When my grandson’s elementary school class sent home a notice saying they have eleven crayfish that are coming up for adoption at the completion of their science unit, my daughter immediately said “NO WAY” and expressed how she is still traumatized from the one we had when she was a kid.
We kept a small fish tank in the kitchen filled with the usual suspects – a few zebra danios, a swordtail, neon tetras, guppies, and a tiny albino catfish. The white catfish with his bristly mustache continued to slowly grow and became a family favorite due to its longevity and overall cuteness. Periodically we would lose some of the others unexpectedly and go out for replacements. It was during one of those forays that we discovered you could buy aquarium crayfish.
My exposure to crayfish occurred at about age seven or eight, catching and releasing little ones in the stream that flowed beyond our neighborhood. Those were magical, sweet memories, so discovering a tank of tiny ones for sale in our local pet store was alluring. The kids would be fascinated. “How cool, they’re like miniature lobsters!” my friend Emrose said. So we bought one of the little guys, not even an inch in length, and added it to our kitchen community.
It actually was fascinating to watch this creature. Perhaps we did name it, but for the life of me I can’t recall what we called it, nor can my children, and Emrose – who had been living with us at the time and had the best recall – is no longer with us to ask. It liked to eat chicken, so we would save little pieces for it and then gather around to watch it quickly scissor up the meat into miniscule bits with its front pincers and shovel it into its weird vortex of a mouth with a whirling, chaotic motion of tiny front legs.
The crayfish grew. Every once in a while it would outgrow its shell and molt, leaving a ghostly exoskeleton image of itself at the bottom of the tank – which it would then efficiently scissor up and eat the same way it ate the chicken pieces we fed it! The molting and shell-eating continued to happen maybe seven or eight times throughout the year until the crayfish and the albino catfish, although both still small, were the dominant size creatures in the tank.
One day Emrose noticed one of the fish seemed to be missing. “Didn’t we have four zebras?” Perhaps it jumped out of the tank (fish do tend to do that sometimes). Or maybe we really didn’t have four zebras to begin with (space cadets). We shook our heads at the mystery. A couple of weeks later we noticed that a few of the neons also seemed to be gone without a trace. We also observed the albino catfish was no longer hanging out on the bottom as usual, but now lurking above and behind the filter. How were we so naive to not realize what was happening?
Everyone was rushing around before breakfast getting ready for work and school the morning the horrible discovery was made. In my mind I equate the event with “The Horse Head Scene” in The Godfather, because it was about that shocking to me. Within a fish tank suddenly eerily devoid of fish, there perched the crayfish, happily scissoring away. In its claws, held like an ice cream cone, was the upright body of the headless catfish it had been devouring.
We all screamed at once. With a knee jerk reaction I threw my car keys into the tank at it as it let go of the decapitated catfish and scurried to a corner. You would think after all the chicken it was fed that it would have been enough to satiate it, but no, it had to go and eat all the fish in the tank too. I don’t know what planet we must have been on to have missed this.
There was no question as to what needed to be done. Emrose scooped the crayfish up into a cup and we paraded down to the pond with it in order to get rid of the thing. As I tossed it as far out as possible, a bass quickly came to the surface and ate it before it barely hit the water. Emrose turned to me and said, “Karma, né?”
That was the end of our adventure in fish. After that we moved on to lizards. Given our history, I can’t blame my daughter for not wanting to adopt her son’s class crayfish. Years ago one of them brought home the class chicken (no longer a chick) over the holidays and we had a fiasco in our kitchen. But that story is for another time….