What Does a Crayfish Aquarium Need?

Crayfish make excellent pets for both novice and experienced aquarists alike. While they can survive in tough conditions, here are some things they need.

May 30, 2024By Colt Dodd
what does crayfish aquarium need

Most people see crayfish on platters at fish fries and buffets. Yet, freshwater tank enthusiasts know that crayfish make more than a tasty meal; they also make excellent pets. These mudbugs of the Mississippi River have very distinct personalities that manifest in how they interact with one another, eat, and make dens. Just watching a crayfish go about its day-to-day business can provide hours of entertainment!

Still, while crayfish are great starter pets, there are still some things their aquarium needs to feel like home. Here’s what to know.

Each Crayfish Needs 20 Gallons of Water

fresh tank aquarium 20 gallon
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

While crayfish can live for short periods out of the water, they need to be submerged most of the time. Their gills mainly get oxygen from the water in the tank. It’s also worth noting that some crayfish are escape artists, able to propel themselves upward and escape their enclosures.

Crayfish need a generous amount of space. While crayfish generally don’t get bigger than the palm of one’s hand, aquarists should have about 20 gallons of water per crayfish. These little guys can get really territorial; if they don’t have enough space, they’ll fight to the death.

A crayfish will not thrive in a small fishbowl. Aquarists should look for tanks that have a lot of space for them to move around, make burrows, and explore. Taller tanks with small foundations aren’t ideal. Yet, rectangular tanks with large bases are.

When getting an aquarium, make sure that you also purchase a filter for your tank. These systems promote good oxygenation in the water and keep the tank from getting too dirty.

Crayfish Need Hiding Spaces to Feel Protected

fish tank with hiding places
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the wild, crayfish are at the bottom of the food chain. Per the University of Michigan, they make delicious snacks for wading birds, raccoons, otters, and large fish. To survive, crayfish rely on hiding spots. Their claws only offer so much protection.

Aquarists can purchase decorations at their local pet stores to decorate their tanks and offer convenient hiding places. Crayfish enjoy hiding under logs, rocks, and between underwater plants’ stems. Java fern and java moss make great low-maintenance plants for freshwater fish tanks. They also enjoy burrowing in the sand, too. Aquarists should line the bottom of the tank with about two inches of gravel or another substrate.

Crayfish Need Warm Water to Thrive

crayfish blue aquarium tank
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

There’s a reason why crayfish thrive in the American South; those areas are generally pretty warm throughout all parts of the year. When recreating a crayfish’s ideal habitat, it’s important to keep the water at a lukewarm temperature. The Carolina Biological Supply Company suggests that anywhere from 64 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.

If an aquarist lives in a cold area, they might consider getting a heater for the tank. If the tank isn’t warm enough, then:

  • The crayfish will become inactive to conserve energy.
  • The crayfish could literally freeze from the inclement conditions.
  • Other fish, like plecos, won’t thrive, either.

Aquarium heaters generally cost less than $15. Yet, it’s important to have the aquarium’s size be proportionate to the heater’s size. Having a large heater in a small tank could make the water too hot––and no one wants their aquarium to double as a crayfish boil.

Surface-Dwelling Fish Make Good Tankmates

neon tetra fish surface fish
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Crayfish are always in the mood to fight and throw claws. Sometimes, they get into brawls over territorial disputes. Other times, they’re threatened by other crayfishes’ size. This aggression is inherent in all crayfish (male or female) because it’s essential to their survival in the wild. A crayfish living a cushy life in an aquarium will act with the same unmatched aggression as it would in the wild. They have no problem eating their tankmates, either.

What does this mean for aquarists? Well, unless they want to invest money in a 20-gallon tank for one crayfish, they likely want to have other fish in the aquarium. To avoid fights, they should opt for surface-dwelling fish, straying away from bottom-feeders, like plecos or catfish.

Some surface-dwelling fish include:

  • Silver hatchet fish
  • Rainbowfish
  • Betta fish
  • Common danio
  • Killifish
  • Halfbeaks
  • Neon tetras
  • Mollies

Each of these fish can make great companions for crayfish––mostly because they’ll never come near them in the first place.

Crayfish Enjoy Tasty Treats

calcium antler crayfish food
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Crayfish need a healthy diet like any other creature. But aquarists can’t just sprinkle in some fish food and call it a day; these hard-shelled friends need a balanced diet. For instance, crayfish love frozen peas. They offer the nutrients crayfish need to scuttle around and make burrows. It’s also fascinating to watch, as it takes a crayfish a good 15 minutes to eat a single pea.

Some other snacks that crayfish like to munch on include:

  • Eggshells. Crayfish shed their shells once every few weeks or months, depending on their age. When this happens, they lose a lot of calcium in the process, making them seem weak and lethargic. They can regain their strength by eating the calcium in eggshells.
  • Sliced carrots. Crayfish get a lot of enjoyment chasing disks of chopped carrots around the tank. Once in claw, they chow down like there’s no tomorrow. Just like with peas, carrots offer vital nutrients.

Be sure to routinely clean your fish tank to ensure optimal living conditions for your crayfish. While these animals are nature’s cleaning crew, they still need sanitary conditions to thrive.

What Do Crayfish Need Above All Else? Care.

crayfish being held by man
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Crayfish are one of the most low-maintenance things aquarists can put in their tanks. But they need their owners to regularly clean their tanks, offer food as necessary, and offer enrichment activities. With proper care, a crayfish can serve both as a conversation piece and an entertaining companion.

Setting up an aquarium is easy. Once you get the hang of creating an aquatic habitat, you can enjoy having fish as pets for years to come.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.