WV Wildlife: West Liberty University Crayfish Lab

The crayfish lab at West Liberty University, which focuses on the conservation, taxonomy and natural history of crayfishes, is a few of its kind in the entire United States. (WCHS/WVAH)

Crawdad, Crawfish or Crayfish.

No matter what you call these mini freshwater lobsters, they probably remind us of the simpler times of exploring as a kid.

They are more than just nostalgia, though--they play a huge role in keeping our ecosystem diverse and healthy.

That's why students at West Liberty University have devoted their time to understanding and protecting these aquatic survivors.

Dr. Zachary Loughman--Associate Professor of Biology at the University--says this Lab is pretty unique.

"So, this is the West Liberty University Crayfish Conservation Lab. It's one of the few labs in the country that is dedicated to the conservation, taxonomy, natural history of crayfishes", said Loughman.

After closely looking at them, it doesn't take long to become fascinated--armored bodies, claws and even some species bright in color!

"They are found all over the state. Currently, West Virginia has described 28 species, but when we are done describing the species that need to be named, we'll probably be around 30. We study crayfish all over the eastern United States", said Loughman.

Crayfish need our waterways, and our waterways need our crayfish. Loughman explains.

"They excavate burrows--so they're always digging. They never stop digging--and when they dig, they're creating habitat that a multitude of other animals utilize. When you lose crayfish from an ecosystem--you always see a net loss of overall diversity".

Unfortunately, a decline in our stream health has put a lot of stress on some of our species of crayfish.

"This is a Guyandotte River Crayfish, and it is one of the endangered species. The only place on planet earth that you find this animal is in Wyoming County, and the lab is doing all kinds of research to help bring this animal off the endangered species list".

The hope is to raise some of the species at the West Liberty Lab, clean up the streams and release them back to their native homes--right here in West Virginia.

"This (Crayfish) is a West Virginian just like you. So, you know, you can't deny that. They have every right to be here just like we do. Going to places and being able to describe that diversity--in my home state--that's pretty awesome", said Loughman.

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