Federal wildlife officials proposed Tuesday to protect a crayfish only found in Bay County under the Endangered Species Act.
The Panama City crayfish is only about 2 inches long, it’s tan-colored and has red dots on its head. There are only 13 populations found in Bay County with less than 100 crustaceans in each habitat.
Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, says all the Panama City crayfish historically lived together in wetlands of the Pine Flatwood Forest, but then they were separated as the land was developed.
"The crayfish have been pushed into these little habitats like ditches and swells," she says.
Curry says these crustaceans are important for multiple reasons. They create burrows that other species use, like insects and frogs. The crustaceans are also part of the food web— fish, birds and mammals eat them. And they’re herbivores that eat decaying vegetation in the water, essentially cleaning it.
“So protecting crayfish ultimately protects clean water for people," says Curry.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed classifying the crayfish as a protected endangered species. Curry says there will now be a public comment period, then scientists will weigh-in, and then she expects the Panama City crayfish to be federally protected in about a year.
UPDATE: The source for this story referred the the Panama City crayfish as a "fish," but it's actually a "crustacean." The audio story and the web copy now reflect that.