Aggressive, destructive species of crayfish in Kansas likely spread by anglers

Rusty Crayfish competes with native aquatic animals, attacks humans

By: - July 23, 2021 10:00 am
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks reports discovery of an invasive, people-attacking species of crayfish in McPherson State Fishing Lake. (KDWP)

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks reports discovery of an invasive, people-attacking species of crayfish in McPherson State Fishing Lake. (KDWP)

TOPEKA — An invasive species of crayfish known for considerable ecological damage and for attacking people and animals with its large claws has been discovered for the first time in the wild in Kansas, state officials said.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks reported the Rusty Crayfish was found in McPherson State Fishing Lake and represented the first documented presence of this species of crayfish within the state. The Rusty Crayfish was located during testing of capture methods in preparation for widespread sampling in Kansas lakes for invasive species.

This large, aggressive crayfish made distinctive by black-tipped claws and rust-colored spots on its upper shell is known to outcompete native fish and crayfish for forage. It also has proven to be a nuisance when striking the feet of unsuspecting people and animals in freshwater.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks says sampling at McPherson State Fishing Lake discovered the invasive Rusty Crayfish, which was likely added to the lake when used as fishing bait. (KDWP)
Kansas officials say sampling at McPherson State Fishing Lake revealed the invasive, aggressive Rusty Crayfish, which likely moved in when used as fishing bait. (KDWP)

The sweep of McPherson lake by researchers revealed a reproducing population of males and females of varying ages.

“The most likely cause of the Rusty Crayfish making its way into Kansas is through its use as fishing bait,” said Chris Steffen, who is the aquatic nuisance species coordinator at the state wildlife agency.

He said the invasion at McPherson’s lake illustrated the value of draining water from boats before leaving a waterbody and of never moving bait from one lake to another.

Officials urge anglers not to dump bait in the water or in drainage ditches. Bait should be discarded on dry land or in an approved receptacle.

KDWP officials said Kansas has never conducted widespread sampling of invasive crayfish. The agency recently provided funding for a university project to establish sampling protocols to monitor native and invasive crustaceans in Kansas.

The plan is to experiment with capture methods and techniques on a small number of waterbodies around the state. Once an effective and efficient sampling methodology has been established, the work will progress to sampling across a large number of lakes in the state.

Officials urged anglers, boaters and watersport enthusiasts encountering Rusty Crayfish in Kansas lakes to bag and freeze the crustacean and contact the Department of Wildlife and Parks’ office in Emporia.


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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.