These freshwater arthropods in the crustacean family are expert excavators and builders, tunneling deep within the earth and constructing small towers out of mudballs. Like many other crustaceans, they have tough exoskeletons, called carapaces, to protect their soft internal organs. Although they spend a good portion of their life in the dark, they can see nearly 360 degrees and move their eyes independently.
If you pick one up, take care to avoid its sharp mandibles and claws. The mandibles open from side to side and allow the animal to eat fish, crab, shrimp, and other invertebrates. Despite their fierce appearance, these crustaceans also consume living and dead vegetation. As detritivores, they help break down organic material like leaves.
They are about 3-4 inches long and have jointed claws, called cheliped, to capture food and defend themselves. They live in burrows that may extend 3 feet or more underground. They prefer wet, muddy conditions and generally stay below ground or in freshwater pools. They are aquatic, but sometimes leave their burrows when water oxygen levels become too low.
If you find them in your lawn, you may have poor drainage. Fortunately, their tunnels help aerate the soil, allowing water and oxygen to penetrate deep underground. They usually live about four years but may live to 30 in the right conditions.
Although not insects, they share the phylum arthropoda with insects, arachnids, and myriapods. Can you name this “bug”?