Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans. There are more than three hundred different species of crayfish found in North America alone. Crawdads, mudbugs, rock lobsters, crayfish, or whatever they are called locally come in many different colors and color combinations.
But, what determines crawfish color? Crawfish have light-sensitive cells called chromatophores. These cells adjust to the mix of colors they are exposed to, allowing the crayfish to change its color to match the environment it spends the most time in. Water temperature and molting season also affect the crayfish’s color.
Crawfish colors vary greatly depending on the season, and the area crawdads inhabit. Read on to learn everything you need to know about crayfish colors and picking the right bait for bass fishing.
What Color Are Crawfish Supposed to Be?
Crawfish come in many different colors, depending on the area they are found in. Each crawdad species is unique somehow, and the color generally reflects the environment the crawfish is living in.
Depending on where they are found, the primary colors of crawfish are various shades of black, brown, green, or grey.
Crawfish have distinctive secondary color accents on the lower fingers of the carapace and their back. The most common secondary colors are white, blue, orange, red, amber, or yellow.
Crawfish is a highly nutritious and delicious source of nutrients for bass. Knowing what color crawfish-imitation bait to use can mean a world of difference in bass fishing.
After spending winter months buried in the mud, crawdads emerge in the spring, when the weather and water become warmer. Accompanying this dormant state is a seasonal color change.
Why are Crawfish Different Colors?
The color of crawfish depends on several factors, such as the season, water temperature, and environment. Studies have found that the color of crayfish, in almost all cases, closely resembles the color of the environment they are located in.
For example, crawfish living in a small pond of water where the soil at the bottom is made of blue clay, are almost always blue. Similarly, crayfish living in muddy ponds with black bottoms are completely black. The same is true for other environments of different colors.
The only exception to this rule is red crayfish. Researchers have found that these crawdads were confined to shallow waters in small streams. Their color wasn’t similar to the color of their environment.
As it turned out, this red color in crawfish resulted from exposure to the sunlight.
Based on these findings, scientists concluded that the various colors seen in crawdads are due to two causes.
All colors seen in crawfish, except red, may be caused by the crawfish’s environment. The red color is mainly produced by sunlight, though the environment may also cause this color.
However, in every scenario, all crawfish colors work as camouflage and protect the crayfish from predators (source).
Different Crawfish Colors by Season
Raising water temperatures and changing seasons cause crawfish to change colors.
The molt will also dramatically change the crawdad’s color, from the camouflage brown, black, blue, or green to bright orange or red. This change will make crawfish visually hard to miss to hungry largemouth bass.
Don’t forget, crawdads are a favorite snack for bass, so use crawfish season colors as a reference when choosing a bass bait. Here’s how crawfish color change by season depending on water temperature.
Based on geographic location, February through May is the first significant period of crayfish activity. When the water temperature reaches around 50 degrees, crawfish crawl out of rock crevices into the open water and look for receptive females.
Rising water temperature causes crayfish to change color to orange and deep red. Depending on the clarity of the water, some species of crawdads can transition to really bright red.
The most important thing about this two-to-three-week period in spring is that crawfish walk on top of rocks, exposing themselves fully to hungry bass. A crawfish crawling on rocks makes distinctive clicking or tapping sounds. Bass uses these sounds to locate crawfish.
After the mating season in the spring, female crawfish will crawl into a cave, and males will molt, losing their calcified sexual organs, and quickly hiding.
The molting season usually occurs from late spring to late summer. A molted crayfish often takes on a pale, milky, almost smokey hue with white, orange, or powder blue accents on the lower fingers and back.
During fall, crayfish usually takes on much darker and subdued hues. Depending on the species, expect to find blue, green, or light to dark brown-colored crawfish.
Crawfish spend winter hibernating, buried in the mud, and are seldom seen during colder winter months. The natural color of crawfish during winter depends on their environment. It can be olive, brown, dark green, blue, or black.
Other Colors of Crawfish
There are more than three hundred different species of crawfish in Northern America, and they come in many different colors and color combinations.
No two species are the same. Expect to see crayfish in a wide range of colors depending on their habitat, season, and water temperature.
What Is the Rarest Color of Crawfish?
White is the rarest color of crawfish seen in the wild. Besides white, sky-blue crayfish are also rare and hard to come by.
There are many different species of crawfish that come in many different colors and color combinations. Crawfish also change colors by season.
When the water warms, crawfish colors change from orange to red. After the molting season in the summer, crawfish take on a pale milky hue. As their shell hardens, it takes on darker and more subdued colors, which turn olive, brown, black, green, or blue during winter.