“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.
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.