Crayfish, Australian Style, Include Newly Discovered 'Lake Yabbys'

Friday, 11 Apr 2014 09:06 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Researchers in Australia have discovered a new species of crayfish that is less than an inch long but can dig as deep as a yard to reach shallow water tables.

The Gramastacus lacus, which Australians call "lake yabbys," is one of the world's smallest crayfish species, ranging 0.5 to 0.8 inches long and weighing up to 0.2 ounces, according to 

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Researcher Robert McCormack said that the thick grass and reeds of Australia's coastal swamps and lakes gives the lake yabby a comfortable hiding place from predators like eels, birds, fish, lizards and turtles.

"Gramastacus lacus, sp.n., first came to my attention in 1984 when specimens were collected from the Ramsar Wetlands of Myall Lakes National Park for aquaculture trials, McCormack said in an introduction to his study that appears in the journal ZooKey. 

"Since 2005 the Australian Crayfish Project (ACP) has been surveying eastern Australia to increase the knowledge base of all freshwater crayfish species," McCormack continued. "As part of this ongoing project, surveys of coastal New South Wales (NSW) over the last eight years have resulted in the discovery of isolated populations of this new Gramastacus species."'s Dave Armstrong said the species' ability to dig deep compared to its size has enabled the crayfish to survive in different environments. 

"The specialty of our new kid on the block is ephemeral habitat," Armstrong wrote. "In other words, it has adapted to regular natural floods with temporary dry cycles, the niche being near various isolated lowland lagoons near the coast. The most obvious adaptation is, for it, an enormous meter-long burrow into which it secretes itself in the dry season."

The lake yabby's sister species, Gramastacus insolitus, is roughly the same size but does not dig.

"Instead, it cannily borrows the burrows of larger crayfish in western Australia," Armstrong wrote. "In the new species, only one individual is found in each hole, except where one juvenile occasionally appeared with an adult. Aggression between the members off the species perhaps reduces the population too." reported that the lake yabby could be endangered because of development in its coastal habitat. However, some populations have been protected in national parks.

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