What Do Crayfish Eat? From Aquatic Plants to Small Animals

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Crayfish are perfect aquatic pets for kids and beginner aquarists. Once you get the hang of it, these clawed little creatures are extremely low-maintenance and non-demanding.

Feeding them is the only thing that takes a bit more planning and research in the beginning.

But luckily for you, this article can answer all your diet-related crayfish questions. Are you curious about what crayfish eat, how much, and how to feed them?

Then join me to discover all the info on this topic.

Crayfish Diet in the Wild

We should strive to emulate an animal’s natural living conditions as much as possible, including their diet.

Learning about the crayfish’s eating patterns in the wild helps you better understand its dietary requirements as a pet.

This is an important factor in their long-term health and longevity. So, let’s see what these clawed creatures normally eat.

– Freshwater Crayfish

Freshwater crayfish are opportunistic omnivores. So, in the wild, they tend to consume anything they find lying around on the bottom of ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams.

Their natural diet consists of varying proportions of multiple protein and plant sources.

Here’s a comprehensive but not exhaustive list of their common foods:

  • Decaying aquatic plants
  • Rotting leaves and twigs
  • Macroalgae
  • Phytoplankton
  • Zooplankton
  • Dead fish remains
  • Worms
  • Snails
  • Insects and their larvae
  • Fish eggs
  • Small shrimp
  • Tadpoles
  • Small fish and fish fry
  • Baby crayfish

The percentage and source of plant and meaty foods in the diet depend on the crayfish’s age. Young crayfish have a higher appetite, and they need more protein. However, they’re also less prepared to hunt for live prey.

Their diet is more likely to consist of decomposing meats, zooplankton, and bits of algae.

Adult crayfish have an easier time eating live foods like snails, small shrimp, and fish fry, but they also need less protein and have more of a taste for plants.

– Saltwater Crayfish

Before I go further, there’s one thing worth noting. What we colloquially call a “saltwater crayfish” is, in fact, not a crayfish at all! Freshwater and saltwater crayfish are crustaceans and belong to the infraorder “Astacidea.”

They look similar but inhabit different environments and belong to different families. Freshwater crayfish belong to one of two families (Parastacoidea or Astacoidea).

Saltwater crayfish, also known as lobsters, belong to other families, namely Enoplometopoidea or Nephropoidea.

Lobsters are omnivores and bottom-feeders but consume a different diet than their freshwater counterparts. Lobsters are typically larger than crayfish and have big, well-developed claws, which allow them to hunt for large live creatures.

Knowing this, it makes sense that their natural diet will include different foods.

So, here’s what’s on the menu for your typical saltwater crayfish:

  • Plankton (especially for juveniles)
  • Fish remains
  • Marine worms
  • Marine algae
  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Fish
  • Sea urchins
  • Crabs
  • Starfish
  • Other lobsters

Lobsters are highly cannibalistic, especially if there’s not enough food available. Juvenile lobsters are especially vulnerable against larger, stronger adults.

Juveniles also eat lower on the food chain, consuming mostly plankton, worms, algae, and carrion. As they develop, they can hunt for larger live prey.

Crayfish Diet in Captivity

Aquarium crayfish have the same dietary needs as wild ones. Their diet should contain some sources of protein and plenty of plant foods.

And remember, crayfish are bottom feeders. If you feed them commercial foods, choose foods that sink well, such as pellets and wafers.

Here are some good staples for them:

  • Algae wafers
  • Aquatic plants (Java Moss, Hornwort, Wisteria, etc.)
  • Tropical pellets
  • Shrimp pellets
  • Shrimp food
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Blanched zucchini and carrots
  • Pre-soaked fish flakes

Choose flakes and pellets that contain a balanced combination of whole fish meals and plants like algae. Such products have all the protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals the crayfish need to thrive.

You can also feed them some small live foods for occasional treats. This encourages them to move more and hunt. It makes feeding more exciting and breaks the routine. Good live foods include bloodworms, daphnia, shrimp, and small snails.

Feeding Crayfish in Aquariums

Aquarium crayfish are very easy to feed. They don’t eat too much or too often, and they aren’t picky at all. The ideal quantity of food for them is the equivalent of a ¾ inch pellet.

So, eyeball this quantity when feeding them wafers, small pellets, fish flakes, and plants. As for feeding frequency, juvenile crayfish should eat one meal per day. Adults can eat once every 1-2 days.

Focus on commercial foods that contain a mixture of protein and plants. You can also alternate between algae and live foods occasionally. The crayfish will also snack on live aquarium plants if you keep any in the tank.

If you’re feeding baby crayfish, you’ll need to crush their food small enough to fit into their mouths. Baby shrimp food is excellent for them, as it provides a good source of protein.

Timing is also important. Crayfish are most active at night, so you should give them food later during the day.

If you add food to the tank early during the day, it will just sit around and spoil the water. It’s also a good idea to feed them at regular times. This way, the crayfish learn when it’s time to come out of hiding, and you’ll see them more often.

Feeding Crayfish in Ponds

There’s no difference between pond and aquarium crayfish. Both crayfish need the same types and amount of food to thrive. However, your pond setup might have a small impact on the crayfish’s appetite, which you should account for.

Pond crayfish might need slightly less food for a few reasons. If you have plants or algae in your pond, the crayfish will get most of their food from these sources. They might also snatch the occasional insect that falls into the water.

So, keep an eye on how much they consume at each meal. If you notice more leftover food, you should reduce their serving size. Your crayfish might also eat less depending on the water temperature.

Temperatures in the mid-60s (quite common for ponds) slightly decrease their metabolism and appetite.


Freshwater crayfish are omnivorous bottom feeders. In the wild, they consume various plant foods, fish remains, aquatic insects, snails, and even smaller crayfish! Adult crayfish have lower protein requirements and eat more plants than juveniles.

In the aquarium, you should feed crayfish a combination of proteins and plants. That’s why algae wafers, shrimp pellets, and fish flakes make good dietary staples.

Remember, crayfish are nocturnal eaters, and they have low energy requirements. Adults can eat the equivalent of a ¾ inch pellet every 1-2 days.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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