Although dwarf shrimp are all the rage in the aquarium hobby at the moment, they aren’t the only fascinating freshwater crustaceans we can keep in our tanks. Crayfish are a great option for anyone who finds shrimp a little too ‘boring’. Some crays are tiny and peaceful, others are massive and will try to destroy anything they come across. Whichever you choose, you’ll end up with an interesting addition to your aquarium!
Keep reading for a list of 7 freshwater aquarium crayfish that can be kept as pets.
Blue crayfish (Procambarus alleni)
Although it is also available in white and wild color, Procambarus alleni is mostly known as the blue crayfish. This is one of the most popular crayfish for the aquarium, but definitely not the smallest: it grow to up to 4″/10cm. Like other crayfish it will definitely catch sick or bottom-dwelling tankmates if it gets the chance. This means a single-species setup is best if you want to avoid any casualties. Keeping Procambarus alleni in pairs of small groups is possible, although they are often territorial and things might not always go smoothly.
Go for an aquarium of at least 23.5″/60 cm – a larger tank is needed if you want to keep multiple crays. Provide plenty of hiding places per crayfish in the form of caves and tubes. These hides are crucial when your crays are molting, as they will be very vulnerable and need a place to retreat to. Hardy plants like Java fern might be left alone, although there is no real guarantee the crayfish won’t destroy them. Filtration should be strong as crayfish are messy eaters that like oxygen-rich water. Always keep a lid on the aquarium to prevent your crays from escaping.
Crayfish are omnivores that will eat anything they come across. Invertebrate tablets, fresh blanched veggies, frozen foods and leaf litter make great food options. A varied diet that contains enough calcium and iodine is important to prevent failed molts, which can unfortunately be fatal.
You can buy blue crayfish online here!
Marmorkrebs/self-cloning crayfish (Procambarus fallax f. virginalis)
Did you just say “self-cloning crayfish”? I sure did. The self-cloning crayfish, also known as marmorkrebs (German for ‘marbled crayfish’) is a fascinating variety of Procambarus fallax that doesn’t need a mate to reproduce. All marmorkrebs are females. If you’re looking to breed crayfish as live food or just for the fun of it this is definitely a species to consider. After all, you only need one cray to begin with!
Although marmorkrebs aren’t the most aggressive aquarium crayfish, they are probably still best suited to a single species setup if you want to avoid any risks. Keeping pairs or groups of these crays is possible, although incidents can happen if one of them is molting. Marmorkrebs grow to a size of around 4″/10 cm, which means an aquarium of at least around 23.5″/60 cm is in order. Water values and temperature aren’t much of an issue but it’s still important to cycle your tank and do regular water changes.
As with all crayfish, plenty of hiding places are important. Ceramic pipes work well; you can also try some hardy or floating plants (at your own risk). The aquarium should always be properly sealed to prevent the crays from “exploring” outside the tank.
You can buy this fascinating crayfish species online here!
Dwarf orange crayfish/CPO crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis ‘orange’)
Dwarf orange crayfish, also known as CPO (which is short for Cambarellus patzcuarensis ‘orange’) is probably the most popular aquarium crayfish in the hobby. This species is selectively bred for its bright orange color and works well in community tanks because of its small size. With a maximum length of around 2″/5 cm, this cray lacks almost all of the downsides of its larger cousins. Its aggression level is much lower; although it might try to go after slow bottom dwellers it can be kept with almost all peaceful tankmates that inhabit the middle or upper water layers. It doesn’t have an appetite for plants and won’t move of destroy aquarium decor.
If you’re interested in keeping dwarf orange crayfish, go for a filtered aquarium of at least around 15″/40 cm. They can be kept in pairs or small groups, as they are not aggressive towards their own species save the occasional territorial squabble. As with all crays room temperature works fine, so a heater isn’t needed. Provide plenty of hiding places in the form of tubes (these crays can fit into a shrimp flat and will love having one in their tank), leaf litter and live plants. Although dwarf orange crayfish are often introduced in the aquarium as part of the “cleaning crew” to take care of leftover foods and other bits you should still feed your crays regularly. Invertebrate tablets work well.
You can buy dwarf orange crayfish online here!
Dwarf blue crayfish/least crayfish (Cambarellus diminutus)
Cambarellus diminutus isn’t called ‘least crayfish‘ for nothing. With a maximum size of barely an inch (2.5cm) this is the smallest aquarium crayfish. A great option for nano aquariums and the most peaceful cray you’ll find! Least crayfish work well in peaceful community setups as they will leave almost all fish and inverts alone. With the exception of very vulnerable tankmates like fan shrimp pretty much anything goes.
To keep your least crayfish happy and healthy only introduce them into fully cycled, filtered aquariums. As always, provide plenty of hides. Tubes work well but plants are also a good option, as this species doesn’t have an appetite for greenery. Leaf litter is appreciated; in the wild, these crayfish inhabit small pools and streams with plenty of decaying plant material covering the substrate.
Least crayfish are also called dwarf blue crayfish but their natural coloration can actually vary from a light beige to blue and almost black. You might be able to find selectively bred blue crays in the aquarium trade, although their color isn’t always stable.
You can find more information about dwarf crayfish here.
Red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii)
Procambarus clarkii is commonly referred to as the red swamp crayfish. However, it can also be selectively bred to produce one of the most sought after crayfish color varieties: ghost crayfish. This beautiful color morph is mostly white with patches of intense red or blue. Ghost crayfish are quite expensive but definitely worth the money if you love a bit of color! If your budget is a little more limited there are also fully red, white and blue color morphs of this crayfish available. And in case fancy colors aren’t your thing at all, there is always the regular old brown-red wild-colored Procambarus clarkii.
Procambarus clarkii grows to a maximum size of 4.7″/12 cm and can be kept in an aquarium of at least 31.5″/80 cm. Keeping these crayfish in groups is possible, although you’ll have to adjust your tank size to the amount of crays. Do keep in mind that this species has cannibalistic tendencies and might go after its own species.
Common yabby (Cherax destructor)
The appropriately named Cherax destructor, also known as common yabby, is a large freshwater crayfish naturally found in Australia. This species is commonly farmed for the food industry but also appreciated by aquarists for its feisty personality. It usually grows to an adult size of around 6″ (15cm), which means this is a species only suitable for dedicated crayfish keepers. With size come aggressiveness and destructive tendencies: this crayfish will eat anything it can get its claws on, including plants and tankmates.
A single-species setup works best, although large cichlids or fast, schooling fish might be compatible. No bottom dwellers and definitely no long-finned fish! Fellow destructors are tolerated if there is plenty of room for all crays to form their own territories. The best option, though, is to keep this crayfish in pairs. Go for an aquarium of at least 31.5″/80 cm, or even more if you’d like to keep multiple yabbies.
Wild-colored Cherax destructor can range from a light greyish brown to dark brown. Selectively bred orange and blue varieties are also available.
Australian red claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus)
Last but certainly not least, the Australian red claw crayfish is the largest cray on this list. It can reach a maximum size of up to 7.8″/20 cm and has the personality to match. This species is an active hunter that will attempt to catch any fish or smaller crayfish it comes across, destroys all plants and has the tendency to move decor all over the place.
If you’re interested in keeping Cherax quadricarinatus, be sure to go for an aquarium of at least 40″/100cm. Unlike other crayfish, the Australian red claw naturally inhabits relatively warm waters and will appreciate a heater that keeps the water slighty above room temp. Add plenty of hides in the form of tubes, wood and leaf litter – the latter two can double as a snack. I’d recommend avoiding any tankmates altogether. As always, feed a varied diet
If you have any more questions about these aquarium crayfish varieties or if you want to share your own crayfish experiences, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!