dwarf crayfish care

The Dwarf Crayfish is a feisty, energetic crustacean that comes in vivid colors and makes for a bit of a showpiece in your freshwater aquarium.

These crazy little critters are popular among aquarists because though they’re energetic, they’re peaceful. They’re also gorgeous and happen to help keep your aquarium clean.

If you’re thinking of stocking some Dwarf Crayfish in your aquarium, read below to see what kind of care they need and how they may (or may not) blend with the other aquatic pets you’ve got in mind.

If you’re thinking of stocking some Dwarf Crayfish in your aquarium, read below to see what kind of care they need and how they may (or may not) blend with the other aquatic pets you’ve got in mind.

Quick Intro to Dwarf Crayfish

Family: Cambaridae
Scientific Name:Cambarellus patzcuarensis
Other Names:Dwarf Mexican crayfish, Patzcuaro, CPO crayfish, Mexican dwarf lobster, orange crayfish, dwarf lobster, Mexican lobster, mini crayfish, orange dwarf crayfish
Care Level:Easy to moderate

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy

orange dwarf crayfish

The Dwarf Crayfish, sometimes called the dwarf Mexican crayfish is a colorful, vibrant little crustacean that comes from Mexico and certain areas in the southern United States.

They natively dwell in shallow, slow-moving bodies of water like rivers and ponds, slow-moving streams, and lakes with loads of plant life in them. Because they’re hardy critters, they do well in a wide variety of environments.

They come in a range of colors in the orange family, from a pale pinkish-orange to bright orange or even red.

They have 19 pairs of limbs total, with 5 pairs of legs that help them move, some that help them collect food, and others that help them attack predators and protect themselves.

Dwarf Crayfish also use their antennae to navigate and 3 pairs of limbs to draw food into their mouths.

If they are well cared for, these little guys can live up to three years in captivity.

You can find dwarf crayfish for sale in many pet stores, as well as online:

Optimal Water Conditions for Dwarf Crayfish

Water Temperature: 65°F – 75°F
Water Flow Rate:Slow to medium
pH level:7.5-8.0
Water Hardness:3 – 15

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size: 5-gallon tank
Optimal Tank Size:10-gallon tank
Optimal Tank Shape:Long is best
Recommended Filter Type:Sponge filter or net-covered filtration

The dwarf crayfish is one of those aquatic critters that requires a lot of place to hide and certain water parameters to at least generally be met.

Ideally, their water temperature should be between 80 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit and their pH should be 7 or higher. The optimal range is between 7.5 and 8 pH. The water hardness should be at least 4.

They can live in soft acidic water for short periods but if you find keeping the parameters just right for them is tough, add some limestone or coral chips to the bottom of the tank.

These will help balance out the softness and alkalinity. Additionally, they’re especially sensitive to ammonia and nitrites, so these are parameters to keep a close eye on to avoid harming the crayfish.

Good filtration and aeration are required for them, as well as weekly water changes. The water changes helps to keep water parameters balanced, as well as reducing ammonia and nitrate levels.

Be especially careful to avoid anything containing copper, as this will severely harm or even kill your crayfish.

Creating the Landscape

dwarf crayfish on plant

When you create the landscape for your little scurrying pals, make sure that you focus on the substrate and decorations. They love to burrow into the sand and the love hiding.

It’s important to make sure you’ve got sand for the substrate and lots of hiding spots for them.

This is especially true during molting season for these guys. They’re much weaker during molting and need places to hide safely during the time to keep themselves protected.

This happens 2 to 3 times per year, too, so it’s a fairly frequent affair. The young crayfish molt even more often as they grow (up to 3 times a week!).

And note: you don’t have to get rid of the shells after they molt. The crayfish will actually eat the shells for more calcium, which helps them grow stronger again.

Make sure you provide large rocks, logs, artificial caves (or overturned flowerpots), driftwood, and sand for them. They also love live plants, so make sure they have lots of edible plants to snack on for a healthy life. 

So ensure that you include large logs, rocks, artificial caves, and driftwood at the bottom of the tank. When choosing a substrate, you should either use fine sand or small gravel.

You should also add a lot of live aquarium plants. Ensure they are edible to prevent the death of your Dwarf Crayfish since they love snacking.

And Mexican Dwarf Crayfish thrive well when the tank is full of different aquarium plant species. Some plants to add to your tank include Java Moss and Hornwort, as they are strong.

Best Plants: Java moss, Hornwort
Best Lighting:Medium, though high doesn’t seem to bother them
Best Decorations:Live plants, large rocks, logs, driftwood, caves, sandy substrate
Decorations to Avoid:Nothing specific

Physiological Considerations for Dwarf Crayfish

dwarf crayfish close up
Size:up to 2 inches
Lifespan: 1.5 to 3 years
Preferred Tank Region:Bottom
Scale Thickness:When crayfish molt, they are particularly susceptible. Be sure to provide plenty of hiding places to help keep them safe when their new skin is hardening.
Gill Considerations:No special care required
Swimbladder Considerations:No special care required
Fin Shape Considerations:No special care required

Juvenile dwarf crayfish are an exceptionally small size of crayfish, which is why the right kind of filtration is critical for their health and well-being (i.e., sponge or netted filters only!). The adults grow up to only two inches at maturity, so they’re not exactly monsters, either (thus the name).

The crays typically live between 1.5 and 3 years, depending on how well they’re cared for. On rare occasions, they have been observed to live longer, though you shouldn’t count on it.

The length of their lives really depends on a number of factors, primarily set around their living conditions and whether or not any diseases are introduced into their tanks.

Providing them with proper nutrition, water conditions, and enough places to hide will dramatically increase the length of their lives.

These tiny little guys will molt their skin a few times a year, as well. The exoskeleton will peel right off and a new one will grow in, replacing that old one. Duri

ng this time, they are exceptionally vulnerable, so all those hiding spots will keep them safe. If the crays has lost a limb, by the way, this regrowth is when she or he will regrow that limb.

Oddly, if the crays can’t manage to get that limb out of the old skin, it will actually bite off the stuck limb and just go about its business as if nothing happened.

The crayfish has bright orange coloring, which helps it stand out in the aquarium when you can spot them. They’re also nicknamed mini lobsters because of their shape which resembles that of a lobster.

Overall, they’re a hardy little bottom-dwelling scavenger, which helps them survive in many environments. But if you keep their homes clean and clear, they’re far more likely to make it to that three-year mark than otherwise.


dwarf crayfish with shell

Dwarf crayfish do not do well with large, aggressive fish, such as cichlids, for tankmates. They’re an easy target for dinnertime for these fish and must be kept away.

These little guys are hiders and typically come out in evening rather than the daytime and they might just not show up for a whole day if you keep an eye out for them.

And because they’re bottom dwellers, you’ll do well to stock top of the tank and mid-region fish with them for the most part. This will help keep them all healthy and happy (and in the case of the crayfish, alive!).

They may occasionally become territorial and aggressive, but for the most part, they’re reasonably peaceful and easy going.

They won’t hunt down other fish, though they are scavengers, so there may be some issues with certain species of smaller fish if they get aggressive with the crayfish.

Some suitable tankmates for dwarf crayfish include:

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

Male dwarf crayfish are smaller than the females of the species, so it’s usually pretty easy to sex them.

And, thankfully, they’re easy breeders, meaning they don’t require any coaxing from us aquarists to get the job done.

The only exception for this is when they’re in a community tank and might need to be separated out into a separate tank if they’re not showing any signs of friskiness.

Mating for the crayfish will occur after they molt. You’ll notice eggs on the abdomen of the female. The eggs are pretty large, in perspective, as well, so easy to stop and they’re opaque.

The female will remain wherever she’s sheltering, though, for as long as the eggs are clinging there. She does this for safety, of course.

Adults tend to be indifferent to their young and the young of the other crayfish once they’ve hatched, so the thing to look out for their safety is other critters and fish who might want to nosh on the tiny babies or juveniles, especially when they molt (which is several times a week).

Ideally, if you have a community tank, keep the juveniles in a breeding tank until they’re grown.

Nutritional Needs

clear cwarf crayfish

Dwarf crayfish are naturally scavengers and omnivores who eat practically anything edible that comes their way.

That doesn’t mean they should eat everything, though, and it definitely doesn’t mean they don’t need to be fed specifically by their fishkeepers.

They tend to burrow down into the sand where they eat algae and leftovers from fish feeding time. They need to be able to eat their shed skin as they molt, too, as this is an excellent source of calcium needed during their most vulnerable time.

Dwarf crayfish do well with pretty much any commercial fish food you can provide for them. Sinking pellets and tablets for redtail catfish are the best, though, as they drop down directly into their feeding range.

They also need plant matter, so having live plants in the aquarium helps, as well as feeding them things like carrots, squash, lettuce, peas, zucchini, and cucumber pieces.

Just be sure to wash those veggies thoroughly before feeding them to your crayfish!

You should also supplement their diet with algae wafers, invertebrate food, protein-rich live or frozen foods like bloodworms, blackworms, brine shrimp and earthworms.

Foods you may feed to your dwarf crayfish include:

  • Sinking pellets
  • Tablets for catfish
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Bloodworms
  • Squash
  • Blackworms
  • Algae wafers
  • Invertebrate food
  • Brine shrimp
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Earthworms
Best Sustenance Food Type:  A foundation of fish food and plant matter
Additional Food For Optimal Health:Additional veggies and protein-rich foods like earthworms and bloodworms
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and Growth:A strong balance of the veggies and proteins
When and How Often to Feed Fish Based on Life Cycle:Juveniles to be fed daily, adults several times a week.

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

dwarf crayfish on rocks

Crustaceans like the dwarf crayfish are, fortunately, not particularly affected by the common diseases usually found in a freshwater aquarium. Their hard shells protect them from most of the ordinary issues.

The main issue they might deal with is a condition known as Crayfish Plaque, which is caused by mold in the water. It’s a highly contagious disease and can spread to the other invertebrates in your fish tank as well.

Thankfully, though, it doesn’t develop in a community tank, unless you introduce an already infected critter into the tank.

This is why it’s critical that you check out any fish or invertebrate before adding them to your stock. Keep them in an isolation tank for a while before letting them get to know their new tank.

Additionally, during both molting and breeding, your crayfish is prone to stress, which can hurt their health. It’s especially important to maintain their water quality during these times.

Best Antibiotics: Check with your vet.
Treatments to Avoid:Anything with copper in it.
Food Recommendations When Sick:A healthy, well-rounded diet.
Hospital Tank or Isolation Within the Community Tank:Isolation tank if the crayfish becomes ill.

Dwarf Crayfish FAQs

Do Dwarf Crayfish Need an Air Pump?

Dwarf crayfish technically do not need an air pump to survive. They are used to living in not ideal conditions and do not need a high level of oxygen in their aquarium.

This means you do not need to invest in an air pump for dwarf crayfish if they are your only aquarium inhabitants.

If you have other fish and animals in your tank, however, you will need to get an air pump so they can survive.

Why are Dwarf Crayfish Called Dwarf Crayfish?

Dwarf crayfish are also known as dwarf orange crayfish because they’ve been bred selectively for their striking, bright orange coloration.

They are called dwarf crayfish because of their small size compared to other wild species of crayfish. Their small size and bottom feeding behavior make them a great low-maintenance pet to have in an aquarium.

Can Dwarf Crayfish Survive in Tap Water?

Yes, dwarf crayfish can survive in tap water. As long as you keep the water relatively shallow so they recieve the nexessary oxygen to survive, you can use tap water.

These feisty little guys make a great centerpiece for your aquarium, too, because they like to show off by clicking their claws for show.

Can Dwarf Crayfish Drown in Water?

Yes, just like any other water animal dwarf crayfish can drown in water if they don’t receive enough oxygen.

You can prevent this by keeping them in a shallow water tank or by adding an air pump to cycle oxygen into the water.

Are Dwarf Crayfish Aggressive?

No dwarf crayfish are not particularly aggressive. They play well with almost all tank mates.

There can be deviations, however, where every once and a while a crayfish gets aggressive. We’ve also found that they get more bold when they are in a group.

We hope you enjoyed our care guide for dwarf crayfish!

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