What Do Crayfish Eat?

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: November 6, 2021
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To many people around the world, crayfish (also called crawfish or crawdad) is food. It is Louisiana‘s official state crustacean. But what does the food eat? Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans that look like small lobsters and even taste like lobster but are small like shrimp, with fattier tail meat than shrimp, and with fat stored in the head. And unlike the treatment of lobsters as a delicacy, crayfish are often used in home cooking. Let’s explore together what these so-called freshwater lobsters, rock lobsters, or mountain lobsters eat.

What Crayfish Eat

What Do Crayfish Eat
The crawdad or crawfish diet is omnivorous, that is, they eat both plant and animal matter.


The crawdad or crawfish diet is omnivorous, that is, they eat both plant and animal matter. Their habitat in the wild is flowing streams such as in a river or brook, but sometimes also in a pond, swamp, or ditch. Flowing rather than stagnant water allows them to reach their food easily. What they eat is anything that can float by them or sink to the bottom. That includes decaying vegetation and aquatic creatures such as rotten leaves, dead fish, algae, plankton, and twigs. But they can also be hunters and eat small worms, snails, eggs, larvae, insects, shrimps, fish, tadpoles, baby turtles, frogs, and even their own baby crayfish. Baby crayfish eat mostly algae. The crayfish diet in the wild is similar to that in a pond, but people who farm crayfish in ponds also feed them prepared vegetables and commercial food.

A Complete List of Foods Crayfish Eat

In the wild:

In a pond:

  • Decaying vegetation
  • Dead fish
  • Small aquatic creatures, invertebrates, eggs, larvae, and babies
  • Baby crayfish
  • Commercial pellets and algae
  • Prepared vegetables

Baby crayfish:

  • Pellets
  • Algae
  • Very soft-boiled veggies
What Do Crayfish Eat
A crayfish in an aquarium. Crayfish are decomposers as well as a detritivores.

Alex Stemmers/Shutterstock.com

The Crayfish Digestive System

The crawfish or crawdad is a decomposer as well as a detritivore, but it’s also a filter-feeder than takes in what’s suspended in water while already whole or in pieces. It must therefore have a unique digestive system that allows them to break down what they eat. The first organ is a two-part stomach. The cardiac stomach stores food and mechanically breaks it down with teeth, while the pyloric stomach chemically breaks it down, similar to the stomachs of vertebrates such as humans. There’s also a digestive gland, similar to a liver, and the intestine, which absorbs nutrients and excretes waste from the anus.

Foods That Are Bad or Toxic for Crayfish

Crayfish and other shellfish absorb toxins from the water. Some phytoplankton species also have toxins which can accumulate in shellfish and other creatures that eat them, but they accumulate at higher levels in larger creatures at the top of the food chain.

Crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads are a staple shellfish around the world and are the focus of certain spicy country cuisines, where they taste similar to and cook the same as lobster. These freshwater crustaceans lack a seawater flavor, unlike their saltwater counterparts, but they are likewise omnivorous. They are so savory and delicious because they eat a protein-rich diet.

Next Up: 7 Birds With Long Necks

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AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

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