19 January 2011

Yet more crayfish diversity

Back in July, I mentioned one the the day’s highlights from the International Association of Astacology conference:

getting introduced to the first new crayfish species in a decade (and a big one)

That new species has been formally published, and its name is Barbicambarus simmonsi. And quite handsome it is, too:

New Scientist has a short article about the new species (registration may be required), emphasizing its size. I recall that when Chris Taylor gave his talk at IAA, his colleagues were asking locals if they knew about any crayfish in the area. People said no, “but there were some big lobsters upstream.”

This emphasizes yet again how much undiscovered biodiversity there is in North America, the hotbed of crayfish. We’re still finding new species that are physically large in not particularly obscure habitats. But as this is the first new crayfish species described in a long time, it may be one of the last “low hanging fruits”; other new crayfish may be either very similar to others morphologically, or live in isolated environments like caves.

This species also seems to be rare, which points out the need for conservation and monitoring.

Additional: A Reuters wire story on this discovery is making the rounds. It’s great to see that crayfish and basic taxonomy making the news. This article has a nice picture comparing the size of the new species to another in the same region.

More additional: A longer write-up of the discovery can be found in the university press release.

Most people are shocked to learn that there are about 600 species of crayfish in the world, Taylor said, with more than half of those occurring north of Mexico. Alabama and Tennessee are hotspots of crayfish diversity, he said.

The discovery of a new species of crayfish in itself is not unusual, the researchers said. About two new species of crayfish are found every year in the U.S. But the discovery of a large, distinctive new species in a region that had been studied for decades is quite astounding, they said.


Taylor CA, Schuster GA. 2010. Monotypic no more, a description of a new crayfish of the genus Barbicambarus Hobbs, 1969 (Decapoda: Cambaridae) from the Tennessee River drainage using morphology and molecules. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 123: 324-334. http://dx.doi.org/10.2988/10-15.1

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