The Color of a Crayfish

When I’m tying flies, I’m always conscious of material colors. Sometimes it doesn’t really make a difference, but sometimes it does. Present a strange color (or size) to a pressured fish and they’ll likely bolt in the opposite direction. When I fish crayfish patterns, I typically have the best results with shades of green. But why?

Hudson's Mud Bugger
An army of Hudson’s Mud Buggers ready for deployment.

If you were to ask the average person to draw and color a crayfish, you’d probably end up with something that looked like a bright red dwarf cooked lobster. In fact, the only red crayfish I’ve ever seen was a cooked one at a Cajun crayfish boil. So why are there so many crawfish dubbing colors offered in the shade of red and/or orange? Most of the mud bugs I see in the wild are various shades of brown, rust, green, and even blue.

A 1901 article in The American Naturalist  sheds some light on the color of the crayfish…

“It was first noticed, while studying the habits of crayfish by observations in field work, that the color of itzulmunis in nearly all cases closely resembled the color of the environment. In one small pond of water, where the soil at the bottom was a blue clay, the crayfish were all blue in color. In another pond with a black, muddy bottom they were all black, and in still other places of different colors. But in nearly all cases they were of the same color as the environment”

Blue Crayfish

Crayfish can adapt their color to their surroundings. Here a crayfish blends in with the blue gravel of an aquarium.

The article also explains the occasional red or rust color observed in a few crayfish…

“One exception to this was found with those which were red. These were confined entirely to the shallow water in the small streams, and the color was not always similar to the color of the environment. The crayfish in all colors except red were found almost entirely in the ponds with deeper water and muddy bottoms. But it was discovered later that this red color in crayfish may be caused by exposure to sunlight.”

So, in addition to environment, it appears color variations in crayfish can be attributed to age, size, molting stage, and migratory pattern. Next time you see a crayfish note its color and the color of the surroundings. It might help you become a better fisherman.

Source: W. J. Kent, The Colors of the Crayfish, The American Naturalist, Vol. 35, No. 419 (Nov., 1901) (pp. 933-936)

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About seanhudson

Internet professional, runner, skier, climber, father, and doer of things.

4 responses to “The Color of a Crayfish”

  1. Gregg Martin says :

    Hey Sean,

    I have told others who tout their orange crawfish patterns that even when they do catch many fish, and do, that the crawfish, especially immature ones, here are typically a mottled olive grey. And like the references you noted I have seen wonderful color variations as the adults crawl about, especially blue. Good observations you have brought up. By the way, I’m on, have been on, a Mud Bug kick for some time. Mine are only different in hook on ocassion and a tail of rubber or silicone or spanflex, or more recently rabbit cut from a Zonker strip. I can not wait to use them. My boys are excited to try them also. I stopped using a heavy adhesive to the bottom, I know from other flies I tie with wrapped hackle, philoplume and marabou it really was not needed.


    • seanhudson says :

      I did tie a few orange/brown Mud Bugs that will be going to the fly swap. You’re right they still catch fish even though I never see any that color in the wild.

      As for the Mud Bugs, one definite place for improvement may be the tail (or actually claws) of the fly. I’ll be interested in hearing how your variations perform for you.

  2. southernutahflyfishing says :

    Great info and tips. I am new to blogging, but not so new to fly fishing. Like you, I’m excited to share my interests and findings through social networking. If you are interested, check out my blog periodically to see how it’s progressing. Thanks for the good read!


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