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Background Info

In this Encyclopedia of Life podcast, Ari Daniel Shapiro describes the long, strange trip of the red swamp crawfish—from Louisiana bayous to European waterways to Chinese rice paddies.

Listen to this short (6-minute) podcast, and follow along with the downloadable transcript. Think about the circumnavigation of the red swamp crawfish, and then answer the questions in the "Questions" tab.

Questions

1. 

Red swamp crawfish are indigenous to the freshwater bayous of Louisiana. They are an introduced species elsewhere in the United States, as well as Europe, Africa, and Asia. What have been some positive consequences of the red swamp crawfish industry in Louisiana? In the rest of the world?

Show Answer

Answers will vary! The red swamp crawfish industry has had positive consequences for the health, culture, and economy of many regions, as well as the environment.
 
The red swamp crawfish is part of a healthy diet for many people in Louisiana and throughout the world. 
 
Cooking with crawfish is an important part of the cultural heritage of Louisiana’s Cajun community, inspiring festivals, cookbooks, and even songs. Cajun culture helps drive a powerful tourism industry in Louisiana.
 
The introduction of the red swamp crawfish also established or re-established the crawfish industry in many areas. Crawfish are harvested not just as food for people, but for animals as well. Crawfish fisheries employ thousands of people—such as fishers, manufacturers of infrastructure such as boats and traps, sales representatives, chefs and other restaurant personnel. 
 
Red swamp crawfish are also an important part of the food web. According to Rusty Gaude, who works with Louisiana Sea Grant and is the central expert interviewed in the podcast, native birds and mammals have come to rely on native and non-native crawfish for food.

2. 

What are some negative consequences of the red swamp crawfish industry in Louisiana and around the world?

Show Answer

Red swamp crawfish can severely damage the environment to which they are introduced. The podcast explains how their burrows weaken earthen dikes and levees, creating a series of holes through which water can leak out. 
 
In addition, red swamp crawfish are voracious eaters. “They will go into a partially vegetated area,” says Gaude, “and they will strip it clean.” An area “stripped clean” of native vegetation cannot support a healthy population of herbivores, vital to the food web. Wetlands without grasses are also much more likely to erode, contributing to flooding in the area.
 
The introduction of red swamp crawfish into China has had negative economic consequences on the red swamp crawfish fishery in Louisiana. China exports red swamp crawfish at half the price of Louisiana red swamp crawfish. “It has literally changed the industry,” Gaude says.

For Further Exploration

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

bayou

Noun

swampy backwater of a river or lake.

Encyclopedic Entry: bayou

circumnavigate

Verb

to go completely around something (usually the Earth).

crawfish

Noun

crustacean resembling a small lobster. Also called a crawdad or crayfish.

crustacean

Noun

type of animal (an arthropod) with a hard shell and segmented body that usually lives in the water.

fishery

Noun

industry or occupation of harvesting fish, either in the wild or through aquaculture.

freshwater

Adjective

having to do with a habitat or ecosystem of a lake, river, or spring.

introduced species

Noun

a species that does not naturally occur in an area. Also called alien, exotic, or non-native species.

rice paddy

Noun

rice field.

waterway

Noun

body of water that serves as a route for transportation.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Editor

Sean P. O'Connor, National Geographic Society

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Other

This podcast is part of the One Species at a Time series, hosted by Ari Daniel Shapiro and produced by Atlantic Public Media and the Encyclopedia of Life. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

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