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Decapoda  Astacidea   

Infraorder Astacidea  Latreille, 1802

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Freshwater crayfishes are taxonomically distributed among three families; two Northern Hemisphere families, Astacidae and Cambaridae and one Southern Hemisphere family, Parastacidae. There are two centers of species diversity for freshwater crayfishes. The first is located in the Southeastern United States where some 80% of the cambarid species can be found. The second center of diversity is in Victoria, Australia; housing a large proportion of the parastacid species. Freshwater crayfishes naturally occur on all of the continents except Africa (Figure 1). The Astacidae are distributed West of the Rocky Mountains in the Northwest United States into British Columbia, Canada and in Europe. The Cambaridae are found in the Eastern United States and south through Mexico. The Parastacidae are distributed in Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Madagascar.

Geographic Distribution of Crayfish Families

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships:

The phylogenetic relationships among the freshwater crayfish families and their relationships to lobster-like ancestors has been of considerable debate for at least 100 years. Two alternative hypotheses have been proposed for the origins of crayfishes. The first supposes a diphyletic origin of astacoids and parastacoids suggesting independent invasion of the freshwater habitat (Huxley, 1880). This idea is supported by the two centers of diversity in the northern and southern hemispheres and by a number of morphological features (Hobbs, 1974). However, Ortmann (1902) argued for a monophyletic origin of the crayfishes. This position has recently been supported by sperm ultrastructure characteristics (Jamieson, 1991) and by embryonic characters (Scholtz, 1993). Because of this ongoing debate, the positioning of Parastacidae is shown as unresolved.

Fossil Taxa:

Hobbs (1988) gives a good discussion on the fossil taxa associated with this group as well as their presumed evolutionary history. There are several fossil representatives included within the Astacidea, and a few are closely related to extant crayfish species (based on morphological evidence). However, several recent discoveries may suggest an alternative evolutionary history involving crayfish. Recently, crayfish fossils and burrows have been found in the Triassic formations of Utah (Hasiotis, 1999), Arizona (Miller & Ash, 1988) and North Carolina (Olsen, 1977), dating to 225 million years (during the presence of the Pangean supercontinent). These trace and body fossils confirm that crayfish were established across a variety of ecological settings ranging from fully terrestrial to fully aquatic. The Erymidae were marine representatives. This group was most likely the progenitor to the clawed lobster and freshwater crayfish lines. Members of this group first appear in the fossil record some 245 million years ago and disappear around 75 million years ago.


Hasiotis, S.T. 1999. Crayfish fossils and burrows from the upper Triassic Chinle Formation, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
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Latreille, P. A. 1802. Historie Naturelle, Generale et Particuliere des Crustaces et des Insectes. 14 volumes. Paris: F. Dufart.

Hobbs, H. H., Jr. 1974a. Synopsis of the Families and Genera of Crayfishes (Crustacea: Decapoda). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, 164:1 - 32, 27 figures.

Hobbs, H. H., Jr. 1988. Crayfish Distribution, Adaptive Radiation and Evolution. Pages 52 - 82 in D. M. Holdich and R. S. Lowery (editors), Freshwater Crayfish: Biology, Management and Exploitation. London: Croom Helm.

Hobbs, H. H. 1989. An illustrated checklist of the American crayfishes (Decapoda: Astacidae, Cambaridae, and Parastacidae). Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Huxley, T. H. 1880. The crayfish; an introduction to the study of zoology. D. Appleton and company., New York,.

Huys, Rony. 2003: An Updated Classification of the Recent Crustacea. Journal of Crustacean Biology: Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 495–497.

Jamieson, B.G.M. 1991. Ultrastructure and phylogeny of crustacean spermatozoa. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 31:109-142.

Miller, G.L. & S.R. Ash. 1988. The oldest freshwater decapod crustacean, from the Triassic of Arizona. Paleontology 31: 273-279.

Olsen, P.E. 1977. Stop 11, Triangle Brick Quarry; in Bain, G.L. & Harvey, B.W., eds. Field Guide to the geology of the Durham Basin. Carolina Geological Survey Fortieth Anniversary Meeting, October, 1977, p. 59-60.

Ortmann, A. E. 1902. The Geographical Distribution of Freshwater Decapods and Its Bearing Upon Ancient Geography. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 41(171):267 - 400, 8 figures.

Rode, Alycia L., Babcock, Loren E. 2003: Phylogeny of fossil and extant freshwater crayfish and some closely related Nephropid lobsters. Journal of Crustacean Biology: 23(2):418–435.

Scholtz, G. 1993. Teloblasts in decapod embryos: an embryonic character reveals the monophyletic origin of freshwater crayfishes (Crustacea, Decapoda). Zool. Anz. 230:s45-54.

Crandall, Keith A., D. James Harris, James W. Fetzner, Jr. 2000. The Monophyletic Origin of Freshwater Crayfish Estimated from Nuclear and Mitochondrial DNA sequences. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (2000) 267, 1679-1686.

Scholtz, G. 1998. Von Zellen und Kontinenten-die Evolution der Flußkrebse (Decapoda, Astacidae). Neue Folge Nr. 137, 205-212.

Scholtz, G. & Richter S. 1995. Phylogenetic systematics of the reptantian Decapoda (Crustacea, Malacostraca). Zool. F. Linn. Soc. 113, 289-328.

Scholtz, V. G. 1995 Ursprung und Evolution der Flußkrebse (Crustacea, Astacida). Sitzungsberichte Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde Berlin 34, 93-115.

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