Ray and I were collecting burrowing crayfish in southern Illinois one year. When we started checking roadside ditches in the area, we found huge holes, some you could drop a soft ball down. Our minds reeled on how big these crayfishes might be. The trouble was the soil was very porous in the upper portion of the soil profile, meaning the water table was deep, three feet deep. Obviously the crayfish would be out of reach.
One of the ways we catch burrowers that are in holes too deep to dig out, is to use the animals natural curiosity to bring them to the surface of the burrow water, where we would grab them. By opening the burrow carefully down to the water level, we would then use our fist as a plunger and pump the water in the burrow. Then sit back and wait. More often than not, soon you would see the crayfish's antenna waving at the surface of the water. Then you quickly grab it.
We finally found a burrow that we might just reach the water shelf with a lot of digging. As we dug out the soil from the burrow, I became concerned if it was I that was going to have to grab the huge crayfish. After all, if the hole was any indication of how big this crayfish was, I could lose a finger if I missed! We got the hole cleared and Ray pumped it with his palm. We sat back and waited.
As I peered into the hole, I noticed what looked like antenna on each side of the hole, a good fourteen inches apart! "Oh, it couldn't be," I thought. Then one moved!
"RAY!" I cried, "There it is!"
Ray lunged. Then all action stopped.
"Did you get it?" I asked.
"Yeah, I got it, but I can't move it, it's so strong," he replied.
"IT'S PULLING ME DOWN THE HOLE!" Ray suddenly cried.
I looked and Ray's arm was moving slowly down the hole!
"Maybe you better just let go of it!" I said.
"NO WAY! I have never lost a crayfish yet, that I had a firm grip on and I am not about to start! HELP ME!"
I jumped down beside Ray and grabbed his arm and started pulling. It was quite a tug of war, I can tell you. From that day forward, Ray's right arm is two inches longer than his left! The crayfish was subdued, however, and was removed from the burrow. It was the biggest crayfish I had ever seen. Usually stream forms of crayfish are bigger than their burrowing counterparts. This animal was a lot bigger than any stream crayfish I had ever seen. I couldn't believe the size of the claws. I could just see such claws snipping off my fingers without any effort at all! We named the crayfish, "Crawzilla", after Godzilla from the Japanese horror film.
We worked the area for a couple of days and found several populations of these giant crayfishes. Most were too deep, but we managed to catch a few more. Ray was right, when you grab one of those things, they do start pulling you down the hole. It is the strangest and scariest thing to experience! They are so strong and they get such a good grib on the burrow walls, it takes a lot of effort to wiggle them out. Meanwhile, you have to keep a close watch on the claws, which you can't see because your arm is in the way.
The next day as we were heading home, Ray said,"Whitney, the Crayfish God has smiled on us, catching all those giant crayfishes."
"The Crayfish God?" I replied.
"Yes, the Crayfish God!" said Ray.
Ray then proceeded to tell of this monstrous crayfish that ruled the fates of all crayfishes (and crayfish collectors). No one knew where the Crayfish God's burrow was, but Ray proposed that all you had to do is check the newspapers and find a place where small children always turned up missing! We laughed at the thought.
Then as we were passing through southern Indiana, I spotted a large pile of mud in a mowed area next to the highway. As I focused my eyes on the pile of mud, I suddenly realized it was made of mud pellets. Mud pellets 3 inches long and two inches wide! It was a chimney! A chimney that made Crawzilla's chimney look tiny!
"Ray!" I cried, "GO BACK!"
"What?" replied Ray.
"I JUST SAW THE CRAYFISH GOD!"
"I just saw the Crayfish God! TURN AROUND!"
We pulled up alongside the burrow. Ray looked out upon the chimney from the van. "DAMN, IT IS THE CRAYFISH GOD!" he said. We got out to examine the burrow. It was just as I had seen it, a chimney about two feet high and over two feet in diameter. In the center was a perfectly round tunnel 12 inches in diameter! The tunnel was filled to the top with water. I was worried before about losing a finger with Crawzilla. Now I was worried about losing a whole arm!
There was another burrow entrance without a chimney fifteen feet away. It is common for a burrow that has two entrances to only have a chimney on one of the holes. I walked over to the other hole to look at it, while Ray was still gazing down the first hole. Upon close examination of the second hole, I saw some marks on the side of the tunnel that were machine made. It wasn't a crayfish hole! It was made by some kind of drill or perhaps a post was yanked out of the ground vertically.
Smiling to myself, I walked back over to Ray and asked him,"Well, are you going to pump it?" Ray looked up at me and for the only time in my life, I saw fear in his eyes! I chuckled and finally let him off the hook.
Ray and the Crayfish God
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