A Complete Guide to Keeping Dwarf Crayfish

Dwarf Mexican crayfish are one of the most popular fish species for pet keepers. However, keeping these fish can be a challenging task. There are a lot of rules to follow to keep a healthy and happy dwarf crayfish. That’s why you need as much information as possible before you can start thriving.

Here is all the information you need to know about keeping dwarf crayfish.

Scientific Classification

  • Scientific name: Cambarellus patzcuarensis var. orange
  • Common names: orange crayfish, Mexican crayfish, CPO crayfish
  • Genus: Cambarellus
  • Family: Cambaridae
  • Species: Cambarellus patzcuarensis

Species Overview

Dwarf Mexican crayfish originate from Lake Patzcuaro, a volcanic crater lake in Michoacán, Morelia, Mexico. The species is primarily brown, tan, or rust. There are also bright-colored ones that might appear to be different from the normal ones. Their primary habitats are small rivers and streams, but you can also find them in ponds and lakes. They prefer slow-moving waters and are mainly in the shallows.

The dwarf Mexican crayfish comes from the Cambaridae family, of which they are the only ones relatively easy to keep as pets. The other crayfish in the family include Marbled crayfish, Red crayfish, Blue crayfish, Cherax destructor, and more. All these are killers and diggers; they kill other fish, destroy plants in the tank, and dig the bottom of the tank.

Most hobby keepers of the dwarf crayfish prefer the colorful and attractive color morph called CPO – Cambarellus patzcuarensis bar orange. It has currently taken over the pet niche and is rarely seen in the wild.

Dwarf Mexican crayfish are a peaceful and tolerant breed to keep. It expands your options with other species and can work best even for beginners. However, you can still prepare for the risk of aggression when in a community of other fish or shrimp.


Lifespan Details

The lifespan of the dwarf crayfish is an average of two years, with some living a little longer. You have to provide optimum living conditions to ensure it lives longer. Ensure the aquarium water meets all the specifications and enhance the habitat whenever necessary.

The Appearance of Dwarf Crayfish

The dwarf crayfish looks like a miniaturized lobster due to its diminutive size. It’s claws and muscular tail also give it that little lobster look, with a hard shell-encased body and a longer tail. It has five pairs of legs; the first four are for walking on the tank floor, while the last acts like claws.

Unlike other lobsters and crayfish with claws that can cause serious harm, the claws of dwarf crayfish are too short to cause serious harm. This means they are not a threat when kept with other fish.

The Mexican dwarf crayfish’s bright orange color stands out in any community aquarium. It can sometimes have red hues or scarlet tones in an aquarium. The tops of their bodies have darker orange stripes and spots.

Even though it is not known to have the hardest head around, the dwarf crayfish’s head is protective enough. It has sharp horns that can cause some damage when needed. The head also has a pair of antennas for smelling food and feeling the environment. On top of the head are large, beady black eyes that bug out.

The different species of dwarf crayfish come in different colors. Most have a grayish-brown color that perfectly blends with their surroundings. The other common colors are bright blue and orange with slightly translucent bodies.


From the name, you can tell that this is not one of the largest species around. When mature, it is between 1.6 and 2 inches long on average. This is almost three times smaller than the standard crayfish.

Dwarf Crayfish Care

Food and Diet

The Mexican dwarf crayfish are omnivores and can eat anything they land on, but they prefer organic food. They scavenge around their environment for food, making them easy to feed. For a home aquarium, you can feed the dwarf crayfish on high-quality sinking pellets of any brand. You can also serve them frozen or live foods, vegetables, and algae wafers.

Bottom-dwelling, live foods such as Gammarus, brine shrimp, blackworms, snails, and earthworms are ideal for their scavenging nature. Mid- and top-dwelling live foods like daphnia and mosquito larvae are likely to remain uneaten.

Even though the dwarf crayfish would appreciate any type of vegetable, some of the best options include cucumber medallions, shelled peas, and zucchini. You can also give them dried aquarium leaves and cuttings; however, avoid fouling the habitat. Thoroughly clean all the vegetables before placing them in the aquarium.

Supplement their diet by feeding them specialized inverted foods to get enough calcium. Snails and meaty foods provide essential proteins, which help in faster growth. You can also add color-enhancing foods to maintain their bright orange coloration.

How often you feed the dwarf crayfish depends on their number in the aquarium and the other species around them. Note that too much feeding can lead to fouling up the water, while less food means it will go after the shrimp or fish.

Recommended Tank Size

The tank you keep the dwarf crayfish in is crucial for its health and long-term survival. You need an ample tank with proper filtration that ensures adequate water conditions. The large tank allows room for free exploration of the aquarium environment.

Even though the species is adaptable to many habitats, you need to create the right environment for it to prosper. Even the toughest of fish is likely to die when exposed to bad water conditions for a long time. A large tank provides perks like hiding spaces from other larger creatures, resulting in higher chances of thriving.

Five gallons is the minimum tank size for the Mexican dwarf crayfish. However, you are better off with a 10-gallon tank if you keep different species in your aquarium.

Proper Water Parameters

One of the remarkable things about dwarf crayfish is that they are not picky; they can survive in a broad range of conditions and settings. You don’t have to worry about preferences or go to lengths to keep them satisfied.

However, the low requirements do not imply that you disregard the care entirely. You have to maintain the water at perfect parameters to keep them happy. Looking at their natural habitat around Mexico, the Southern United States, and the Caribbean, the dwarf crayfish like warmer waters.

Some of the standard parameters to keep in the tank after adding these invertebrates include;

  • Water temperature: 60°F to 70°F
  • Water hardness: 6 to 12 dKH
  • PH levels: 6.5 to 8.0
  • Total dissolved solids: 100-500

How to Set Up Their Tank

Any dwarf crayfish tank should have several hiding places. These are key to the species’ survival as they tend to molt regularly. They can shed their shells up to seven times a year. These spaces allow them to hide until the shell hardens again. Before the shell hardens, they are defenseless and can become easy prey for the other crayfish and fish in the tank.

Look for the highest-quality filtration system when setting up the tank. Unlike other crayfish options that can withstand different water conditions, the dwarf crayfish can become sensitive. They do not handle nitrates and ammonia so well. However, the strength of the filter should not be powerful. The dwarf crayfish eat up most of the food; hence, there won’t be a lot of debris that needs powerful filtration. Besides, a more robust filter might disturb their peace, as they tend to be calm.

The HOB and sponge filters are the best tank filter options. Remember to cover the HOB filter intake with materials to keep the hatchlings from getting sucked into the filtration system.

Stock the tank with rocks, plants, caves, and wood to allow the dwarf crayfish to explore while still staying protected from most harm and risk. A gravel- or sand-lined bottom tank creates the ideal conditions for the creatures and helps keep water at the proper specifications.

Common Potential Health Problems


Dwarf crayfish are some of the hardiest crustacean creatures. Even though they can catch some ailments, they have a thick, hard shell that protects them from most issues. They also don’t suffer from common freshwater fish issues like ich, a white spot disease. However, most treatment options for the disease can affect crayfish. Thus, you should exercise caution whenever dealing with infected creatures within the community.

The most common infection among dwarf crayfish is crayfish plague, caused by a fungal infection. The infected crayfish develops black spots on its shell and displays unusual behavior. The fungus is mostly present in untreated water, and the infection can be deadly.

The significant risk of crayfish plague is when you introduce an already infected crayfish to the community, causing the infection to spread. To keep from spreading the disease, don’t add wild animals to an aquarium that already has animals in it.

Porcelain disease is another fungal infection that can affect dwarf crayfish. It’s caused by Thelohania spp. and is characterized by the fish’s inability to swim. It also comes with the hardening of the abdominal muscles, meaning the crayfish starves to death.

The crayfish is also at risk of shell rot, a fungus infection that causes black or brown spots on the exoskeleton. The infection compromises the underlying tissues of the shell, making the crayfish vulnerable to other infections.

To treat the shell rot, you need to isolate the infected crayfish and immerse it in a saltwater bath for around 10 minutes. You also need to clean the aquarium thoroughly to eliminate all impurities.

Avoid all types of medications or foods that contain copper sulfates, as they can inhibit reproduction and stunt crayfish growth.

Behavior and Temperament

Dwarf crayfish are non-aggressive and prefer peaceful setups. Compared to other crayfish, they are less stubborn—to some degree. Even though they are generally small in size, they are territorial and may threaten other creatures that come too close.

The male dwarf crayfish can sometimes be aggressive toward their own. That’s why, from time to time, you will notice lost limbs. However, these grow back after some time. You need to maintain peace by not overpopulating the tank.

The crayfish also have strong legs and can sometimes crawl out to spend some time out of the water. Make it easy for them by not keeping the waterline of the aquarium too high.

Dwarf crayfish are such an amusing species to keep. They show off their claws, scurry around the bottom, and play-fight, making them an amazing sight to watch. You only need to give them sufficient security and space to feel secure in the tank.

Tank Mates and Compatibility

The peaceful nature of the dwarf crayfish means you can keep them together with other species as a community. However, you are better off keeping them with other small fish types. Larger and more aggressive fish like Cichlids are likely to eat them up.

While every species can display a distinct personality, dwarf crayfish communicate with each other and can sense changes in the environment even when in a group. They become bolder when in a team and go out frequently to socialize with other groups.

For a peaceful coexistence, look for fish that prefer the middle or top of the water column, as most of the time, the dwarf crayfish will occupy the bottom columns. They also do well with fast-swimming or schooling fish.

Avoid small invertebrates like snails and smaller shrimp that can become targets for the crayfish. Red cherry shrimp and amano shrimp are two shrimp that can coexist with crayfish.

Best Tank Mates

The best tankmates for dwarf crayfish include tetras, danios, mollies, guppies, rasboras, platies, and swordtails.

The tankmates to avoid are aggressive, predatory fish and fish with long, flowing fins.

The ones to add with caution are freshwater shrimp and snails, as crayfish can prey on the smaller ones, and bettas, as they need more space to coexist.

Dwarf Crayfish Breeding

Breeding the dwarf crayfish is such an easy process, and in most cases, it would not need the intervention of a caretaker. The only requirement for breeding to occur is to ensure you have at least a single female and male breed in the tank. They will do all the other processes on their own.

The males initiate breeding by flipping the female, pinning her over, and depositing sperm near her egg receptacle. The female then folds over her tail to position the sperm under the body to ensure fertilization of the eggs. The female carries the eggs for one to four weeks, depending on the aquarium’s temperature. She then lays between 20 and 60 eggs beneath a cave or an overhang.


The female does all the hard work of taking care of the eggs. She uses her appendages to water the eggs to keep them clean and oxygenated. She also uses her body to protect the eggs from predators and other dangers in the community.

Most young dwarf crayfish females struggle to care for the eggs and lose several. However, they become better at it as they grow and master their spawning.


It takes around three to four weeks for the eggs to hatch, with tiny dwarf crayfish coming out. An egg is ready to hatch when you notice dark spots. After hatching, the newborns stay curled up on the mother until they can start supporting themselves.

About Dwarf Crayfish Babies and Cannibalization

You still don’t have to do much work when it comes to caring for the dwarf crayfish babies. Even though you can move them with the mother to another tank, if you fear others will eat them up, you don’t have to worry. The babies will stick with their mothers for food and protection. They’ll stay under the mother’s tail for some time before they can start looking out for every available hiding spot.

The baby crayfish learns how to swim from the mother’s tail until its shells grow strong enough to allow it to be defensive. Before then, they could only wiggle around. At this stage, they can eat whatever the adults eat, except in tiny proportions. After a while, they begin scavenging for food at the tank’s bottom in their mother’s company.

Even though most females are protective of their young ones, you increase their chances of survival by providing additional protection. For example, you can introduce a plastic container in the tank to keep the young ones away from the adults.

Final Thoughts

Are you looking for an ideal fish to keep in your aquarium? You are better off starting with a dwarf crayfish. Besides their attractive colors and interesting behavior, the species copes well with other fish and hence does not limit your options in trying new things. However, you must provide them with the needed care and attention. Keep them in a spacious tank with enough food and water at the right temperatures.