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A crayfish in the garden

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 03 Sep 2010 at 11:40 AM

Over the years that I’ve spent in gardens, I’ve come across all sorts of curious things – chocolate eggs, lost toys, hundreds of clay pipe stems, old bottles, fossils and oyster shells - but last week I made the oddest find to date. I was happily pruning a rambling rose that was trained against a lovely old Cotswold stone wall, when a flash of blue appeared amongst the foliage. The first thing that came to mind was a faded Hydrangea flower head, but there weren’t any Hydrangeas. Looking closer, I was astonished to find, hanging in the branches about 2m from the ground, a long-dead crayfish.

I admit that I’m not especially familiar with crayfish, wildlife on dry land has always been more my area of interest. I’ve watched them scurrying about the bottom of a shallow stream in the Lake District and I’ve been served them once – I’d would rather not repeat that experience, it was one of the most fiddly and unrewarding meals I’ve ever had. Crayfish haven’t been part of my life, so to come across one dangling in a rambling rose was a considerable surprise.

Back indoors, I set out upon the agreeable pursuit of looking things up and discovered that there is only one native crayfish in the UK, the freshwater white-clawed crayfish, Austropotamobius pallipes, which is increasingly threatened by an invasive American type, the signal crayfish, Pacifastacus leniusculus. The signal crayfish eats everything in its path and damages river banks by digging deep burrows which cause the river banks to collapse. Crayfish need lively-flowing streams and rivers to live in and it happens that there is a lively-flowing river running through this town, the river Windrush. I then discovered that signal crayfish have been found in the Windrush and that the many holes I’d seen in the banks are likely to have been dug by them. Comparing the shape, colour and markings of claw of the crayfish I found to the one shown here, I concluded that it is very probably a signal crayfish.




So how on earth did this crayfish get itself from the river, some 500m away at the closest, and into a rambling rose in a town garden? The only answer I could come up with is that it was caught in the river by a heron and then dropped as the bird flew over the garden. Did the heron simply lose its grip on the bony shell or was the crayfish putting up its last fight and struggling to break free from the heron’s beak, snapping its claws at the bird’s face? Or maybe another heron was trying to steal the first heron’s catch and the crayfish was dropped as they argued. I’ll never find out how it got into that rose, which is ever so slightly annoying, but it reminds me that the world is vast, that there are countless questions I’ll never even ask, let alone be able to answer. There’s no looking this one up, it will always be a puzzle, but a bit of mystery is a good thing.


David Benson said:

Bizarre! x

on 03 Sep 2010 at 12:03 PM

yvonne48 said:

fascinating story, Miranda, and a lovely looking creature - an unrewarding meal for human and heron alike I should think.

on 03 Sep 2010 at 12:17 PM

asj said:

You do lead an interesting life, Miranda!  But I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your eating experience - I find crayfish tails delicious.

on 03 Sep 2010 at 12:54 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

David, yes it was!

Yvonne, that's what I was thinking. How would a heron eat a crayfish?

asj, I think it was more that I was in a 'Feed me now or die!' phase and there just wasn't enough and it took too long to get at the meat. Maybe I should try again some time.

on 03 Sep 2010 at 01:29 PM

richardpeeej said:

A bird dropping it sounds the most feasible Miranda, however it may have come in on someones clothes. I suppose flooding is out of the question. Very interesting mystery and, as Yvonne says above a fascinating story, and blog as usual. :-) Richard

on 03 Sep 2010 at 02:19 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

On someone's clothes, Richard? I think it was too big, at nearly 11cm long, to go unnoticed clinging to a jumper. We did have floods a couple of years ago, but they didn't reach as far as that part of town, so I think it must have been a heron. It was a lovely find, made my day! :-)

on 03 Sep 2010 at 04:14 PM

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on 03 Sep 2010 at 04:16 PM

George1024 said:

Hello Miranda, I was puzzled two days ago when I found a complete crayfish on my patio (It was not fresh). It is about 5 inches (12cm) long and probably the American signal crayfish. There is no pond in my garden and it does not flood. Neighbours tell me that there are heron in the area so I and inclined to agree with you that it was dropped by a heron. I have just joined this site and I do not know how to attach a photo to this comment. Thank you for your post. George

on 30 Oct 2010 at 09:49 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

George, that's really interesting! It's the first time I've heard of another crayfish find like that, bet that was a surprise. Thank you for telling me.

on 31 Oct 2010 at 12:28 PM

George1024 said:

Not a surprise...more of a shock. I stepped on something, heard a crunch and looked down to see these claws. It took me  a few seconds to realise what it was. I was at a loss to explain it and so, to google which is how I found your post. BTW I am not a gardener, haven't got a clue and struggle even to keep the lawn tidy.  Thanks again. George

on 01 Nov 2010 at 10:02 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Indeed, you really don't expect to find a crayfish on your patio! I once crunched something underfoot on my patio and found it was a mouse's head - not nice.

on 02 Nov 2010 at 07:28 PM