Did you know that crayfish molt or shed their exoskeleton? This means that they can grow and change shape their entire lives! Your mind is probably racing with questions about how often crayfish molt and exactly they do it.
On average, it takes a young crayfish 11 times to molt in order to mature. However, this number decreases significantly to 4 or 5 times by the time they reach adulthood. Additionally, molting varies among species and can last anywhere from 15 to 25 days at a time.
In this guide, I will explore how crayfish molt and some of the unique challenges they face during this process. Whether you are a professional crayfish biologist or simply have an interest in these fascinating creatures, you will find this guide informative and engaging!
How Frequently Do Crayfish Shed Their Exoskeleton?
Under good conditions, crayfish usually molt every 15-25 days. However, this time frame depends on the crayfish’s size, as larger ones take longer (30-40 days) than smaller ones (7-10 days).
Generally, it usually takes crayfish 24 to 48 hours to molt completely. Even though the process requires some time, they only take a minute or two to get rid of their old hard shell.
As long as conditions are suitable, crayfish will continuously molt throughout their lives. This is how they grow and change shape to adapt to different environments.
How Do Crayfish Species Create a New Shell for Molting?
The process of shedding old skin and growing new one is called the rejuvenation process. It begins when the fish develops a hard shell, which it will eventually shed. The old shell splits open and falls off when the new skin underneath is fully developed.
When crayfish shed their outer shell, they become more vulnerable but are also able to grow larger. The process of forming a new calcium-rich shell happens quickly.
What Is the Molting Cycle of Crayfish?
The molting process is complex and asynchronous, needing a lot of energy and nutrients. There are four stages to it which are determined by the hormones in their eyestalks that act in response to the environment around them.
Here is how the continuous process of the molting cycle of crayfish typically progresses:
Stage 1: Pre-Molting (Proecdysis)
This is the preparation stage that occurs right before the molt, and during this time, crayfish begin to:
- Intake of a large amount of calcium from food and their surroundings
- Receive calcium from their old skeleton
At the start, calcium enters skin cells and goes to the hemolymph. Afterward, it is taken to the stomach, where it’s stored as gastroliths (little stones on both sides of the stomach wall). As molting grows nearer to ecdysis, the gastroliths gradually enlarge.
As the crayfish nears the molting process, its exoskeleton breaks down partially. The calcium ions that help hold the minerals in the crayfish exoskeleton matrix are dissolved and transferred into the hemolymph (crayfish blood) through the outer layer of the delicate skin structures.
Simply, the pre-molt stage reabsorption of calcium weakens the crayfish’s current exoskeleton so that it can be shed more easily. Otherwise, the crayfish may have difficulty breaking out of its shell.
Additionally, the studies found that another sign of impending molting is the regeneration of lost limbs. Any missing appendages will start to grow back as limb buds that will unfurl during molting.
Note: Calcium is vital for exoskeleton mineralization because it forms the base of its shell. For example, a crayfish’s exoskeleton makes up 50% of its dry weight and contains calcium carbonates and magnesium.
Stage 2: Molting Process (Ecdysis)
The pre-molting stage concludes with ecdysis, the term for molting or shedding the old shell. To do this, crayfish start by pumping up its body with water. Water enters the crayfish’s body through drinking and osmosis from outside the fish.
One hour before the time of molting, water uptake starts to increase rapidly. The time duration of this process is about 1-2 hours after the crayfish has completed ecdysis. To intensify hydrostatic pressure, crayfish also prevent urination during this time period.
To molt or cast off their old external exoskeleton, crayfish need to withdraw from it. The process begins when they take in an excessive amount of water.
At this point, their old shell expands and becomes loose at the ‘neck’—the skin fold between the carapace (upper shell) and abdomen (lower section).
Meanwhile, the gastroliths fall into the stomach, where they are quickly digested and release calcium. The newly freed calcium is circulated through the hemolymph to harden the exoskeleton.
Note: The ecdysis, or molting process, is the shortest stage of four. Depending on the crayfish species and its age, it usually doesn’t last for more than a few minutes to many hours.
Stage 3: Post-Molting (Metecdysis)
The post-molting stage crayfish is one of the most dangerous for crayfish because they become extremely vulnerable to physical injuries, diseases, and parasites.
At this time, they are too weak to protect themselves, so they usually hide in their burrows or crevices until they have regained some strength.
Furthermore, their legs are atrophied and cannot move. During the post-molting stage, crayfish have two main goals:
- They continue to absorb a significant amount of water in order to stretch its body and increase in size
- They produce a substance called chitin synthetase, which is responsible for the creation and hardening of the new exoskeleton
Then, calcium from the gastrolith aids in quickly reforming vital body parts such as mouthparts (for eating) and legs (to escape predators). After that initial use of calcium, it is reabsorbed into the newly formed exoskeleton.
You can tell a crayfish is in the post-molt stage when it starts to get stiffer. But since different parts of different species speed up or slow down at their own pace, there’s no way to tell the difference from species to species.
Also, the time it takes for a crayfish to molt is inversely proportional to its size. For most crayfish species, molting happens within 24 hours for juveniles and up to 3-5 days in adults.
Note: You should not remove the old shell as the crayfish will consume their entire exoskeleton to recycle necessary minerals and salts that aid in the calcification process. For this reason, it is advisable not to feed crayfish for a few days after they molt.
Stage 4: Inter-Molting (Anecdysis)
The inter-molting stage is the final and most prolonged stage, as most calcium deposits accumulate in the cuticle. In simple terms, it is an interval of peace between the close of one molt and the initiation of the next.
As the crayfish grows, the length of this phase gradually increases as smaller crayfish molt more frequently than their larger counterparts. After molting, they need more calcium than ever to produce a new and healthy shell.
How Do I Know That My Crayfish Is Going Through Molting Process?
To offer the best care for your crayfish, it is important to understand how the molting process works and how you can tell if it is about to molt. Some signs of an impending or active molt include:
Every crayfish has quirks that make it unique. Some prefer sleeping more than others; some have favorite foods, and so on. But when they are about to molt, their behavior will change in ways you might not have noticed before. Some common behaviors to look out for include:
Shortly before molting, crayfish will begin to eat much more than usual. This is because they will need the nutrients and minerals from their food to support their growing exoskeleton.
However, this behavior will change to the opposite when they get closer to shedding their old shell. You will notice that your crayfish suddenly stops eating a few days before molting.
When a crayfish is about to molt, its body will feel stiff and less mobile than usual. This is because their legs and other body parts are still soft and malleable, making it difficult for them to move around.
As molting is a very vulnerable time for crayfish, they will try to hide away from sight as much as possible. To help them feel safe and secure during this time, you should add more hiding places and other forms of shelter to their community tank.
One of the biggest signs of an impending molt is changes to how your crayfish looks. Some common appearance changes include:
Since crayfish are able to regenerate most of their body parts and tissues, they typically have vibrant colors. However, their original colors will fade when they are about to melt as a new shell forms underneath their old one.
As their bodies become soft and malleable, crayfish’s eyes may also change color. In particular, they will often appear cloudy or somewhat watery. But don’t worry; this will disappear once their new exoskeleton hardens.
If your crayfish is missing a leg or claw, don’t fret– it will grow back! The process begins with a small nub. However, as molting time draws near, the new appendage will become larger and more defined.
Overall, it’s important to note that not all of these signs may occur, or sometimes none might happen.
How Can I Make the Shedding Process Quicker?
The length of time between a crawfish’s molts and the size differential from pre-molt to post-molt is largely controlled by hormones and genes.
However, you can fasten this process by providing better water quality, managing the right water temperature, and ensuring they get plenty of calcium. This is a good step in managing this stressful process.
When the conditions are good, crawfish can grow up to 15% longer and 40% heavier in a single molt. In fact, molting is another word for growth since the hard shell prevents further growth until it’s removed.
What Are the Best pH, GH & KH During Molting Process?
Maintaining the ideal pH, GH, and KH levels in your crayfish tank is essential for their health and well-being. Some general recommendations for optimal water parameters during molting include:
- pH Level: 6.5 to 7.5
- GH Level: 4-10 ppm
- KH Level: 3-10 ppm
These limitations have a serious ripple effect on the molting process and might lead to a high mortality rate. To adjust them properly, you should understand what each term means and how they affect your crayfish’s health.
For water Hardness, GH (general hardness) refers to how much calcium and magnesium are dissolved in the water. These minerals are vital in hardening the exoskeleton and promoting rapid growth.
Similarly, KH (carbonate hardness) represents the amount of bicarbonate in the water. This chemical buffer helps to keep it slightly alkaline and can influence how much calcium your crayfish absorbs.
Finally, pH (power of hydrogen) measures how acidic or alkaline the water is. The exoskeleton will be too flexible and moldy at low pH due to the reaction of calcium carbonate and water pH.
In severe cases, the pressure from the acidic water will affect how hard its exoskeleton is able to grow and how the crayfish can successfully molt. As a result, the shell will break easily, leading to death.
What Are the Potential Crayfish Molting Issues?
Unfortunately, molting can be stressful, and sometimes crayfish can’t molt successfully. They lie on their side and periodically try to bend the shell open. In some cases, this process can last for hours or days.
However, when a molt starts to go bad, there’s nothing we can do to help them. All we can do is wait and hope for the best outcome. Note: This can be a dangerous stage.
How Many Stages Are in Molting?
There are four distinct stages of molting in crayfish: pre-molting, molting, post-molting, and inter-molting. These stages make this asynchronous process hectic in the growth process.
Each stage is critical for proper growth and development, and it is important to recognize the signs of each phase in order to provide your crayfish with the best possible care.
How To Tell if Your Crayfish Is Dead or Molting?
It can be challenging to tell the difference between a crayfish that is molting and one that has died because their sheds look identical. You’ll need to take it out of the water and closely examine its body.
Then look for any signs of movement, such as twitching or muscle spasms, and check to see any color in the shed skin. If you are still unsure, a veterinary professional can provide further guidance.
After a Crayfish Molts, Why Does It Hide?
After a crayfish molts, it is particularly vulnerable to predators while its exoskeleton hardens. This may affect your tank with fish resulting in an exoskeleton in preparation.
As a result, it will often try to hide in order to avoid being eaten. However, if you provide your crayfish with ample hiding places, it will be able to recover safely after a molt.
Why Is My Crayfish Pet Floating Upside Down?
Crayfish tend to float upside down at the beginning of their molting process, so don’t panic if you see this happening. Just give it time until it fully sheds its old shell and moves around normally.
However, if it doesn’t start shedding or appears lethargic or unresponsive, check if it’s alive by gently tapping on its exoskeleton. You may need to take it to a qualified veterinarian for further assistance if there is no reaction.
Why Is My Crayfish Not Molting?
Your crayfish might not be molting for a variety of reasons, such as poor water quality, insufficient calcium levels in its diet, or even stress.
Can Crayfish Die While Molting?
Crayfish can sometimes die while molting if they experience a wrong molt. To help prevent this from happening, be sure to provide your crayfish with the proper care and environment to promote healthy molting.
Do Crayfish Turn Blue When They Molt?
Crayfish might appear to turn blue when molting, but this is a natural reaction to the calcium hardening process and does not necessarily mean that your crayfish is sick or dying.
The molting process is an important part of a crayfish’s life and is key to how well it grows and develops.
To ensure that your crayfish molts properly, provide the proper care and environment and monitor its progress throughout each stage of this simple process.
Also, keep in mind that crayfish can experience a wide range of molting issues, such as difficulty opening their shells or stress-related death. Just be sure to remain vigilant and avoid extreme water parameters
Do you still have questions about how often crayfish molt or how to care for them during the molting process? If so, feel free to leave a comment below, or reach out to us for more information. We’re here to help!