Friday, December 30, 2011

“500 meters a month”

500 meters a month is how fast invasive crayfish can spread through an ecosystem, according to a report in The Guardian.
The Environment Agency said virile crayfish (Orconectes virilis), which are non-native, prey on native wildlife and spread crayfish plague, a disease deadly to native white clawed crayfish. The north American predators have recently been seen in waterways in east London after first being found on the river Lea near Enfield in 2004.
They have since colonised more than 10 miles of the river and linked waterways, spreading into Hertfordshire.
The agency has fitted small radio transmitters on the backs of the unwelcome guests, with preliminary results showing that virile crayfish are moving upstream at a rate of 500 metres a month.
This is substantially faster than their cousin, the signal crayfish, which is also non-native.
The Environment Agency report shows not only the two crayfish pictured above, but also notes that Lousiana red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) and Turkish crayfish (Astacus leptodactylus) are also present in the London area.

Hat tip to Kevin Zelnio.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The #SciFund challenge: Mid-way

Three weeks down; three weeks to go. We’re at the halfway point in the #SciFund challenge, and my project is 51% funded. I’m on target to meet my funding goal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. What has it all been like so far? I’m a raging inferno of emotions here. The moments when you see the Rocketbut email coming in announcing, “Your project has been fueled!” are great big highs – the amount does not matter. It’s just knowing that someone cared enough to help, and that you’re moving towards the goal, that make each one of those emails sweet. But when the days go by with no emails... it’s pretty damn depressing. Even when I know that most of the action is going to happen in the first and last weeks, and I know that it’s going to be hard to maintain momentum in the middle of the campaign (that is to say, right now), that intellectual knowledge doesn’t stop me from moping a bit when a day goes without the needle on the gauge budging. And the media coverage is also encouraging. There’s been so much that I just haven’t been able to keep track of it all (but fortunately, there’s a compilation here). But it’s almost as encouraging to read something like this in Forbes as it is to see a donation:
My son and I watched the Indiana Jones-like video from scientist, Zen Faulkes, and thought, “we should ‘fuel’ this project.”
Why, yes. Yes, you should. ;) I was also interviewed by Jennifer Welsh for her LiveScience article, which has been reprinted and reproduced on several other sites. My project also gets an mention in the Daily Mail article on SciFund. I’m a bit... miffed, I suppose, that they are characterising all the #SciFund projects as “wacky,” when we are all bona fide scientists with serious projects. Also, I wanted to point out a discussion that happened on Google Plus about trusting the #SciFund participants with your donations, and how you know those dollars make a difference. The highs are higher, and the lows are lower, than I ever expected. I just cannot maintain the same detached, “We’ll see how it goes” attitude that I take with normal grant submissions. There, I submit the manuscript, but have more more contact with the thing for months. Here, there’s almost daily contact, even when it’s not necessarily donations. P.S.—I’m working on a few new things related to my project that I hope you will see before the end of the week! Photo by ♥KatB Photography♥ on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The #SciFund challenge launches!

The wait is over. The final version of Doctor Zen and the Amazon Crayfish Civilization is now ready for viewing at RocketHub! If you have three minutes, you have more than enough time to learn about my project in the #SciFund Challenge! Why can’t you watch the video here? Because I want you to go to RocketHub, and not only watch mine, but look at the other insanely cool projects that have come in from around the world. If you don’t want to support me, please consider supporting someone else. The #SciFund Challenge is an experiment in funding science. Over the next six weeks, I will be asking for your help in raising money for a research project. I’ll be talking more about the whys and wherefores in the next few days. Want to learn more? Or perhaps even... donate? You should go to RocketHub right now!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cheering for crayfish

I was so pleased to work with the Science Cheerleaders at HESTEC Community Day promoting citizen science in general and a little about the Craywatch project in particular. The weather was cooler than normal - rain for the first time in a long time! - but there were still consistently good crowds to see the Science Cheerleaders’ show. I was able to surprise them when they learned that even though none of them had been to The University of Texas-Pan American (home of HESTEC) before, they had a connection with us. The cameraman on their popular YouTube video, Brandon Garcia, was a UTPA alumnus.
After each show, I talked a little bit about the Craywatch citizen science project that I have at the Science for Citizens website. I did it a little differently each time, but the last time I said something like, “You know what cheerleading has in common with science? You have to work hard at it to get good. I went to school a long time to become a professional scientist, and you might think you can’t do science if you don’t have fancy degrees. No! All you need is an inquiring mind and a willingness to learn. If you don’t like crayfish, there are hundreds of other real research projects that you can help with.” The Cheerleaders got asked to be part of a lot of photographs, and signed almost as many autographs.
This tiara’d women is Laura Eilers, the choreographer.
Ringleader Darlene Cavalier takes a picture.
Thanks so much to Darlene, Laura, Melissa, Heidi, Sammy Jo, Sandra, Ada (making her Science Cheerleading debut, if I remember right) for letting me be part of the act. Hooray for the Science Cheerleaders! Additional: The view from the cheering side.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Watch out for wandering crayfish!

This short video shot near Chicago was posted a few weeks ago on youtube, and it shows the remarkable ability of crayfish to traverse land in search of a new aquatic home. It's no wonder that crayfish are among the most successful aquatic invasive species in many parts of the world - their ability to invade new habitats by traversing through grasslands, fields and or other terrestrial areas makes them an ideal candidate for invasion. Can you imagine if all aquatic invaders had such an ability??!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Check out, a site devoted to the notion that one of the best features about invasive species is the sense of retribution we can get for the harm they do to ecosystems when we eat them.

After all, whether a crayfish is native or introduced makes no difference to how it tastes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Craywatch on the road: Ecology Society of America 2011

The 96th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America is on now in Austin, Texas, and Craywatch is here! I’ll be presenting and talking a little bit about the Craywatch project. It will be in Auston Convention Center room 13 at 9:00 am on Tuesday, 9 August.

I’ll also be presiding over the session, Predator-Prey Interactions I. I think it only fair to warn any presenters in that session:
  • Don’t you dare go over time.
  • Don’t you dare have Comic Sans in your slides. I will name and shame on my blogs!

Please stop by and say hi! Follow the meeting by searching for #esa11 on Twitter.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Loch Ken monster

The Craywatch project focuses on North America (for now), but other countries provide good examples of why we need to keep an eye on crayfish.

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This news article tells of the economic costs of invasive signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) in Loch Ken, Scotland (emphasis added):

Susan O’Hare, who runs the Cross Keys Hotel in the town, said: “We have had fishermen who came last year who are now booking trips in Ireland. We can lose between £3,000 and £4,000 a weekend. My fishermen have been catching crayfish after crayfish.”

One million of the creatures were removed from the loch by a cull carried out in 2009.

Just a few weeks before that, another report from Scotland described a new fence that had been put in place to try to contain the signal crayfish:

"Unfortunately there are no techniques available that will allow us to get rid of signal crayfish from rivers and streams," said Dr Colin Bean, a freshwater adviser with SNH.

"So taking the radical step of developing and installing a physical barrier may offer us the best hope of stopping the species from moving into new catchments."

Two dams have now been installed 20 metres apart at a cost of £50,000.

I wish them luck. But the Australian experience with fences suggests that invaders are very good at getting past them. It’s not clear to me how fences will stop little larval crayfish.

And finally, this story isn’t so much about the economic cost, but the loss of biodiversity and native heritage:

More than 50 dead white clawed crayfish were found in Chad Brook, Long Melford.

The Environment Agency confirmed the deaths were caused by the disease, rather than pollution, and it expects the rest of the colony to perish. ...

Only two colonies of native crayfish remain in the East of England in their natural setting.
Keep watching the streams!

Crayfish picture by shimgray on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bad bait

The sale of crayfish is a completely grey market, as I found trying to track down pet ownership of Marmorkrebs. Trying to gather good information about the sale of crayfish for bait is hard, and as far as I can find, Bob DiStefano and colleagues have done probably one of the only systematic studies to examine this.

DiStefano and colleagues surveyed all the American state and Canadian provincial agencies in detail. They found that about half of the jurisdictions responding reported problems caused by crayfish used as bait. Yet of those, only a few had banned the use of crayfish as bait outright. The other states and provinces had some other legislation intended to prevent the introduction of exotic crayfish, such as limiting how far they could be transported. This tremendous hodgepodge of rules and regulations doesn’t lend itself to easy enforcement.

The team also did extensive surveys of bait shops in Missouri. Missouri is one of the jurisdictions that has a series of regulations designed to prevent the spread of crayfish across watersheds rather than an outright ban. The state is trying to do the right thing. But not surprisingly, the authors turned up a lot of illegal crayfish; in their brief surveys, 27% of the bait shops had illegal crayfish.

Some shops had legal crayfish species that were gotten by an illegal means (e.g., from out of state).

Almost none of the shop owners had a clue about what species of crayfish they had.

Even if the bait shops were following all the laws (which were few and far between), there’s no way of knowing what the fishermen they sold the bait to did.

It’s difficult to know how many introductions have been caused by a combination of careless bait shop owners and fishermen, but this paper provides some hints of past introductions that could have been cause by crayfish being released as bait. Procambarus acutus is mainly distributed in the south-eastern corner of the state, but there are pockets further north that are probably the result of bait sales.

In short, using any crayfish as live bait is a problem! About the only exception would be a crayfish you catch at the bank of the river or lake you intend to fish in.


DiStefano RJ, Litvan ME, Horner PT. 2009. The bait industry as a potential vector for alien crayfish introductions: problem recognition by fisheries agencies and a Missouri evaluation. Fisheries 34(12): 567-597. DOI: 10.1577/1548-8446-34.12.586

Crossposted from the Marmorkrebs blog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Now is the perfect time to get cray-watching!

Hey Everyone, thanks for your interest in CRAYWATCH! Although crayfish are known as the 'charismatic megafauna' of a small stream ecosystem, very few people are aware of the incredibly aggressive nature of some invasive species. Most native crayfish populations on the European continent have been wiped out due to invasive crayfish who out-compete them for food and shelter. CRAYWATCH will provide us with an opportunity to monitor and prevent the spread of potentially invasive species (especially the asexually reproducing Marmokrebs).

Happy searching everyone, and thanks so much for your help with this project!

Science for Citizens

The Craywatch project is now up at the Science for Citizens website. I’m particularly pleased by this nice introductory blog post by Elizabeth Walters!

Join the project, and you too can have one of these:

I'm a citizen

(Astacology is the study of crayfish.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Welcome to Craywatch

Today is the debut of a new citizen science project, Craywatch. I’m your host, Zen Faulkes (a.k.a. Doctor Zen). I’d like to tell you a little about this project and how it came about.

The goal of this project is to collect data about the location of crayfish species in North America, with a particular eye to monitoring for invasive species. North America is the biodiversity hotspot for crayfish, but crayfish are under a lot of pressure, not the least of which is competition from newly introduced invasive crayfish.

There’s the why for this project. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to talk a bit about how this project emerged below the fold.