WOODSFIELD -- Ohio’s newest resident species, the blue crayfish, was identified recently in Monroe County -- and may be dispersed throughout other regions of Ohio, according to Mael Glon, a researcher on the expedition team that discovered the unique crustacean.
After 45 years of challenging explorations, fruitless leads and dead ends, the search team finally located the species in the wet, Appalachian hills of Ohio on May 19.
The blue crayfish (Cambarus Monongalensis) is not a new species. It can also be found in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia. Yet May 2020 marked its Ohio debut.
According to an official press release, the blue crayfish is said to have lived undiscovered along distributaries of the Ohio River for the past 2 million years.
The expedition team, led by Laura S. Hughes, put advertisements in the newspaper asking for tips, personal accounts or possible discoveries of the species. This prompted a multitude of misinterpreted claims and false hope, until recently.
Hughes was contacted by two turkey hunters who stumbled upon the species while strolling through the woods. She led her entourage to investigate.
A PhD candidate at The Ohio State University’s Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology department, Mael Glon explained the difficulty of the mission.
“These crayfish do not live in creeks like other species,” Glon said. “I call them ‘burrowing crayfish.' ”
Blue crayfish bury themselves inside soupy hillsides, making them nearly impossible to track down. Minuscule mounds of dirt or mud near holes are signs the crayfish have entombed themselves nearby.
Unearthing the crustaceans is a formidable task. Researchers use a specialized technique to reveal the crayfish by inserted their arm elbow-deep into the muddy hillside and swirling the water beneath where the shellfish are hiding. The disturbance causes the blue crayfish to surface.
What gives them their blue color?
“We actually don’t know why they are blue,” Glon said. “Crayfish can turn blue due to their diet, lighting or a color morph.
“Similar to albinism, they can also be white, orange or blue.”
This particular species of crayfish is unique because they are not affected by a color morph, but are blue as an entire species. Glon believes that because the crustaceans reside underground in moist ridges on Appalachian hills, they have not lost their blue color throughout their evolutionary process.
“If a crayfish in a creek is blue or orange, it would be easily spotted by predators,” Glon said. “I believe that because these crayfish burrowed into the ground, they didn’t come into contact with natural predators and retained their blue color.”
The species will possibly be tagged as endangered, threatened or vulnerable by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency due to their rare numbers in the state. But the blue crayfish is plentiful nationwide and is not in danger of extinction.
Glon encourages Ohioans to submit pictures or report sightings of potential blue crayfish to the Ohio EPA or any researcher involved in the discovery.
The team also included Dr. Zac Loughman of West Liberty University, Kelly Capurra of the Ohio EPA, Heather Dame Glon of The Ohio State University, John and Tracy Pyles and Roger Thoma.
Thoma is responsible for the discovery of several crayfish species and is writing a book about crayfish in Ohio.