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Freshwater crayfish

Keith A. Crandall and James W. Fetzner, Jr.
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Fallicambarus devastator habitus
taxon links [up-->]Nephropoidea [up-->]Palaeopalaemonoidea [up-->]Parastacoidea [up-->]Astacoidea [up-->]Enoplometopoidea extinct icon [down<--]Decapoda Interpreting the tree
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Ref:  Hobbs, H. H., Jr. 1974, 1988.
Containing group: Decapoda


Freshwater crayfishes are taxonomically distributed among three families; two Northern Hemisphere families, Astacidae and Cambaridae and one Southern Hemisphere family, Parastacidae. There are two centers of species diversity for freshwater crayfishes. The first is located in the Southeastern United States where some 80% of the cambarid species can be found. The second center of diversity is in Victoria, Australia; housing a large proportion of the parastacid species. Freshwater crayfishes naturally occur on all of the continents except Africa (Figure 1). The Astacidae are distributed West of the Rocky Mountains in the Northwest United States into British Columbia, Canada and in Europe. The Cambaridae are found in the Eastern United States and south through Mexico. The Parastacidae are distributed in Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Madagascar.

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Figure 1. World distributions of the three crayfish families.

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

The phylogenetic relationships among the freshwater crayfish families and their relationships to lobster-like ancestors has been of considerable debate for at least 100 years. Two alternative hypotheses have been proposed for the origins of crayfishes. The first supposes a diphyletic origin of astacoids and parastacoids suggesting independent invasion of the freshwater habitat (Huxley, 1880). This idea is supported by the two centers of diversity in the northern and southern hemispheres and by a number of morphological features (Hobbs, 1974). However, Ortmann (1902) argued for a monophyletic origin of the crayfishes. This position has recently been supported by sperm ultrastructure characteristics (Jamieson, 1991) and by embryonic characters (Scholtz, 1993). Because of this ongoing debate, the positioning of Parastacidae is shown as unresolved.

Other Names for Astacidea


Crandall, Keith A., D. James Harris, James W. Fetzner, Jr. 2000. The Monophyletic Origin of Freshwater Crayfish Estimated from Nuclear and Mitochondrial DNA sequences. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (2000) 267, 1679-1686.

Hobbs, H.H., Jr. 1974. Synopsis of the families and genera of crayfishes (Crustacea: Decapoda). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 164:1-32.

Hobbs, H.H., Jr. 1988. Crayfish distribution, adaptive radiation and evolution. Pp. 52-82 in D.M. Holdich and R.S. Lowery (eds), Freshwater crayfish: biology, management and exploitation. Timber Press, Portland.

Huxley, T.H. 1880. The crayfish: An introduction to the study of Zoology. D. Appleton, New York.

Jamieson, B.G.M. 1991. Ultrastructure and phylogeny of crustacean spermatozoa. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 31:109-142.

Ortmann, A.E. 1902. The geographical distribution of freshwater decapods and its bearing upon ancient geography. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 41:267-400.

Scholtz, G. 1993. Teloblasts in decapod embryos: an embryonic character reveals the monophyletic origin of freshwater crayfishes (Crustacea, Decapoda). Zool. Anz. 230:s45-54.

Scholtz, G. 1998. Von Zellen und Kontinenten-die Evolution der Flu▀krebse (Decapoda, Astacidae). Neue Folge Nr. 137, 205-212.

Scholtz, G. & Richter S. 1995. Phylogenetic systematics of the reptantian Decapoda (Crustacea, Malacostraca). Zool. F. Linn. Soc. 113, 289-328.

Scholtz, V. G. 1995 Ursprung und Evolution der Flu▀krebse (Crustacea, Astacida). Sitzungsberichte Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde Berlin 34, 93-115.

Information on the Internet

Title Illustrations
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Fallicambarus devastator habitus
Scientific Name Fallicambarus devastator
Image Use creative commons This media file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License - Version 3.0.
Copyright © 1998 Keith A. Crandall
About This Page


Keith A. Crandall
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA

James W. Fetzner, Jr.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Page: Tree of Life Astacidea. Freshwater crayfish. Authored by Keith A. Crandall and James W. Fetzner, Jr.. The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

Citing this page:

Crandall, Keith A. and James W. Fetzner, Jr. 2010. Astacidea. Freshwater crayfish. Version 11 March 2010 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Astacidea/6655/2010.03.11 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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