishes are typically confined to their burrows, but a male must leave its burrow to search for females during the reproductive season. As mentioned above, they may also forage near the opening of their burrow. Active burrows with fresh soil are seen from late spring to late fall, particularly after rain events. During the dry part of the summer, burrow openings may be plugged to help conserve moisture in the burrow. Reproduction probably occurs during the spring and fall, but males in reproductive condition may be found at any time during the year. It is very rare to find more than one adult crayfish in the same burrow. When a female crayfish releases her eggs, she attaches them to her swimmerets and is said to be “in berry.” Upon hatching, the juvenile crayfish are attached to the mother by a thread. After the juveniles molt for the second time, they are free of the mother, but stay close and will hold on to her for some time. Multiple juveniles are occasionally found in a single burrow. Eventually they move off on their own. Crayfishes molt 6 or 7 times during their first year of life and most are probably able to reproduce by the end of that year. They molt once or twice a year for the remainder of their lives. Although it is difficult to study burrowing crayfishes, some researchers believe they may live as long as 10 years. Male Dougherty Burrowing Crayfish in reproductive condition have been collected in March, May, and July; no females with eggs have been found. On two occasions (February and March), multiple juveniles about 10 to 15-mm (0.4–0.6 in) in total length were found in the same burrow and probably represent young of the year (Cooper and Skelton 2003).

Survey Recommendations

Burrowing crayfishes may be collected by direct excavation of their burrows, by trapping, and during night surveys. Excavating burrows is time consuming and can be very difficult. It also results in destruction of the animal’s burrow. Traps made with PVC pipes or mist nets can be effective. Burrowing crayfishes are sometimes captured around the openings of their burrows on damp nights. Active burrows are found from about late-March to mid-November if the water table is within about 2 feet of the surface of the ground.

Range

The Dougherty Burrowing Crayfish is known only from the Albany Nursery (Lawrence Pearce) Wildlife Management Area in Dougherty County, in the Kiokee Creek system. Targeted surveys will almost certainly reveal its presence at additional locations in the lower Flint River system.

Threats

Small range size is the only current threat facing this species. In general, activities that destroy burrows or alter hydrology in the vicinity of burrows should be avoided when possible.

Georgia Conservation Status

This population is considered to be protected because it occurs on property owned and managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Conservation Management Recommendations

Protected species regulations protect the habitat of state listed animals on state owned lands. Accordingly, land management activities occurring on the Wildlife Management Area should be coordinated through the Nongame Conservation Section of the Department of Natural Resources. In addition, access to the only known site should be restricted. Additional surveys are needed to better define the range of this species and to identify additional populations for protection.

References

Cooper, J.E., and C.E. Skelton. 2003. New burrowing crayfish of the genus Cambarus Erichson, 1846 (Decapoda: Cambaridae) from the lower Flint River basin in the Dougherty Plain of Georgia, with notes on C. (D.) harti Hobbs, 1981. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 116:827–838.

Taylor, C.A., G.A. Schuster, J.E. Cooper, R.J. DiStefano, A.G. Eversole, P. Hamr, H.H. Hobbs III, H.W. Robison, C.E. Skelton, and R.F. Thoma. 2007. A reassessment of the conservation status of crayfishes of the United States and Canada after 10+ years of increased awareness. Fisheries 32:372–389.

Authors of Account

Christopher E. Skelton

Date Compiled or Updated

C. Skelton, 2008: original account

C. Skelton, January 2019: general update of account.

Photo by Georgia DNR – Wildlife Resources