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The underside of a pale crayfish with eggs under the tail.
Danté Fenolio

San Antonio Zoo's Center for Conservation and Research made a groundbreaking accomplishment with the successful births of 47 Oklahoma cave crayfish. 

A female Oklahoma cave crayfish recently produced a clutch of 47 hatchlings at the Center for Conservation and Research – San Antonio Zoo, a groundbreaking step for researchers studying the reproductive biology of the species.    

“Successful husbandry and captive propagation of such a rare and cryptic species, that is endemic to Oklahoma, is a huge milestone,” said Curtis Tackett, threatened and endangered species biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Understanding the life history traits of this species opens up so many opportunities to help us ensure the future conservation of the Oklahoma cave crayfish.” 

In Wild History 

Two people with helmets and lights observe a pale crayfish in the water.
Danté Fenolio

Researchers with the Center for Conservation and Research – San Antonio Zoo observe a state-endangered Oklahoma cave crayfish.

Oklahoma’s cave life is cloaked in intrigue and filled with many unique and mysterious creatures. While much is yet to be discovered, biologists have long explored and shed light on our underground world. One such exploration, conducted on April 11, 1971, revealed a new and unique species of cave crayfish. Later named the Oklahoma cave crayfish, the colorless and blind invertebrate is known only from 1.3 miles of underground passage in northeastern Oklahoma. This state-endangered species is one of 17 animals that can only be found in Oklahoma.  

While the Oklahoma cave crayfish is only known from caves in one county, its habitats receive conservation protection.  

The collaborative effort to propagate the species has been led by the Center for Conservation and Research’s vice president, Danté Fenolio. Fenolio has long been involved in Oklahoma’s conservation efforts and regularly conducts cave bio-inventories focused on the state’s threatened and endangered species. Since 2021, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has included an authorization to collect and house two male and two female Oklahoma cave crayfish at the San Antonio Zoo as part of Fenolio’s annual Scientific Collector’s Permit. The hatchling crayfish are progeny of those collected animals and will be raised in individual habitats.    

Fenolio and the Center for Conservation and Research – San Antonio Zoo, have been collaborating on the study of Oklahoma cave crayfish with partners from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and its Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Nature Conservancy, the Subterranean Biodiversity Project, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville since 2000. More information about their work with this rare species was shared in a news release announcing the Center’s recent success. 

Read More from the San Antonio Zoo's News Release