The Circle of Life: Crawfish Style!

May 2, 2012
By Patrick Bonin

Crawfish, like people, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some have big pincers. Others have small claws. Some crawfish are so big they look like little lobsters. Others never reach “monster” size and stay on the smaller side their entire lives.

Lots of factors, including water quality, available food supply, population, genetics and even the weather, can determine how big an individual eventually gets.

But regardless of their final size, all crawfish go through a specific life cycle as they grow and mature here at Frugé Aquafarms in Branch, LA.

As both the air and water temperature begin to steadily rise with the approach of summer here in south Louisiana, that process is about to start up again as the crawfish prepare to mate.

But we do our best to stay one step ahead of the mudbugs: that’s why we’ve already begun seeding next year’s ponds with the crawfish that will create the 2013 crop. (To read more about pond stocking which is happening right now on the farm, click here.)

LSU Ag Center picture of a crawfish burrow.

In the coming weeks, crawfish will begin mating in the open waters of our rice fields. (The growing rice crop helps to shade the water and keep it cool, which is more to the crawfish’s liking.) After mating has occurred, both males and females will eventually begin to dig their individual burrows beneath the rice fields to escape the intense summer heat. As the female prepares her burrow and digs in, the eggs in her ovary are released, fertilized and attached to the swimmerets on the underside of her tail.

Once sealed in, crawfish are confined to the burrow until the hard plug that seals the entrance is softened by moisture from pond flooding or rainfall.

rice field

Flooded rice field

While all this is happening below ground, we are making preparations on the surface for our rice crop. The water that was in the rice fields is typically drained around the middle of July to prepare for the coming rice harvest. (Don’t worry: while the rice is harvested with large combines, the crawfish are safe in their burrows beneath the pond.)

It’s during this “dry period” in the pond in July and August that rainfall is critical for crawfish production. A drought can severely impact the survival rate of crawfish deep in their burrows.

LSU Ag Center picture of a femaie crawfish with eggs

After the rice crop is harvested in August, we wait until the cooler temperatures of late September to re-flood the fields. If everything went according to plan, we will begin seeing the females emerging from their burrows with baby crawfish the size of ants attached under their tails. (Each female can produce from 400 to 900 hatchlings, and can reproduce multiple times in a season.)

The young crawfish emerge each fall in a field of fresh water and rice stubble, a perfect environment for them to grow and mature quickly. In about 90 to 120 days, after molting several times, they will reach market size. That brings us to the November/December timeframe, and depending on the weather, the crawfish harvest will begin all over again and continue all the way into the following summer.

Under optimal conditions, crawfish typically live only about one to two years in the wild. But with any luck out here on the farm, they’ll make it to a pot near you one day during crawfish season here in south Louisiana!