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Michigan crayfish

Field guide to MI Crayfish

Dive into crayfish ID with the comprehensive guide below.

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Field Guide to Michigan Crayfish

Big water crayfish

Preferring fast, oxygen-rich, stone-laden streams, they are often found occupying depressions beneath large stones. Abundant populations inhabit the eastern Lower Peninsula streams and are found occasionally in the western Lower Peninsula. They have a smooth body with two rows of bumps on the inside edge of their large claws and their bodies are drab green, brown, tan, or gray. 

Digger crayfish

This small crayfish is compact and oval-shaped and its color is often mottled in earth tones and grays. They prefer floodplains and forested wetlands across the Lower Peninsula. Digging burrows that often have several openings and occasionally intersect with the burrows of other digger crayfish, their burrows have been shown to be critical habitat for the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly and threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

Calico crayfish

A small to medium, thin-shelled crayfish, often called the “paper-shell crayfish” that has a scattered range across the Lower Peninsula and is occasionally observed in the western Upper Peninsula. Calico crayfish have a wide range of color patterns, from black and brown to mottled displays of green, gray, and brown with sometimes blue, green, or purple claws. 

Northern clearwater crayfish

One of the more common native crayfish, they are found in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, in both fast-moving and stagnant waters. Usually light tan, greenish-brown, or brown with a dark-colored wedge present on the dorsal surface of the tail. Northern clearwater crayfish have been observed hybridizing with invasive rusty crayfish, which causes concern.

Virile crayfish

Growing quite large, they have significantly meatier tails and smaller claws than both northern clearwater and rusty crayfish. They are found across the Upper and Lower Peninsulas often found in small streams, large rivers, inland lakes, and the Great Lakes. 

Great Plains mudbug

The Great Plains mudbug was recently discovered to be a new species of crayfish and was formerly thought to be the Devil crayfish. They are found in ditches, farm fields, wet meadows, prairies, and floodplains in both the Upper and Lower peninsulas. They are much less colorful than the paintedhand mudbug, they are usually tan or brown with faint orange or red highlights on the claws.
Photo credit: Bailey O'Brian

Paintedhand mudbug

Found throughout much of the southern Lower Peninsula they are rarely found in permanent water, spending most of their life in deep, complex subterranean burrows along ditches and floodplains with visible chimneys. It is occasionally viewed at night with its chelae outside its burrow, waiting on passing prey.  The paintedhand mudbug is easily identified by its strong, large claws with scattered bumps. This is the most colorful crayfish species in Michigan. 

White river crayfish

Preferring stagnant wetlands, sluggish streams, and ditch-line habitats, they are often mistaken for invasive red swamp crayfish. Their bodies are colored in browns, tans, reds and ochres, with claws and carapace covered in small bumps.  They are found in southern Michigan as far north as Flint.

INVASIVE - Red swamp crayfish

Recently discovered in Michigan waters, the red swamp crayfish is one of the most widespread invasive crayfish on the planet. Native to the southern U.S., it has invaded several other U.S. states as well as, Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. They quickly construct crude burrows that, due to high population densities, can erode banks, outcompete native species, and disrupt ecosystems. 

Prohibited species in Michigan, meaning they cannot be possessed, sold, imported, introduced, transported live or used for bait.

Learn more about invasive red swamp crayfish

INVASIVE - rusty crayfish

Rusty crayfish are one of the most widespread invasive crayfish in the United States and are one of the most abundant crayfish in the Great Lakes and Midwest. They live in fast-flowing streams, large lakes, small ponds, and offshore reefs in the Great Lakes. They prefer hard, rocky substrates and will readily push native northern clearwater and virile crayfish out of these habitats, altering the ecosystems.

Illegal to commercially take, possess, sell or use for bait. May be harvested for personal consumption.

Learn more about invasive rusty crayfish
blue yabby crayfish

Prohibited species

Marbled crayfish and the common yabby are both species that could cause harm if they invade Michigan. Learn more about all the prohibited and restricted species in Michigan.
Learn about marbled crayfish and the common yabby

Photos courtesy of Chris Lukhaup