Red Swamp Crayfish Found in Sunset Lake

By Sue Moore

What is a southern red swamp crayfish delicacy doing in the waters of Sunset Lake? That’s what got a local resident questioning his discovery of their presence in July near the lake. He called the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to report this invasive species find but at first they didn’t quite believe him.

“I’m pretty familiar with crayfish like we find around here,” said Mike Oswalt. He was driving by Bridge Organics on Washington Street and spotted one in the road along with a couple of young boys who had them in their sights too. He proceeded to do some research on what was meandering across the road and reported it to Seth Herbst of the DNR. “That’s more likely to be the native white river crayfish because they also have raised bumps on their claws and the red swamp crayfish have yet to be detected in Michigan,” Herbst responded. A few hours later he received a call from Tim Delaney who lives on Sunset Lake with a report and a photo that corroborated Oswalt’s find.

Red swamp crayfish, also known as Louisiana crayfish, are deep red in color with bright red, raised spots covering the body and claws. They have a black, wedge-shaped stripe on the top of the abdomen. Between 2 and 5 inches in length, these crayfish resemble miniature lobsters. They are native to the Mississippi River drainage and the Gulf Coast and are the popular “crawfish” or “crawdads” used in southern cooking, said a DNR press release.

It didn’t take long to bring in a flotilla of experts to search for this invasive species that poses a danger to the shoreline integrity of the lake. They burrow into the shore and can cause major erosion. Plus, they are like a garbage disposal in devouring ants, other small crayfish and invertebrates that live in the lake, Herbst said to an MLive reporter and the TV cameramen from Channels 3 and 8 on July 20. He and others from the Conservation District and the Cooperative Invasive Species Management team were all in Vicksburg trapping as many as they could find over a four-day period.

Herbst said they captured a total of 60 of the red swamp crayfish variety just in Sunset Lake and its two ponds. A report of a finding in a Novi, Michigan retention pond came in two days after Oswalt’s report. He dispatched the DNR team and they reported finding 111 there. “They are crawlers and like to move overland, through vegetative and rocky shorelines. It rained heavily the week before they were found in the road so Herbst speculated that was what drove them from the shoreline.

How they got to Vicksburg is anybody’s guess Herbst said.

Nearby the pond across from Bridge Organics, Vincent Douglass who will be 10 on August 16, said he has been finding them for several years by his grandparents’ home on Mill Street. He even handed over three he found that day to Herbst while he was being interviewed by Channel 8.

The team from the DNR also searched Barton, Gourdneck and Austin Lakes during their week-long visit and said they didn’t locate any specimens in these waters.

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