Naughty Claws

My daughter calls them naughty claws.

Crabs are not naughty claws, just Crayfish. The world as a soon-to-be three year old is much more complex and unique than us adults give them credit for. Crabs are not naughty I suppose–good news for the worlds crab population.

A couple of days after 2021 ushered its way in, My wife, daughter, mother-in-law and myself took an afternoon jaunt to a public park in Elk Rapids. The park includes a wonderful stretch of beachfront resplendent in Petoskey stones, bits of quartz and slag. And once in a while, the eye can spot the Lake Michigan’s natural history in the form of fossils.

About a month ago, we visited this same beach, and were flabbergasted when we spotted myriad crayfish lethargically scooting along the shoreline. Its odd to see this when ice and snow is underfoot, let alone during the summer months!

Our curiosity getting the best of us, we headed down to the beach, and thought we would see if any naughty claws could be found. Surely in January they would all be settled down?

“Daddy, we found one down here!” I was a few paces behind my wife and daughter. My daughter was quite excited at the discovery.

They had found one near the parks man-made break wall! A naughty claw in January?

I carefully made my way down to the beach, and took a look. Unlike last time, the crayfish was frozen. I picked it up, taking care to place my pointer finger and thumb on its thorax (to any of you who have handled a crayfish, this is the best location to grab them, so their claws cant reach back and snatch ya). Not that those claws were going to be finding my fingers any time soon–its just good technique.

This claw likely belongs to a Rusty Crayfish. (Image copyright The Wilderness Journal 2021)

We all find a certain comfort in seasonal routine. However, life does not always go a planned. The naughty claw can attest to that. If the naughty claw had its preference, it would be down in the deeper depths of the lake, where the water is warmer.

Instead, it found itself washed up on the beach. Not part of the plan. Frozen, the crayfish is extremely vulnerable to predation by seagulls and racoons. What is more, crayfish require water. Though near the water line, the crayfish could dry out. It was in a loose-loose situation.

So, in an effort to give the naughty claw a chance, I strategically placed the poor chap under an outcrop of rocks where the tide was creeping in. We continued to walk the beach, and left an hour or so later.

On the way home, my wife asked me what species of crayfish we had seen. I paused a moment–and told her I did not actually know. A bit of a surprise, as I have grown up along the shoreline of Lake Michigan catching–and releasing crayfish back into their rocky abodes. After another brief pause, I told my wife that I am quite ignorant when it comes to crayfish.

Quite a surprise.

This had to be remedied. I have a degree in Freshwater Studies; I should know this.

My research revealed much. First, crayfish do not hibernate. I had grown up under the impression that they bedded down in muddy, clay-like substrate to wait out winters chill. But as mentioned above, they actually head to the deeper waters to continue on their journey. Makes sense. Second, I aided in the survival efforts of an invasive species–the Rusty Crayfish. That thorax I grabbed had the tell-tale marks: rust-colored spots. One can also compare claws. Our native species (Northern Clearwater Crayfish among others) have claws smaller in proportion to the body.

See the spots near the back of the thorax? I did not notice them until I looked at the photograph back at home. (Image copyright The Wilderness Journal 2021)

Third, though not relevant–I can know tell someone if a crayfish is a male or female.

However, what I could say confidently at the time is that there exist no guarantees in life. Each of us can conduct ourselves moment by moment with the knowledge and understanding we poses within. Decisions are made, actions are taken, and we must live with the consequences. Threats to our safety and well-being lurk around every corner. Knowledge, in a way, is a sort of roadmap–or guide in our attempt to survive each day (The more you know, eh?) Knowledge is power.

It is up to each of us to be informed, in order to make the best possible decisions each day.

To do our part…

All species benefit from informed decisions. (Image Copyright The Wilderness Journal 2021)

In retrospect, placing the naughty claw back into the water may have been a poor choice. Yes, each life is important–and is sacred. And yes, the invasive species is detrimental to the native flora and fauna. What is the best course of action here? One could also assert that the naughty claw could have provided vital nutrients to a famished seagull.

Perhaps more research is needed to make a future decision that is better informed.

Knowledge is power after all.

-Adam K.

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