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Phylum Arthropoda

Subphylum Crustacea

Class Malacostraca

Order Decapoda

Suborder Pleocyemata

Infraorder Astacidea

Superfamily Astacoidea




Crayfish, also known as crawfish, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, or mudbugs, are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related; taxonomically, they are members of the superfamilies Astacoidea and Parastacoidea. They breathe through feather-like gills and are found in bodies of water. Some species are found in brooks and streams where there is fresh water running, while others thrive in swamps, ditches, and rice paddies. Most crayfish cannot tolerate polluted water, although some species such as Procambarus clarkii are hardier. Crayfish feed on living and dead animals and plants.

The name "crayfish" comes from the Old French word escrevisse (Modern French écrevisse).The word has been modified to "crayfish" by association with "fish" (folk etymology). The largely American variant "crawfish" is similarly derived.Some kinds of crayfish are known locally as lobsters, crawdads, mudbugs, and yabbies. In the Eastern United States, "crayfish" is more common in the north,while "crawdad" is heard more in central and southwestern regions, and "crawfish" further south, although there are considerable overlaps.

The study of crayfish is called astacology.

There are three families of crayfish, two in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere. The Southern-Hemisphere (Gondwana-distributed) family Parastacidae lives in South America, Madagascar and Australasia, and is distinguished by the lack of the first pair of pleopods.Of the other two families, members of the Astacidae live in western Eurasia and western North America and members of the family Cambaridae live in eastern Asia and eastern North America.

The greatest diversity of crayfish species is found in southeastern North America, with over 330 species in nine genera, all in the family Cambaridae. A further genus of astacid crayfish is found in the Pacific Northwest and the headwaters of some rivers east of the Continental Divide. Many crayfish are also found in lowland areas where the water is abundant in calcium, and oxygen rises from underground springs.

Crayfish were introduced purposely into a few Arizona reservoirs and other bodies of water decades ago, primarily as a food source for sport fish. They have since dispersed beyond those original sites. Australasia has over 100 species in a dozen genera. In Australia many of the better-known crayfish are of the genus Cherax, and include the marron from Western Australia (now believed to be two species, Cherax tenuimanus and C. cainii), red-claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus), common yabby (Cherax destructor) and western yabby (Cherax preissii). The marron are some of the largest crayfish in the world. They grow up to several pounds in size. C. tenuimanus is critically endangered, while other large Australasian crayfish are threatened or endangered. Australia is home to the world's two largest freshwater crayfish – the Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish Astacopsis gouldi, which can achieve a mass of up to 5 kilograms (11 lb) and is found in the rivers of northern Tasmania, and the Murray crayfish Euastacus armatus, which can reach 2 kilograms (4.4 lb) and is found in much of the southern Murray-Darling basin.

In New Zealand two species of Paranephrops are endemic, and are known by the Māori name kōura.

Fossil records of crayfish older than 30 million years are rare, but fossilised burrows have been found from strata as old as the late Palaeozoic or early Mesozoic. The oldest records of the Parastacidae are in Australia, and are 115 million years old.

Crayfish are kept as pets in freshwater aquariums. Crayfish kept as pets in the US from local waters are usually kept with bluegill or bass, rather than goldfish or tropical or subtropical fish. They prefer foods like shrimp pellets or various vegetables, but will also eat tropical fish food, regular fish food, algae wafers, and small fish that can be captured with their claws. They will sometimes consume their old exoskeleton after it has moulted. Their disposition towards eating almost anything will also cause them to explore the edibility of aquarium plants in a fish tank. However, most species of dwarf crayfish, such as Cambarellus patzcuarensis, will not destructively dig or eat live aquarium plants. They are also relatively non-aggressive and can be kept safely with dwarf shrimp. Because of their very small size of 1.5 inches (38 mm) or less, some fish are often a threat to the crayfish.