Australia is home to 142 species of crayfish.South Eastern Australia could rightlybe called “Crayfish Country” as it is recognised by biologists as being the centre for freshwater crayfish diversity (Family Parastacidae). Nine of ten living genera reside within this region.Five groups of freshwater crayfish are native to Victoria:Engaeus (Burrowing crayfish)Gramastacus (Swamp crayfish)Euastacus (Spiny crayfish)Geocharax (Land crayfish)Cherax (Smooth yabbies)The GenusEngaeus is endemic to South Eastern Australia, principally found in southern Victoria and parts of Tasmania.It includes 35 species with 22 found in Victoria. Many of these species have very restricted distributions. This combined with loss of habitat and degradation of water catchments mean many are facinga decline in numbers.Fourteen species of Engaeus in Victoria have been identified as threatened and in need of conservation (DSE 2009). This represents over 60% of the genus.
While the Giant Gippsland Earthworm is arguably one of Gippsland’s most famous threatened species, there is another mysterious critter lurking underground. It is rarely seen, never heard, but leaves signs of activity while you are sleeping. It belongs to a group of specialised crayfish known as burrowing crayfish. The Warragul Burrowing Crayfish, Engaeus sternalis is thought to be one of the rarest species of burrowing crays in Australia. It is only found in a small area of approximately 20 square kilometres in West Gippsland.
YABBY DABBY DOO - A yabby or a crayfish?
When people first hear the words ‘freshwater crayfish’, they usually associate them with the word ‘Yabby’ and something tasty on the plate from the farm dam. These sort-after freshwater yabbies belong to the genus Cherax. Cherax destructor is the most common yabby found in dams, streams and rivers throughout much of Australia. However, while relatives of the yabby, burrowing crayfish belong to the genus Engaeus. These crayfish are considered terrestrial crayfish, living most of their lives on the land in a labyrinth of underground burrows. They make their presence known by their architectural prowess, building soil chimneys that stand like earthen totem poles surrounding the entrance to their burrows. This group make up a large proportion of Australia’s threatened crayfish fauna (see text box).
Join uson a hunt for information about fascinating threatened burrowing crayfish. Learn how to identify them and help protect their habitat so we can continue to see their earthen totem poles standing tall across the landscape.