New Species of Crayfish Discovered

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Friday, January 31, is the last opportunity for anyone to bid on a name for a new crayfish species. The online auction sponsored by Kentucky Wild, a program by of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, goes until 11:59 p.m. ET. The auction is the brainchild of the department’s At Risk Species Biologist Zack Couch who discovered the new species.

“The fact that we can discover a new species of crayfish right here in a creek that’s between two apartment buildings shows you how much work we have left to do in the state,” said Couch. The biologist said the last piece of the puzzle before a manuscript detailing the new species is submitted to the scientific community for review and publication, is to name the new species.

The journey to confirm Kentucky’s 65th new species of crayfish took almost a decade. Couch made the discovery in the mid-2000s during graduate research on the Louisville Crayfish. He said at the time it was thought that the Louisville Crayfish only existed in a few streams from southern Oldham County into Bullitt County. Part of Couch’s research was to determine if the species needed to be listed federally under the Endangered Species Act.

When Couch was at Pond Creek researching, he said they assumed the species there was the Louisville Crayfish. However, when the individual crayfish in Pond Creek was compared to the Louisville Crayfish from Beargrass and Heritage Creeks, Couch said they discovered quickly that the crayfish in Pond Creek was a new species and not the Louisville Crayfish.

“Okay this species, even though from a distance looks the same, when you actually get it under a scope and look at it, okay this is something different,” Couch said.

However, lack of funds after his thesis wrapped put the project in limbo until funding from his employer allowed Couch and a team to pick the research back up. The new species was confirmed in early 2019.

“I’ve worked with a professor from Eastern Kentucky University who has run all the genetic tests for us and provided the results to show that, yes, genetically this species is a new one, and basically is independent of the species that we have over in Beargrass creek,” Couch told Spectrum News 1. The confirmation of the new crayfish species also included an analysis of 13 characters and over 100 specimens to show the new crayfish species is genetically, geographically, and morphologically distinct.

The new species is only found natively in Jefferson and Bullitt counties. Couch said it has also been introduced in Meade County. An easy way to differentiate the new species is its claw.

“So everybody, if you’re a kid that grew up in Kentucky or in the southeast, and you pulled out a crawdad that has that orange tip and black band behind it, well what differentiates this species from the one in Beargrass Creek is that the thickness of that black band that you see is probably twice as thick on this species,” Couch said.

Couch said once a name is selected, a manuscript will be submitted to the scientific community to be reviewed and published. The highest bidder from the online auction will be the one to select the name. All funds from the auction will support non-game species, such as crayfish, in the Commonwealth.

“The fact that we can discover a new species of crayfish right here in a creek that’s between two apartment buildings shows you how much work we have left to do in the state,” Couch said.

There is no minimum to place a bid. Visit the online auction here.