Dwarf Crayfish: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding & More)

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

If you are looking for a new addition to your aquarium, you can’t go wrong with the Dwarf Crayfish. They are a highly popular species of crustaceans and have a vibrant appearance that makes them interesting to watch.

Generally, Dwarf Crayfish have a peaceful temperament, and they beautify your aquarium even more. If you are looking to keep them in your tank, there is no reason to worry.

This guide tells you all there is to know about caring for Dwarf Crayfish, as well as their habitat, tank requirements, water parameters, diet, tank mates, breeding, and more.

Species Overview

Dwarf Crayfish belong to the Cambaridae family and have the scientific name Cambarellus Genus. They are similar to other types of Crayfish that you might have seen, but they are much smaller in size.

In fact, they are as small as certain shrimps, which means that they are perfect for smaller aquariums. This species consists of several different freshwater species.

You might hear aquatic experts refer to them as the CPO Crayfish, the Mexican Dwarf Crayfish, the Orange Dwarf Crayfish, and many others.

Life SpanUp to 3 Years
Color FormOrange
Care levelModerate to difficult
CompatibilityPeaceful and smaller creatures
SizeAround 2 Inches
Tank SetupAlkaline freshwater
Minimum Tank Size5-10 Gallons

Regardless of the type and species of Dwarf Crayfish you get, all of them have similar requirements when it comes to care, which you will learn about later in this guide.

These freshwater species are found in the slow-moving rivers and water bodies in Mexico, and also the southern United States. They are usually found in shallow waters with dense vegetation.

They are considered to be resilient and can survive in different environments. Therefore, they make for the perfect pets for aquarium owners with different experience levels.


Dwarf Crayfish usually have a lifespan that stretches up to 3 years at best.

However, some of the species of Crayfish that belong to their family are known to live slightly longer, and their lifespan depends on their living conditions and water quality.

Therefore, if you want them to live as long as possible, you will have to be careful about their tank conditions and diet.


At first appearance, Dwarf Crayfish look like smaller lobsters, with their hard shell and a long tail that helps them swim easily.

These creatures also have strong and hardheads, along with sharp horns that can injure any other creature. Plus, a pair of antennae also protrude from their heads, which helps them navigate their environment and also scavenge for food. They also have round black eyes.

These crustaceans have five pairs of legs, out of which four are used to walk on the bottom of the tank. The front pair is much larger and has chelipeds, which are commonly known as pinchers.

Unlike lobsters and larger Crayfish, these little creatures don’t do any harm to other creatures, as they are quite small. This doesn’t mean their sharp horns can’t injure anyone.

They can easily swim around in the aquarium and also crawl along the substrate. Thanks to the large fin at the end of their long tail, these Crayfish can easily swim. At the bottom of their tail, you can also notice tiny fins, which are called swimmerets.

The various species of the Dwarf Crayfish also differ in color. Some of them have a blend of grey and brown color, along with darker marks or spots on their bodies.

If you buy them from a nearby pet store, chances are that you would get a Mexican Dwarf Crayfish, which has a bright orange body with orange stripes or spots. Some of them might also have a darker red color.


On average, Dwarf Crayfish grow up to be no longer than 1.6 to 2 inches, even when they are fully mature. This is one of the reasons why the word ‘Dwarf’ is attached to their name.

As compared to a standard Crayfish, these species are actually three times smaller.

Dwarf Crayfish Care

Thankfully, caring for Dwarf Crayfish is quite easy, mainly because they are hardy and don’t require a lot of difficult steps. In fact, they play a major role in maintaining the tank.

However, you should always stick to the care guidelines that we provide in this guide. Just like any other fish or crustacean, they can instantly respond to changes in their water conditions and diet, and they can grow weaker if this happens.

With that said, let’s have a look at the things you need to pay close attention to.

Tank Size

Ideally, you should keep a 10 to 20-gallon freshwater tank for your Dwarf Crayfish, if you want them to feel comfortable and stay healthy.

They are quite small and you might want to keep a 5-gallon tank for them only, but you should know that larger tanks have been proven to improve their health, as well as their lifespan. You can increase the capacity by 2-3 gallons for every Crayfish you add to the tank.

Water Parameters

Since Dwarf Crayfish tend to be quite hardy, they adapt well to several habitats. If you keep the water parameters according to the ones we have mentioned below, you won’t have any trouble raising them.

Since they are naturally found in slow-moving water like rivers and lakes, they are used to warm water. This makes them perfect for a tropical freshwater aquarium.

The most important thing is to follow the water parameters and maintain them to keep your creatures happy.

Ideally, you should keep the water temperature between 60°F to 75°F, and also keep the pH levels between 6.5 and 8.0, since they require warm and alkaline waters. Last but not least, the hardness of the water should be between 6 and 12 dKH.

Make sure to change at least 25% of the water from the tank every week, as this can help reset the levels of ammonia and nitrate present in the water. This way, you will be able to keep your pets healthy and happy.

What to Put in Their Tank?

First and foremost, you should add lots of hiding spaces inside the tank if you are planning to keep Dwarf Crayfish. Since they are tiny, these creatures need a safe space where they can relax without being intimidated by other aquatic species.

Another reason why this is important is that these crustaceans molt their shell several times throughout their lifespan. Although their bodies are strong and hard, they feel quite vulnerable during the molting session, which is why they stay in hiding.

When this happens, you will notice pieces of their molten shell floating around in the tank or stuck along the substrate, but you shouldn’t be alarmed at all.

If you don’t see your Dwarf Crayfish in the tank but notice bits of their shell lying around, this means they have gone into hiding and won’t emerge for a few days, or until their new shell has regrown completely.

To allow them to hide properly, add several large rocks, piles of rocks, and driftwood to their tank. These also produce algae, which the dwarfs will be able to feed on.

Apart from these, you should also add lots of live plants, since they are used to shallow waters that are dense in vegetation.

Before you add any of these things, make sure to use sand or small gravel for the substrate, because they spend a lot of time on or near it.

Lastly, you should also have a high-quality and efficient filtration system in place to keep the ammonia and nitrate levels at bay. You can use a hang-on-back canister filter that doesn’t produce a large current, otherwise, the Crayfish might get sucked into the filter pipe.

Common Diseases

Generally, Dwarf Crayfish are quite healthy creatures, which is a characteristic that several crustaceans like them have. Their hard shells protect them from several types of bacterial and parasitic infections, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be infected by certain diseases.

The best thing is that they don’t get affected by any of the freshwater conditions that most fish species are susceptible to, such as Ich or white spot disease. However, if you are treating another fish in the tank for Ich, you might need to be careful.

If you have Mexican Dwarf Crayfish in the tank, they have a bad reaction to medication used for treating Ich in fish. Therefore, you should check the label on the medication before you administer it, otherwise, you may need to move them from the tank for a while.

One of the most common diseases that are relative to the Crayfish is called Crayfish Plague. It is caused by a water mold and is quite contagious, which means that it can affect any invertebrate present inside your aquarium.

Thankfully, the only way in which Crayfish Plague will enter your tank is if it comes with an infected creature, the chances of which are quite low, especially if you deal with reputable breeders and pet stores.

Moreover, make sure you never add a wild Dwarf Crayfish to your tank without getting them checked properly.

To prevent the disease, and other diseases altogether, it is very crucial that you maintain the water conditions as we have mentioned above.

Most fish and other creatures are infected with several diseases because of poor water quality. If you are staying ahead of the water replacement and treatment, nothing will happen to your pets.

What Do Dwarf Crayfish Eat?

Since Dwarf Crayfish are omnivores, they are used to eating anything they can find in their natural habitat. As we mentioned above, they play a major role in keeping your tank clean, and this is because they eat up all of the algae present inside the aquarium.

Moreover, they also munch on any of the leftover food that you put in the tank for your fish or other species. This way, the water won’t be contaminated in any way, and you will have one less problem to deal with.

Maintain a well-balanced diet for your dwarfs, and it can include algae wafers, sinking pellets, and other types of commercial foods that are specially prepared for invertebrates.

Apart from this, they also enjoy live or frozen foods, and they are a major source of protein for them. You can introduce bloodworms, brine shrimp, earthworms, and other types of live and frozen treats for them from time to time.

Although they are known to be tank cleaners and eat up most of the algae and food leftover in the tank, you shouldn’t use this fact to overfeed them.

They will only eat to a certain extent every day, after which the remaining food will go to waste and start to rot inside the aquarium.

Behavior & Temperament

Contrary to their appearance and sharp horns, Dwarf Crayfish are generally peaceful and friendly creatures. As mentioned before, it is the larger-sized Crayfish that are known to cause trouble inside tanks.

At any given time, you would notice these Crayfish exploring the tank or walking along the substrate, their antennae helping them scout for food. They also engage with other fish in the tank, and might also give you a reaction when they notice you watching.

When they come out of hiding, they might have their claws up, resembling a boxer that has entered the ring and is in the defensive stance. Moreover, they are known to behave unusually when kept in a larger group.

If you see two of them fighting, it is just their playtime, so no reason to worry.

Dwarf Crayfish Tank Mates

Dwarf Crayfish aren’t known to be predators, thus making them a good addition to multi-species tanks. Ideally, you should keep them with smaller and peaceful fish.

Due to their small size, you can’t pair them with large or aggressive fish, like Cichlids. Otherwise, you may lose your Crayfish to their digestive system.

The wisest method is to pair them with fish that like to explore the top level of the tank. This would help them cohabitate peacefully, and also prevent any territorial scuffles. Moreover, small invertebrates may become prey to them, so they are a no-no.

Some of the ideal tank mates for Dwarf Crayfish include:

Out of these, Betta Fish are a little tricky to keep with them, unless you have a larger tank with a setup that doesn’t cause the two to clash with each other.


Dwarf Crayfish breeding is a natural process and you just need to keep a male and female species for it to happen.

The male gets on top of the female and deposits his sperm. When the female is ready, she lays anywhere between 20 and 60 eggs in the tank and fertilizes them with the sperm she collected.

Then, she will keep the eggs beneath her swimmerets and cover them with a thin mucous layer. It takes 3-4 weeks for the eggs to hatch, during which the female will clean them, wave water onto them, and much more.

When the eggs hatch, they stay under the mother’s tail for a while and spend a lot of time in hiding. When they are old enough to move around the tank, they start scavenging for food, which means you don’t have to feed them.

When they are as big as the adults, you can feed them with the same diet as them.

Final Thoughts

If you are convinced that you want to keep Dwarf Crayfish in your tank, we suggest you go for it.

As long as you can maintain the water conditions and also ensure that they don’t get infected with any disease, you will have no trouble caring for them.

Plus, our guide is always here to ensure that you are following the care instructions in the right manner. We promise you’ll be fascinated by the Dwarf Crayfish once you introduce them to your fish tank!