Biologists Discover Two New Crayfish Species in Western North Carolina

Author: NCWRC blogger/Wednesday, May 10, 2023/Categories: Blog, Conservation, Education

Biologists Discover Two New Crayfish Species in Western North Carolina

North Carolina is home to two new species of crayfish found only in Wilkes and Watauga counties in North Carolina – and nowhere else in the world. The species, the Stony Fork crayfish (Cambarus lapidosus) and the Falls crayfish (Cambarus burchfielae) are named for the small Yadkin River tributaries where they were first discovered. NCWRC biologists Michael Perkins and William Russ, along with NC Museum of Natural Sciences researcher Bronwyn Williams, published the study in late April in the journal Zootaxa. North Carolina now has 51 species of crayfish known from the state.

“A lot of folks don’t realize there are so many different crayfish species and that North Carolina has such high crayfish biodiversity,” said Michael Perkins, the lead author of the study. “What’s especially interesting about these species is that they’re both endemic to North Carolina, which means they’re only found here. And I think what’s really amazing is that these species have such narrow ranges. For example, we gave the Stony Fork crayfish its name because its entire range is just the upper half of the Stony Fork watershed. That’s only about 30 square miles.”

The researchers began the work back in 2016 as part of a larger statewide effort to catalogue all the crayfish species in the state’s waters to better understand the animals’ diversity and distribution. Along the way, they collected several strange specimens that couldn’t be easily identified. The researchers decided to use a combination of morphology, genetics, and geography to figure out what exactly made these animals unique and formally describe, or “name” them.

“Some folks wonder what the point is to naming these new species, and I like to give two main reasons,” Perkins said. “The first is more practical. Funding or resources to research and conserve unnamed species is limited, which is especially important when you have relatively rare species like the Stony Fork and Falls crayfishes.” Species that are identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in North Carolina are given priority and are eligible to receive state and federal funds to conserve them and their habitats.

“The second reason is more philosophical,” Perkins continued. “Every species has its place and value in an ecosystem, and it’s just fascinating when you can find animals that have adapted and evolved so closely with their environment that they’re found nowhere else on the planet. That intrinsic value, the fact that it exists here and only here, is worth celebrating and protecting. And we can’t do that if we don’t know what to call them!”


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