Interview with a crayfish – #30dayswild

"Austropotamobius italicus Dohlenkrebs" by Chucholl, Ch. - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

The white-claw is the only crayfish native to the UK. It lives in freshwater rivers and streams, and is seen as a “keystone species” due to its important at the centre of the food chain and as representatives of unpolluted water. But it’s not the only crayfish you’ll find here, and this had caused some major problems. To talk about the troubles I’ve found a white-claw crayfish willing to take part in the last of my #30dayswild interviews.

Memetic Drift (MD): Hey there, what’s your name?  

Moby: My name is Austropotamobius pallipes, but call me Moby.


MD: Hi Moby. How’s it going?

Moby: Horribly!


MD: Whoa, sorry! Don’t be snappy!

Moby: Sorry. It’s kind of a crayfish thing. But life isn’t great at the moment. Signals everywhere. All my friends are dead. Every morning before sleep I wonder if I’ll wake up with the plague.

"Austropotamobius pallipes" by David Gerke - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

The “white-claw” refers to the underside you can just see.

MD: Signals?

Moby: Signal crayfish. Big American sort. Invaders.


MD: What’s wrong with these signals then? After all, they’re crayfish too. Can’t you just get along?

Moby: I wouldn’t mind trying but those guys are absolute brutes. They’re larger and more aggressive than us, happy to eat us as well as our food. Could you get along with that? They are new to the area and don’t play by the rules here at all. Maybe in the long term they’ll settle down, but whether the white-claws will be around to see that is another matter entirely.


MD: Yeesh. And what was that about the plague? Is that related to the signals?

Moby: Yeah, as if murdering us and stealing our food wasn’t enough, they’re also making us sick. They brought with them a disease called crayfish plague. They’re pretty resistant to it, but we’ve never seen anything like it, so it hits us hard. It’s a water mould which infects our bodies and then our brains. So many killed.

"Austropotamobius italicus Dohlenkrebs" by Chucholl, Ch. - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

MD: Yes, right. I have a question from my previous interviewee, Titus the Barn Owl. He asked: “When did you first realise something was wrong?” I’m assuming he was referring to the signals.

Moby: I’m told it started in the 1970s, when the signal crayfish were first brought over from North America. Apparently you rather enjoy turning them into salads and starters, which I find repulsive and fantastic in equal measures. So they were raised for food, but some got out. They took rather a shine to our mild climate and relative lack of predators, and have been taking over ever since. I’m only 8 so this has always been a reality for me.


MD: What’s the overall damage so far then?

Moby: I’m from a river in Hampshire, where it’s particularly bad. Since the 1970s there’s been a 95% decrease, and it’s still going down. In Sussex I don’t think there’s a single white-claw crayfish left. It’s a bit better up North so for England overall, our numbers have dropped by half. Depressing to have to call that “better”.

"Austropotamobius pallipes 02 by-dpc" by David Perez - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

MD: So we humans brought the signal crayfish over… are we doing anything to help make this better?

Moby: Your lawyers seem to have done something. It’s illegal to catch us without a licence and you certainly can’t kill us. The signal crayfish and the disease they harbour don’t care for those rules though. People have tried removing them from the rivers, but there are simply too many to eliminate completely. I don’t think anyone knows how to really fix this.


MD: That truly sucks, but is the signal crayfish really solely to blame?

Moby: Yeah it’s easy to blame the invader, but there is more to it than that. We’ve lost a lot of suitable habitat and we really can’t stand pollution. Maybe we’re fussy, but it’s not our fault we can’t deal with change. We just want to leave in peace.


MD: Okay Moby, I’ll let you head off. Stay safe.


Main information sources here (IUCN Red List) and here (Buglife).

This takes me to the end of my #30dayswild interviews with British wildlife which also included Erin the hedgehogBeryl the adder and Albus the barn owl as well as Moby the white-clawed crayfish here. It’s been interesting thinking about things from the animal’s perspective, however anthropomorphic I’ve had to make them! I do hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Do let me know what you thought 🙂

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