Most of us know yabbies (Cherax destructor), the hardy (and delicious) freshwater crayfishes that abound in inland rivers and farm dams throughout inland Australia. Lesser known are their cousins, the spiny freshwater crayfishes of the genus Euastacus that keep to themselves in cool, forested and sheltered bush creeks of eastern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and parts of South Australia. The 54 currently known species are endemic to Australia.

Spiny crayfishes are often vividly coloured and covered in spines. Their species have narrow geographic ranges, often living only in a single river or creek catchment. They grow slowly and require cool, high-quality water. Because of these characteristics, spiny crayfishes are highly susceptible to habitat destruction and climate change, making them a priority for conservation efforts and further scientific research.

Spiny Crayfish, Euastacus australasiensis, Heathcote National Park.
Spiny Crayfish, Euastacus australasiensis, Heathcote National Park. Image: Shane Ahyong
© Shane Ahyong

During the 2019–2020 megafires that swept eastern Australia, many species of spiny crayfish had their geographic distribution burnt out. In the early 2000s, ecologist and conservationist Dr Jason Coughran made important research collections of spiny crayfishes in northern NSW rainforests.

The collection of about 100 lots, held at Southern Cross University, Lismore, was recently offered to the Australian Museum to ensure its longevity and to make it accessible to other researchers. In April 2022, our team was able to avoid the floods and retrieve the collection. Significantly, it contains many specimens from remote, very difficult-to-access rainforest localities.

The specimens have detailed locality information and are suitably preserved for genetic analysis, making them valuable additions to the Australian Museum collections and important resources for further study and conservation work. Professor Shane Ahyong, Principal Research Scientist and Group Manager, Marine Invertebrates, Australian Museum.