Crayfish: Australia's Newest Species Is Tiny, But Is It a Cannibal?

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Robert McCormack of the The Australian Crayfish Project has discovered a new species of crayfish in Eastern Australia. The discovery of the species Gramastacus lacus was published in ZooKeys, an online journal under the US National Library of Medicine.

The species lives north of the expanding metropolitan area of Sydney, which places it at extreme risk. Since the crayfish is newly discovered, conservation status is pending, but McCormack speculated that the species is already endangered. The journal supplied a map of known locations:

The crayfish prefer to live in small creeks and swamps to limit threats from predators, which include eels, lizards, water bugs, turtles and birds. Since the crayfish only grow to a quarter of an inch long, they make an easy target to larger predators and larger crayfish.

McCormack wrote that the crayfish will avoid "deeper water away from the high density populations in the shallows to avoid cannibalism". The mention of cannibalism was picked up by the news media, Live Science writer Becky Oskin pointed out the long claws of the crayfish could be used in defense of crayfish who are more inclined to be a cannibals. Although major news networks are fixated on the cannibal aspect, the Earth Times' Dave Armstrong was more interested in the crayfish's tiny size. "It's not often we get to write on some animal so small that it can sit on your finger nail," he wrote.

The Australian Crayfish Project is a volunteer research organization which seeks "to find and identify every species of freshwater crayfish, and document their biology, distributions and habitat requirements". Started in 2005, the twenty year project was created to discover the large range of biodiversity in Australian crayfish. In 2011, the project discovered Euastacus morgani, another Australian crayfish. The world may hear of ever newer species before the project is over.

Image via US National Library of Medicine 1, 2

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