My daughter Avery and I saw something strange at Lake Bemidji State Park today. At least it seemed strange to us. There were multiple crayfish washed on the beach. You know, crawdads. According to Wikipedia they are sometimes also called craydids, crawdaddies, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, rock lobsters, mudbugs, or yabbies. (1.)
In about a week we will have lived in Bemidji for one year and although we’ve seen lots of crayfish claws on the beach and one underwater, this was the first time we’ve seen live rock lobsters washed up on shore. Some were struggling to get back into the water and were getting washed onto their backs. Others had died like that, feet up. At right, see two small ones we saw first. The second one had a live mussel stuck to its side.
We also saw quite a lot of mussel shells (2.) on the beach, still full of mussel. Avery tossed quite a few back in the water. I’m not sure if that was enough to save them or not but it couldn’t hurt.
I’m curious why so many living things had been washed ashore. Is it a normal part of spring that we haven’t seen before, because we didn’t make it to the state park until later in July last year, after purchasing a state park permit? Or was there a storm overnight? Could it have been related to the frost and low temperatures the past three nights?
Whatever the reason, it was interesting to see the crawdaddies up close. We flipped some over and tried to help them get to water, if that’s where they seemed to be heading. But the rough waves just tossed them about and flipped them over again. So we left them, right side up, to figure it out on their own.
Right before we left the park, we saw the biggest one yet. It was still small, only about 3 inches long or perhaps more. It was the sauciest of them all and stood up and waved it’s claws at us. I took a short video that I posted to TikTok.
We named it Blue Claws Furioso The First. That did it. Once you name something, you can’t just walk off and leave it, struggling but unable to get back to its home. We started walking off but turned back when it got flipped upside down by the rough waves again.
We herded it with our presence, giving it some lifts with sticks, closer and closer to the water, past where the waves wash on shore. Eventually it disappeared underwater and didn’t reappear. We cheered enthusiastically and watched intently, but Mr. Furioso didn’t wash ashore again. Avery speculated that if people were watching us we looked like crazy people and she’s not wrong! Google says mudbugs can live outside the water for days so perhaps it would have been fine without our help.
And yet, this little guy was scrambling hard to get back underwater. As a result, he kept getting flipped upside down. And from what I could see, that’s how several of his friends had died. Hopefully our “help” was actually help and he makes it.
I used Google and my inaturalist app to try to identify our freshwater lobster friends. They may be rusty crayfish (3.), which are an invasive species to Minnesota. Or, Northern Clearwater crayfish. (4.) According to the photos in the inaturalist app, I think they may be the second type and therefore not invasive.
Good luck to all the tiny lobsters, especially the native guys and gals.
All photos and TikTok by Holly Jessen.