Florida Crayfish Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

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PANAMA CITY, Fla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the Panama City crayfish, a small resident of a 50-square-mile area of Bay County in Florida’s Panhandle.

The crayfish is threatened with extinction primarily because its habitat is being destroyed by development. There are only 13 surviving populations of the animal, which is found nowhere else on Earth.

“The Panama City crayfish is an important little creature on the verge of extinction, so I’m overjoyed to see the federal government finally taking this crucial step,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protection is critical to pulling this incredibly imperiled creature back from the brink.

The tan-colored crayfish has a 2-inch-long body and red dots on its head. It lives in ponds and ditches in wet, pine flatwood forest. Its habitat is highly threatened by development and conversion of natural forests to sterile pine plantations; nearly all of the pine flatwood forest has already been lost, and the crayfish now clings to survival in divided habitat patches.

The Center petitioned the Service to add the species to the endangered list in 2010 and won a lawsuit in 2013 requiring the Service to issue a decision on the petition. Legal victories by the Center have led to Endangered Species Act protection for 193 species since 2011; four additional species have been proposed for protection, including the crayfish.

“The Panama City crayfish is one of Florida’s most imperiled animals, so we urge federal wildlife officials to quickly finalize endangered species protection and designate critical habitat,” said Curry. “If they don’t move fast, this species could vanish forever.”

Small freshwater species like crayfish, though underappreciated, play a critical role in the ecosystems in which they’ve evolved. They improve water quality, create structures used by other animals, and provide food for larger fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. The Center is working to gain protection for hundreds of imperiled freshwater species from the southeastern United States, a global hotspot of both diversity and extinction.

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