Put me down!
New Zealand Freshwater Crayfish(Southern Koura, Paranephrops zealandicus) Eggs
Put me down!

Finally in late February 2006, I picked up a crayfish with eggs on her underside and I actually had a camera on me. So here is something I have wanted to put on this site for a while - a pregnant crayfish. so here is a whole photoshoot with just one cray. This expectant mother was returned to the stream unharmed and got a piece of chicken meat for her trouble with which she seemed very pleased. Click in the preview to see the photo full size.

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Description Photo
Crayfish don't like you and I looking at their eggs. When I first picked this one up she curled her tail to stop me going near her precious eggs.
I used the side of my jeans to gently pry here tail open so we can see the eggs. Not an easy thing to do with only one hand as the other was using the camera. As these photos were taken I could feel the crayfishes muscles as she struggled. This was a very strong crayfish and everytime here leg or a spine of her claw reached back and rasped my hand it was hard to hold onto her. Besides, feeling a crayfish claw is usually a good sign that you are about to feel some serious pain. I've only been nipped once by a crayfish about half this one's size. It sliced into my finger and left me bleeding in the middle of the forest feeling like an idiot.
Here's a good clear shot of the eggs when she opened her tail.
Another shot of the eggs. When a crayfish is carrying eggs, she is refered to as being 'in berry' as the eggs look like a whole lot of berries stuck to her underside.
It's a good thing I put her back unharmed. These eggs mean even more crayfish next year.
Here's that tail curling to protect the eggs again.
Another open tail shot.
Another shot trying to use my jeans to steady the reluctant crayfish. Sometimes she would stop curling her tail and flick it trying to escape. This doesn't work outside of the water, but did flick water at me.
Curling her tail at me again. Well I hope you've had a good look. Time for our little crustacian pal to go back in the water. She sat for some time at the bottom of the stream bed eating the chicken meat I gave her. If you hold a crayfish gently in the water before letting them go, they calm down and will walk off quite happily as if nothing has happened to them. Either they are very forgiving or they have memories that only last for a few seconds. So the crayfish and her eggs got a nice piece of chicken out of this and are back in the stream unharmed.
Here's a photo taken on the 15th of April 2006. See how dark the eggs have gotten. Could this mean they are getting ready to hatch?
This crayfish has a home just to the left of the outflow of this pipe in this photo. I had thought crayfish didn't bother with set places to live and just slept wherever they felt like, but no, they do seem to find a nice cozy hole and stick with it.
Here's the same area only a week of heavy rain later. See how all the pine needles, including the ones over the culvert are gone. The amount of water going through and over it must have been huge. Several rocks have been moved around and the water is still too deep to see the crayfish hole. So I hope our mother crayfish is OK. I haven't been able to find her since. However when I had a look in a few months later, there were some tiny crayfish, smaller than a grain of rice running around in there. I better keep the chicken meat coming. They'll need their food to grow to be big crayfish.
On the 22nd of September 2006, I found another pregnant crayfish. Here's the area she lives in. That's my hat and camera case to the right of the picture, so you can see it's not a very big stream.
This crayfish is smaller than the first mother on this page. These eggs are red! What could that mean? The last mother's eggs went darker and darker, so perhaps these are very new eggs. See how far back she could reach with her claws. This crayfish had a very long reach. The number of times I felt those claws closing along the surface of my hand made it obvious this had better be a very fast photo shoot or else!
Here's a closeup of those red eggs.
The colour balance of this shot doesn't show up the red of the eggs as much. I will have to come back and entice her out with some more chicken meat over the next few months. We shall see if the eggs do darken over time and if no flood washes this one away, we might get to see some crayfish babies.
Here's a photo taken on the 25th of September 2006. I think this is the same animal, but what the heck happened to her left claw and some of her legs? She was fine when I put her back in the stream only three days ago. Perhaps she's had those eggs fertilised and her boyfriend got a bit rough. Crayfish fight a lot and it is hard to imagine them getting close enough to have sex. Perhaps once he had finished, the boyfriend attacked her.
Here's another photo from the 25th of September 2006. The eggs are still red, but do seem a bit darker. I will post more photos over the next few months and we'll see how this pregnancy proceeds.
On the 22nd of October 2006, I found our young mother again. In the last month there had been at least two groups of boys with nets and buckets having a look for crayfish. One group had pulled a whole lot of stones out of the stream which caused the water level around her home to drop considerably. I put the stones back and hoped I would find her again. After a month, she has turned up again. With a missing left claw and two missing legs, it is clearly the same animal. Here is what the eggs looked like on that day. The last crayfish's eggs got darker and darker as time went on. We'll see what happens here over the next few months. Let's hope the boys with the buckets don't catch her. Notice the chicken meat in her jaws? She's not letting go of it no matter what happens.
As you can see, there is a lot of mud on her tail in this shot. There has been very little rain for a while. The stream is getting very low. In some places, the pine needles have all but filled the stream bed. All it becomes is a gully filled with needles, with some water at the bottom and crayfish trying to move through it. Let's hope we get some serious rain soon.
Having not seen this mother crayfish for months, I finally picked her up again of January 23rd 2007. I had read that crayfish babies cling to their mother's under tail gills for a while before dropping off and leaving for life on their own. I had never seen it before, but here it is. There are two babies in this photo, a hidden one is just below the easy one to see.
And there you have it. We have finally managed to follow a crayfish pregnancy from new eggs to babies ready to leave. I suspect there were more babies that have already left before these photos were taken. So our mother crayfish has survived drought, kids with buckets and me to produce a crop of little crayfish. I better put them back in the water. If she doesn't stop flicking her tail at me these babies will wind up flying off into the long grass and I'll never find them in time. This family wound up back in the stream with a nice piece of chicken for their dinner.
Here's a photo taken the 30th of December 06 of another crayfish from further downstream. We have had rain over the last month and the stream is in much better condition. This crayfish has eggs, but something seems to be wrong with them. They look coated in some sort of mush. Perhaps it is a fungus and the eggs are rotting. Could it be the eggs have hatched and these are the rotting shells without young inside? They don't look hatched to me. I've never seen this before and don't know what might cause this. The crayfish seemed healthy and walked off with a piece of leftover Christmas turkey after these photos.
Here's another photo of those mushy eggs. We shall have to see if I can catch and photograph this animal again in a few weeks. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this appearance. I hope this crayfish is OK.
This mother crayfish is from the same area but the eggs don't look mushy. This photo was taken on January 21st 2007. It was easy to tell this one was pregnant. Even on the bottom of the stream she walked with her tail tightly curled up and would not open it for a moment. Even when I picked her up, that tail stayed closed. This is clearly a highly protective mother!
Here are the eggs after I used my jeans to get that tail open. This is clearly a personal part of female anatomy and I was not welcome to look. See how much water the eggs are swimming in. This mother isn't letting her eggs dry out no matter what happens. So I took a quick few photos and put her back in the stream. She crawled off with a piece of chicken meat. So a few seconds after this photo was taken she was crawling off as if nothing had happened.

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