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For Immediate Release, July 24, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Protection Sought for Rare Crayfish Found Only in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failure to protect the Obey crayfish under the Endangered Species Act. The crayfish is found in northeast Tennessee in the headwaters of the East Fork Obey River and nowhere else on Earth.

Obey crayfish
Obey crayfish photo by Roger Thoma. Photos are available for media use.

“The Obey crayfish is a piece of creation that’s in danger of being erased forever unless swift action is taken to save it,” said Center biologist Tierra Curry. “It’s also a perfect example of why we should protect our creeks and rivers. Making sure this crayfish is protected from pollution will also protect people downstream who rely on the Obey River for fishing, recreation and drinking water.” 

The Obey crayfish is known only from Cumberland, Fentress, Overton and Putnam
counties. It is threatened by water pollution from a proposed confined poultry facility and by sand mining and drought.

The Center and regional allies petitioned to protect the crayfish in 2010. In 2011 the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the crayfish “may warrant” protection as an endangered species, but it has failed to make the required 12-month finding on whether protection is warranted.

Tennessee is home to 78 species of crayfish, second only to Alabama, which has 83. Tennessee crayfish range in adult size from less than 1 inch to more than 9 inches. Crayfish have eyes on moveable stalks and have five pairs of legs. The first pair of legs are the signature claws used for digging and defense.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by more than 400 other species, including bass, catfish, frogs and small mammals. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals, and they are eaten in turn by fish, birds and otters, making them an important link in the food web.

Males court females by rubbing them with their antennae and claws and then flipping them onto their backs. Females glue fertilized eggs onto their bodies with a sticky substance called glair. While carrying the eggs, the females are said to be “in berry” because the eggs resemble a cluster of berries. After hatching the tiny juveniles cling to the mother for several weeks before setting out on their own. Crayfish live for five years.

The Southeast is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has recently lost more than 50 freshwater animals to extinction. The Center is working to save more than 400 vanishing southeastern aquatic species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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