Tasmania is a biodiversity hotspot that is home to many species of wildlife, but there’s one particular species that researchers hadn’t spotted in decades: the short-tailed rain crayfish.
Crayfish expert Alastair Richardson first encountered the short-tailed rain crayfish in the 1970s while doing some collecting in the old King River Valley in Tasmania’s remote west. Since then, however, there have been no sightings, leading scientists to believe that the small cray had gone extinct.
Recently, Richardson was commissioned by a Hydroelectric company to perform a sustainability review at Lake Burbury, a Hydro-Electric dam. To his great surprise, he found six of these elusive creatures scurrying about in creaks that lead to the lake, which is near to the very location where Richardson had found the little cray all those years ago.
“[We] hopped out of the boat, more in hope than expectation, climbed up a steep little creek and started turning over the roots and root mats and moss at the edge of the creek, and lo and behold almost the first bit we turned over, there was a crayfish,” said Richardson. “Heart suddenly clutched, is this the one? It was very exciting.”
Now that the short-tailed rain crayfish has been rediscovered, questions remain about how many of these elusive crayfish are still alive in the wild.
“There are maybe half a dozen or more creeks like this running off the mountain into the lake; we really need to look at all of those to find out how big the range of the animal is,” Richardson added. “Finding out the number is always difficult because you very often have to destroy their habitat or damage it to find out where they are and we don’t want to do that with a threatened species.”
Hydro Tasmania Environmental Scientist Bec Sheldon said she will now be working with the local government to figure out how to proceed with the finding. Whatever ends up happening, Sheldon says the finding of the short-tailed rain crayfish “shows that our ecosystems are well and healthy.”
Image source: Niall Doran/Bookend Trust