Mudbugs and their castles

Published 9:52 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2017

By Susan and Biff Andrews

I’ve seen them in roadside ditches for decades. I’ve seen them on pond edges and in other wet areas. Sometimes it’s just where the water table is high.

And I knew what they were, basically. But I didn’t really understand them until I researched this column, which is why we write these columns.

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They’re crawfish chimneys or crayfish towers or mudbug castles or crawdad burrows, and I find there’s much to know about them, much to appreciate.

They may be as deep as three feet. They may have side rooms or side tunnels. There is usually only one crawdad per burrow, unless there are two babysitting eggs.

The reason they make towers is so they never have to leave the safety of the burrow to venture out among predators. They wad up a marble-sized ball of mud and carry it up and place it next to the last one they placed. The chimney may get as high as 14 inches, but 6 to 8 inches is the norm.

Because they are located in wet areas, the burrow is usually filled with water. And homeowners with mowed ditches hate them, as they’ll bend a lawnmower blade in a heartbeat.

A few negative oddities: While snakes don’t usually prey on them, they may hide (from a lawnmower?) in a chimney— if they’ll fit. They attract raccoons and skunks. On their nightly forays, they eat a lot of fish eggs, as well as insects and worms.

They are considered an invasive species in much of the world, such as China, as they create problems in rice paddies.

The good news? They will not be found where water is polluted. And they taste delicious. At the recent Bayou Boogaloo in Norfolk, 40,000 pounds were consumed. Most are boiled with spices, but some are fried, in jambalaya, in gumbo, in étouffée and so on.

They look like small lobsters, which are salt-water decapod crustaceans, and they taste nearly as good. A crawfish boil— even at a Norfolk event — is to be savored , for the spices, the corn, the andouille sausage, the potatoes, all adding to the taste of the mud bugs.

Folks in Louisiana DO know how to eat.

Louisiana aquacultures crawfish — 95 percent of the US supply — and they consume 70 percent of those. But they are also aquacultured here locally, in both Virginia and North Carolina.

Still, the easiest way to order them is online— probably from Louisiana.

You can knock the chimney off the burrow, dig down arm’s length by hand and capture the little rascal, but that’s a lot of work and dirt for a tiny bit of meat.

But back to the poor guy who wants a nicely sloped ditch and who doesn’t want a bent blade. The towers themselves can be crushed with a boot. If he wants to eradicate the burrow, he can use poison (with a chlorine or turpentine solution) or add edging about 6 inches outside the wet area to prevent them entering the yard. In extreme cases, he could raise the profile of his yard 6 to 8 inches by adding sand and dirt. But that’s pretty expensive and extreme.

Or just enjoy Mother Nature’s little architects and engineers and appreciate their work ethic.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at