Vermont is suffering from an invasion of the rusty crayfish. Orconectes rusticus can be identified by their robust claws with black bands on the tips, and dark, rusty spots on each side of their carapace (body). They can out-compete native species, forcing native crayfish from daytime hiding areas and destroying aquatic plant beds. They have likely been spread into numerous waterbodies in Vermont by anglers using them for bait.
In 2005 the White River Partnership and Vermont Institute of Natural Science conducted a survey of rusty crayfish in the White River watershed. 85% of the crayfish collected were rusty crayfish or rusty-resident hybrids. The vast majority of the rusties and rusty hybrids were found in the mainstem of the river, indicating that a serious invasion was occurring there.
In 2010 state aquatic biologists partnered with watershed education consultant Jenna Guarino to offer a workshop to watershed teachers who wanted to help track the spread of rusty crayfish. Six teachers participated in the workshop and implemented at least one day of trapping with their students. A new crayfish species Cambarus robustus, was discovered during the workshop! Quality-assured data collected by schools was shared with state biologist Jim Kellogg, who built a Vermont crayfish species database and distribution map.
Since 2010 the WRP has worked with watershed teachers and students to monitor crayfish throughout the watershed. The WRP quality-assures data collected by teachers and students using a standardized field sheet, and shares the data with the state for inclusion in the Vermont crayfish species database and distribution map.
Preventing the spread of crayfish
In 2010 the WRP received funding from Vermont’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Grant-In-Aid Program (GIA) to create a rusty crayfish informational poster, titled Crayfish of the White River, which was distributed to workshop participants and main stem towns.
In 2011 the WRP received GIA funds to work with partners and volunteers to develop a rusty crayfish identification guide based on the 2010 poster. The guide was first printed in June 2011, and was revised in 2012. The 2012 Field Guide to the Crayfish of the White River Watershed is available in electronic format.
In 2017 the WRP received additional GIA to funds to create illustrations of an additional crayfish species that may be found in the White River: the Appalachian crayfish (Cambarus bartonii) is native to Vermont and has been found in some high-elevation streams. The WRP will use the illustration to update the poster and field guide in 2018.
For more information
Interested in learning more about crayfish in the White River? Please contact us!