Hell Creek Cave Crayfish

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View the species information on the FWS national site here

View the Hell Creek Cave Crayfish 5-year review and recovery plan.

To learn more about the karst environment, visit our Caves and Karst page.

Hell Creek Cave Crayfish (Cambarus zophonastes)
Status: Endangered
Listed: April 7, 1987

For more information on the Hell Creek Cave Crayfish, contact Mitch Wine at mitch_wine@fws.gov or 870-269-3228.

Species Facts:
The Hell Creek Cave Crayfish is a small (2.5-3.0 inch) crayfish that lacks pigmentation and has reduced eyes. The life history of this species is poorly understood. An ovigerous (egg bearing) female was discovered in Hell Creek Cave suggesting reproduction occurs in the late winter and spring months with higher water levels and nutrient inputs triggering reproduction. The total population is estimated to be less than 50 individuals, although much of the habitat is not accessible and census counts fluctuate widely between surveys.

Habitat Summary:
The Hell Creek Cave Crayfish is extremely rare, only occurring in two caves and a spring: Hell Creek Cave and Nesbitt Spring Cave (discovered in 2002) in Stone County, and Yellville Spring (discovered in 2010) in Marion County, Arkansas. The crayfish have been found in deep pools a short distance into these caves, as well as on muddy stream bottoms, cave stream walls, and other in-stream habitats.

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission owns both known entrances and 160 acres surrounding Hell Creek Cave. The cave’s recharge area (the area where surface water flows into the cave groundwater system) is about 3.5 square miles and is largely privately owned. Nesbitt Spring Cave, a privately owned karst spring, is located near the city of Mountain View and has an average recharge area of 2.6 square miles. The Yellville site is a groundwater system that is not accessible to humans and resurges mainly at a spring in Town Branch (discovered in 2009), which is often dry.

Why is it Endangered?
Ground water degradation by toxins and nutrients (fertilizers and sewage), alteration of drainage and hydrologic patterns, lower ground water levels, and physical destruction of caves are major threats to the Hell Creek Cave Crayfish.

Similarly, residential development and the associated construction could threaten water quality. When open land is developed the hydrology of the site changes.  Possible contaminants associated with development include sediment, nutrients, microbes, organic matter, toxic chemicals, trash, and debris.  Each of these together or separately can pollute groundwater.  Once contaminants leave the site and enter drainage within a groundwater recharge zone, whatever the water was carrying is now contributing to groundwater contamination and threatens rare and endangered karst animals. To learn more about the karst environment, visit our Caves and Karst page.

Trampling of cave crayfish has been documented in both cave systems, and trespassing increases this risk. However, this is currently thought to be a lesser threat than water quality and quantity changes.

The recovery plan for the Hell Creek Cave Crayfish was published in 1988. You may view this recovery plan here. The implementation status of the recovery plan may be viewed here. A 5-year review was conducted in 2012.

Range in Arkansas:

Arkansas Field Office
110 S. Amity Road
Suite 300
Conway, AR 72032

501/513 4470 (v)
501/513 4480 (f)

Last Updated: December 30, 2015

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