Keeping Crayfish as a Pet

Many of you fish keepers (or even aspiring fish keepers) may have wandered into your local pet shop to stumble upon a rather peculiar sight.

“Excuse me” you ask, “but isn’t that a lobster? You can’t have a pet lobster!”

Wrong, in many ways. What you are probably looking at (especially if you live in the UK, where the only crayfish or lobster you can legally keep is a red claw crayfish) is a crayfish, and yes, you can keep one as a pet.

Whilst being incredibly aggressive, territorial and even cannibalistic, they are surprisingly entertaining pets to keep, and if you take a bit of time to research them, not too difficult to keep.

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So, let’s get a bit of background knowledge.

In the UK, the only crayfish you can legally keep is the red claw crayfish, otherwise known as the blue yabby. It is Australian, and it can be found on the north coast of the Northern Territory and north-eastern Queensland. Like all other crayfish, it is a freshwater crustacean, and so therefore should not be kept in marine or brackish tanks, despite at first glance appearing to be a lobster.

Redclaws are typically blue in colour, but this can range to brown or orange green. Males have a distinctive red patch on the outer side of the claw, so ideally, try and search for this if you want a guarantee that you are purchasing a legal crayfish.

Whilst it is legal to keep redclaws, it is illegal to release them into the wild. If you cannot keep your crayfish any longer, then please either destroy it (perish the thought), or find it a new home.

Now, on to how to keep it!

Size: Can grow over 8 inches, so make sure you can accomodate for this!

Water quality: As with shrimp, they cannot tolerate high levels of ammonia or nitrate, so remember to carry out water tests regularly, and ideally, only add a crayfish to a tank that is over 6 months old (a mature tank).

Aquarium environment: Redclaws love to dig, indeed, the crayfish at my local fish shop has established itself under a piece of driftwood, digging itself a small hole. They need shelter too, so please provide a cave, or posssibly an upturned flowerpot (think originally!). They also have a tendency to attempt to climb out of the aquarium (my parent’s discovered this many years ago, finding their prized pet had escaped and killed itself), so please, make sure your tank is tightly sealed! They’re stronger than your average fish!

Temperature: 20-28 degrees celsius, 24 degrees celsius being ideal (this conveniently being the ideal temperature for many other aquarium fish, but check the thermostat on your fish tank just in case!).

pH: between 7.0 and 8.0.

Feeding and diet: As detrivores, they naturally feed on whatever they can find, so a varied diet is essential. Provide them with sources of both meat and plant based food. As far as i am aware, they should be quite content with sinking carnivore tablets, and apparently develop a liking for algae tablets too.

Ideally, consider using some liquid calcium, often advertised for use with snails. This should keep their shell in good condition.

When kept with other fish: Crayfish are very aggressive and territorial. Not only should they ideally be kept in a tank without other crayfish (unless you happen to have a tank as large as 6 foot, allowing them enough room to establish their own territories), but should only be kept with faster moving fish which remain largely in the middle or top of the aquarium (e.g. dither fish: fish that shoal around the middle of the tank, which the bottom feeders use to sense danger. If the dither fish swim for cover, the bottom feeders find cover too, until the panic subsides). Do not keep with bottom feeders or slow movers, as they will be eaten or attacked! Definetly do not keep with smaller invertebrates such as shrimp, who will quickly become an easy meal.

Your crayfish will very likely become the centrepiece of your tank, so please design the aquarium around the needs of it!

Other notes: Crayfish will shed their shell, and an empty shell may appear at first to be a dead crayfish! They often eat the shed shell soon after, to regain lost minerals.

If you want to keep multiple crayfish in a larger aquarium, then they must have at least 2 foot of territory each (3 foot ideally), separated by a small space of open substrate. Define their territories clearly by providing central caves and “dens” in driftwood, as this will increase the definition between the two territories, reducing the amount of conflict.

If you choose to keep crayfish, I wish you the best of luck with your new friend, as they truly are fascinating pets!

Below is a small amount of footage of a redclaw crayfish.

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User Comments
  1. rutherfranc

    On February 24, 2009 at 9:42 am

    good details given here on having one as a pet.. doesn`t have a lot of space on my living quarters right now so I`ll let the seafood restaurants do this for me as of now.. thanks for sharing.

  2. Alyson DeBarge

    On October 18, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Thank you soooo much,I have two of them and thry keep on trying to escape! So I bought a piece of driftwood and there digging the whole day, there not even eating :P

  3. cryptkeeperthewicked

    On March 16, 2010 at 12:34 am

    hey i have one crawdad left and he is in a 5 gallon fish tank by himself….he killed my other ones wen they were molting….anyways how long will it take for him 2 grow over 6 inches…he is about 3.5 now…..

  4. Roddy Redclaw

    On May 9, 2010 at 10:18 am

    About 6 months ago my husband caught and bought a QLD redclaw home for my son. We set up a 3ft x 4ft tank equiped with filter system, pebbles, river rocks and natural freshwater drift wood, we softened the water and made sure everything was right. Roddy Redclaw has given us endless amounts of entertainment, we would rather watch him than tv, he has become a family member. We feed him pellets designed for crayfish. He has molted twice since being introduced into the tank. A couple of days ago he started to act strange we came home to find him upside down in the tank and we were sad we thought he was dead but he rolled over again and he seemed like he was back to normal. He continues to roll over then back, he lays deathly still sometimes and we keep thinking he has died. Has anyone ever experienced this type of behaviour before? We do not know what to do, every morning we race down to check if he is still alive. I have even checked on him in the middle of the night. At first we thought he was trying to molt, that it might be harder for him since he was so big he is about 15cm long now. Any info would be beneficial to us.
    Thank you in advance.

  5. Alistair Clapp

    On August 22, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    My crayfish has also started to roll on his back this evening! I am quite worried about him. I would also like to know if anyone knows why this might be.
    We have put him the right way up and tried to tempt him with some food but to no avail. He is sitting quietly and very still in the corner. We did wonder if he is going to shead his shell as its been some time since he last did this.
    Many thanks
    Vicky and Alistair Clapp

  6. craylover

    On March 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I just caught some crayfish. I have never had them before. is it okay if the water is really cold, because the pond where I caught them is really cold,and the water wont stay warm in their tank.

  7. Seth

    On May 30, 2011 at 3:19 am

    hi,i had one question,a very very very important my crayfish tank,i found one small animal in was swimming on the surface,like a worm.when i catch it and take a closer look at it,it’s tail is curled up,like a also has no claws/ was about 1/4″ long.when i put a fish with it,it quickly hang on the my question is,what is that animal?any helpwill be deeply appreciated.thanks.

  8. john

    On March 13, 2012 at 7:15 am

    seth, thats a lamprey.

  9. Bran

    On April 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    hi i have a male and female crawfish and i was wondering how do you get them 2 mate

  10. Bran

    On April 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    hi i have a male and female crawfish and i was wondering how do you get them 2 mate?

  11. MissStudio3HostOfTheYear

    On May 24, 2012 at 4:18 am

    Yeh I bought a red-claw today and this will really help setting up and taking care of my new friends. To bad the video was removed by the user though.


    MissStudio3HostOfTheYear!!!! PEACE OUT

  12. 나다

    On November 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I caught 4 female and 2 male crayfish and they love to mate.
    I had them for a month now and so far I saw them mating 6-8 times… but no eggs so far…

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