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Cherax destructor (Family Parastacidae)

Freshwater Yabby

Distribution:

The Yabbie has the largest distribution of any freshwater crayfish in Australia and possibly the world. It occurs throughout the major river systems of inland Australia west of the Great Dividing Range. A distinct subspecies, C. destructor albidus occurs in western Victoria largely in the Glenelg/Wimmera river systems. On the map the blue colour represents the sub-species C. d. albidus, the orange colour represents translocated C. d. albidus, the green colour represents the sub-species C. d. destructor and the red colour represents translocated C. d. destructor. (NT, QLD, SA, VIC, NSW; Introduced: WA, TAS)

Features:

The Yabbie is one of the larger and arguably the best known freshwater crayfish in Australia. The species varies in colour from almost black to light brown or green; the claws often have a slight to strong blue colouration. Blue variants, which are a consistent blue colour all over, can also some times be found and are popular for the aquarium trade. Yabbies have large strong claws with distinctive white mottle appearance and patches of setae (hairs) on each segment of the major chelipeds (claws). The species has a smooth shell with two rounded ridges behind the eyes and lacking prominent spines.

Ecology/Way of Life:

The Yabbie has a range that covers approximately two million square kilometres that includes a significant portion of arid inland Australia. Over this area, it occurs in habitats as ecologically diverse as the temporary rivers and lakes of arid central Australia and the permanent lakes and rivers of the much cooler south-eastern highlands. Yabbies can live in both fresh and brackish water (low salinity) and prefer areas with suitable shelter such as under stream banks, woody debris and under rocks. They are strong burrowers and can survive extended periods of drought by retreating down capped burrows. Yabbies can reach maturity within 6 months of age at between 15–20 grams in weight. Females have reproductive openings at the base of the middle pair of walking legs, and males have their genital papillae at the base of the last pair of legs closest to the tail. The male deposits a spermatophore (sperm packet) between the female's legs and she incubates the eggs on short appendages (pleopods) under the tail for 2–3 months. Reproduction commences in early spring and extends through the summer/early autumn period with females able to produce more than one brood of off spring in this time.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

Like other species of freshwater crayfish Yabbies are considered a culinary delight. Yabbying, the recreational fishing for yabbies in natural water bodies and farm dams, is a uniquely Australian pastime very popular over the summer months in rural and regional Australia. Yabbies are farmed in extensive and semi-intensive ponds in many parts of Australia with some production exported overseas. There are a number of genetically distinct strains of yabbies that are of conservation significance and the uncontrolled translocation of yabbies for aquaculture and recreational fishing purposes poses a significant threat to the genetic integrity of these local strains.

Other Comments:

Cherax destructor, named by Clark 1936.

Further Reading:

Crandall, K, A. & Fetzner, J.W. (2004) Crayfish Homepage. http://crayfish.byu.edu/

Lawrence, C. (1998). The New Rural Industries: Yabbies. http://www.rirdc.gov.au/pub/handbook/yabbies.html

Austin, C.M. (1996). Systematics of the freshwater crayfish genus Cherax Erichson (Decapoda: Parastacidae) in northern and eastern Australia: electrophoretic and morphological variation. Australian Journal of Zoology 44, 259–96.

Fallu, R. (1992). Yabbies for fun, fishing and farming. Dept. of Food and Agriculture.

Mosig, J. (1998). The Australian yabby farmer Collingwood. Landlinks Press.

Olszewski, P. (1980). A salute to the humble yabby. Angus & Robertson.

Acknowledgments:

Text by Chris Austin & Thuy Nguyen, map by Chris Austin and photography by Paul Jones.

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