Dwarf Crayfish Care: Tank Mates, Food, Size & More

Dwarf Crayfish are a fantastic freshwater creature to keep in your tank. They’re one of the most popular crayfish species in the aquarium scene (and for a good reason).

They’re peaceful, look great, and help clean your tank. If you want a splash of color in your aquarium, the orange Mexican Dwarf Crayfish will really brighten things up!

This guide will teach you everything there is to know about Dwarf Crayfish care. Food, tank mates, habitat, and breeding tips are all things we cover.

Species Summary

Dwarf Crayfish (from the genus Cambarellus) are the smaller versions of standard crayfish you see in the fish-keeping community. They have a size that more closely mimics that of a shrimp, making them a great option for smaller aquariums.

Technically speaking, the Dwarf Crayfish encompasses a few different freshwater species.

They’re often called many different names interchangeably. This includes the Mexican Dwarf Crayfish, CPO Crayfish, Orange Dwarf Crayfish, and more.

No Spam, Subscribe for Cool Fish Stuff!

* indicates required

Whatever you call them, all of the species that fall under the Dwarf Crayfish umbrella have similar care requirements.

These crustaceans helm from Mexico and parts of the southern United States. Habitating slow-moving bodies of water, they’re often found living in shallow areas rich with vegetation.

Dwarf Crayfish are hardy creatures that adapt well to a wide range of environments. Thus, they’re a good choice for aquarists of all skill levels looking to add some unique personality to their tank.


The lifespan of Dwarf Crayfish isn’t very long. They usually live for 1.5 to 3 years.

However, some specimen have been observed to live a bit longer than that. Like with any crustacean or freshwater fish, the lifespan of a Dwarf Crayfish depends on many factors. Poor living conditions and substandard water quality could shorten their lifespan significantly.

Author Note: If you want your crayfish to live as long as possible, it’s important to be vigilant about maintaining their tank and providing them with the best diet possible.


These small invertebrae look like miniaturized lobsters! They have that iconic hardshell body with a sizable tail for swimming.

Their heads are very protective. Not only are they hard, but these crayfish also have sharp horns that can do some damage! Jutting out from their heads are a set of antennae, which the critters use to smell for food and feel out their environment. They’re accompanied by large beady black eyes.

Mexican Dwarf Crayfish walking on the aquarium substrate

In total, Dwarf Crayfish have 5 pairs of legs! The first 4 pairs are used for walking on the bottom of the tank floor. The final pair is equipped with their chelipeds, which are more commonly referred to as pinchers or claws.

Typically, crayfish and lobsters are capable of doing a lot of harm with their pinchers. That’s not the case with Dwarf Crayfish. While it would certainly not feel pleasant to get pinched by these claws, they are far too small to do any real damage. This is great because it ensures that any other fish won’t be harmed.

While they normally crawl in the substrate, Dwarf Crayfish are perfectly capable of swimming. They have a sizable tail with a large fin at the end. If you can take a close look underneath the tail, you’ll see a series of tiny fins. Called swimmerets, these fins provide great control when the crayfish is swimming.

When it comes to color, there’s some variety between the various species. Most take on a greyish-brown color that helps the invertebrate blend in with the surroundings. It may be accompanied by darker brown or black markings.

When you purchase this species at a local pet store or fish provider, you’re more likely to get an orange one (aka the Mexican Dwarf Crayfish). These crayfish take on a light orange hue. Their bodies are also slightly translucent.

On top of their bodies, they typically have darker orange spots or stripes. Some even have some fiery red coloration.

Average Size

The average size of a Dwarf Crayfish is between 1.6 and 2 inches long when they’ve reached full maturity. As you can probably tell from their name, this species is not very large.

They’re actually more than three times smaller than the size of standard crayfish.

Dwarf Crayfish Care

Thanks to their hardy nature, Dwarf Crayfish care isn’t a problem for most aquarists. They adapt well and will actually do a lot to keep your tank in good condition.

That said, it’s important to stick to established care guidelines. Like any fish or invertebrate, Dwarf Crayfish respond poorly to lackluster water conditions and a substandard diet. Providing your crayfish with all the essentials will ensure that they stay thrive in your aquarium.

Tank Size

The ideal tank size for Dwarf Crayfish is at least 10 to 20 gallons. This will give them enough space to live healthy and comfortable lives.

While their small size makes nano tanks viable, the owners who have the healthiest Dwarf Crayfish usually keep them in tanks a bit larger. A little extra space goes a long way!

Author Note: If you’re planning on keeping a small group of them together, you’ll obviously need to add some extra space as well. 

Water Parameters

The great thing about Dwarf Crayfish care is that they do well in most habitats. They’re not particularly picky.

Of course, you must keep the water within the recommended parameters. But as long as you don’t let water maintenance fall by the wayside, you should have no problem keeping these invertebrates happy.

Like we mentioned earlier, Dwarf Crayfish are usually found in small lakes and slow-moving rivers throughout Mexico and the southern United States. They like warmer waters, making them a perfect addition to tropical tanks.

Here are a few important water parameters to follow. Before introducing your fish into the tank, give the filter some time to cycle through and regulate temperature, hardness, and pH.

  • Water temperature: 60°F to 75°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 8.0
  • Water hardness: 6 to 12 dKH

Author Note: An important thing to remember when it comes to the health of your crayfish is proper filtration and cleaning. The crustaceans don’t do well if the water has high levels of ammonia and nitrates. As such, we recommend performing 25 percent water changes every week.

Setting Up Their Tank

The most important thing to add to the aquarium is hiding spots. Dwarf Crayfish need places to feel safe.

This is because they go through several molts throughout their life.

When they molt, they shed their hard shells. You may notice pieces of shell floating through your tank or an intact body just sitting on the substrate. Don’t worry! It’s not your dead crayfish.

A Dwarf Crayfish hiding and eating food

After the molting process, most Dwarf Crayfish will go into hiding. Their new bodies are still relatively soft for several hours after shedding their old shells. As such, they’re vulnerable to attack. So don’t be surprised if you can’t find them for a day.

Include large rocks, rock piles, and driftwood. They all provide ample protection. Plus, they can develop algae that your crayfish will feed on.

In addition to those decorations, you need plenty of live plants. These critters thrive best when the tank is filled with many different plant species.

As for the substrate, you can use fine sand or small gravel. They spend most of their time at the bottom third of the tank. Don’t overthink this though, since they’re not particularly picky about the type of substrate they live in.

Of course, make sure that you have some kind of filter to keep ammonia and nitrate levels in check. A standard hang-on-back or canister filter will work just fine. Just make sure the outlet isn’t too powerful (Dwarf Crayfish prefer slow-moving waters).

Potential For Disease

Like most crustacean, Dwarf Crayfish are very healthy creatures. While they can suffer from certain ailments, their thick hard shells keep them protected from most issues.

Plus, they can’t suffer from common freshwater fish conditions like Ich.

The main risk with Dwarf Crayfish is something called Crayfish Plague. It’s a disease caused by a water mold. It’s highly contagious and can affect all other invertebrates in your tank.

The good news is that it’s only ever encountered when you introduce an infected crayfish into your tank. Stick to reputable breeders and never introduce a wild crayfish into an established closed environment.

It’s also important that you stay on top of water conditions. Most health issues are a direct result of stress or poor water quality. If you maintain the habitat, your crayfish will stay healthy.

Food & Diet

Dwarf Crayfish are omnivores that will eat anything they can find. They’re considered “tank janitors” since they’re great algae eaters and will also chow down on fish food leftovers.

They do well on sinking pellets, algae wafers, and other commercial invertebrate food. Dwarf Crayfish also appreciate protein-rich live or frozen foods. You can provide some bloodworms, brine shrimp, earthworms, and more. For a more extensive look at their diet, click here.

Author Note: It’s important to remember not to drop in too much food for these critters. Owners often get carried away and end up negatively impacting their water quality. This species can’t clean everything!

Behavior & Temperament

The interesting thing about Dwarf Crayfish is that they’re generally very peaceful. While you may encounter problems with larger standard-sized crayfish in a community tank, Dwarf Crayfish usually do just fine with fish.

They spend their days exploring the tank and finding things to eat. These creatures also have very distinct personalities. They interact with other fish and may even acknowledge your presence!

Many owners report these crayfish coming out of hiding with their claws up anytime they approach the tank. They’ll also exhibit some quirky behaviors if kept in a group.

They show off their claws, play fight, and scurry around the bottom of the tank, making them a joy to watch.

Dwarf Crayfish Tank Mates

Dwarf Crayfish have not been known to kill fish, so you can keep them in most community tanks. They do well with other peaceful fish species. It’s best to stick with small fish.

Avoid larger or aggressive fish at all costs. Cichlids, for example, have been known to eat these crayfish!

Generally, aquarists will pair Dwarf Crayfish with fish species that stick to the top of the water column. Because the crayfish usually stay towards the bottom of the tank, there’s no need to worry about territory issues.

You may want to avoid smaller invertebrates as well. Smaller shrimp and snails could become targets for the crayfish. Amano Shrimp or Red Cherry Shrimp can work though.

Here are some good Dwarf Crayfish tank mates to try:

Author Note: It’s also possible to keep Dwarf Crayfish and Betta fish together if you have enough space and a tank setup that doesn’t force unnecessary interactions. 


In most cases, Dwarf Crayfish breeding occurs naturally. As long as you have a male and female in the tank, the two crayfish will more than likely spawn at some point.

The breeding process is unique. Males will get on top of the females to deposit sperm. The female will them hold onto the sperm until she’s ready to lay eggs. When she’s ready, she’ll lay between 20 and 60 eggs before fertilizing them herself with the male’s sperm.

Then, the female will place the eggs between here swimmerets under her tail. She’ll create a thin mucous layer to protect them.

From that point forward, the female will do all the heavy lifting when it comes to parenting.

You can see her waving water onto the eggs, cleaning them, and more. The crayfish make great mothers and will protect the eggs until they are ready to hatch. This can happen 3 to 4 weeks after the eggs are laid.

If you’re worried about other fish eating the babies, you can move the mother to a separate tank. However, the tiny babies will usually stick with their mothers until they get big enough to fend for themselves. They’ll even stay under her tail for a while. The babies may also take advantage of any hiding spots they can find.

You don’t have to worry about feeding the babies. They will scavenge the floor of the tank for food until they are big enough to eat what the adults eat.

Time To Get Some For Yourself!

As you can see, Dwarf Crayfish care is something that anyone can do. These little critters are a joy to keep and will provide you with a bunch of entertainment over the course of their lives.

While our favorite is the Mexican Dwarf Crayfish, we can recommend any of the popular species. You won’t regret it!

Reach out to us on Facebook if you have neat pictures or stories you think we should add to this guide. We’d love to see what you have to share!

You May Also Like