Two new species of crayfish have been revealed by a team of North Carolina scientists. Among the researchers was the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Bronwyn Williams. She spoke with WFDD’s David Ford.

Interview Highlights

On first discovering the Stony Fork crayfish:

"We picked up this crayfish and we looked at it and we were like that’s weird. This doesn’t seem to belong. And we had this conversation about well, this thing looks like it’s a crayfish that belongs on the other side of the eastern continental divide and the new one in Watauga. But we’re sitting in the Yadkin system."

On how they likely came to be found there:

"What tends to happen, is that the eastern edge or the eastern side of the Blue Ridge just geologically erodes at a much faster rate than the western side of the Blue Ridge. ... It's in geologic time; it's happening very, very slowly. However, what we think happened was that these species used to be in kind of headwaters, smaller streams that way back in time were flowing westward or northwestward, either into the Watauga, or the New. ... There was some erosion process that somehow cut those streams off from their siblings that were downstream. ... Those streams became isolated. And if we had a slump, then that water has to go somewhere. It wasn't trapped in lakes. ... And at that point downhill was then to the east and towards the Yadkin. ... The Yadkin obviously passively pirated the streams that had originally belonged to the New or the Watauga."

Hunting for crayfish in the mud

Bronwyn Williams digging for crayfish in Huntersville, North Carolina. Photograph by Michael A. Perkins.

On the number of crayfish species in North Carolina: 

"As of the publication of this paper, there are 51, which I think is going to shock a lot of people. ... And I can tell you that based on the work — not just the work for this project, but a bigger perspective project that I've been doing, in collaboration with the Wildlife Resources Commission folks — that we have probably two or three dozen additional species that we'll be describing from North Carolina — a lot of those only in North Carolina — over the next probably 15 or so years."

On the goals of crayfish research like this: 

That spark of recognition that this thing that's in my backyard is unique, and so maybe you get people to care. With that knowledge it might help people understand better why protecting the environment may actually be beneficial.

*Editor's Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.



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