TUSCULUM, Tenn. (WJHL) — Two Tusculum University students are anxiously waiting to learn if a blue crayfish they found on campus is that of an undiscovered sub-species.
According to a release from Tusculum, Joe Calloway and Breanna Mathes captured the crayfish in the spring on Tusculum’s Nature Trail. This began a series of events that led the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to collect samples of the crayfish to be sent to Yale for an extensive analysis.
TWRA Wildlife Technician Carl Williams said his team came to collect samples after the students sent him a photo of the crustacean. The release said Calloway interned with the TWRA, and he knew Williams would like to see the blue crayfish. He was correct, as Williams was on campus soon after picking up a specimen the students stored for him and seeing the area where the crayfish was caught for himself.
“In April, we surveyed that part of the campus and caught a good series of specimens,” Williams said. “We molted them out, and they were pretty unique looking. They were definitely not what you would find on the Cumberland Plateau or in the Blue Ridge, so that gave us a suspicion these were probably something new. It’s fun to pick something up and think, ‘This could be the first time anyone has ever held this species in their hand’.”
The TWRA said if it’s indeed a new discovery, it’ll mark the 96th crayfish sub-species in the state. Williams said the process of finding out through DNA analysis at Yale will take two to three years.
Breanna Mathes said she was shocked when the pair of students unexpectedly found the crustacean while searching for frogs.
“I’m kind of in disbelief,” she said. “It’s hard to believe that Joe and I were just casually looking for frogs one day and we stumbled on a potential new species.”
Calloway said he’s excited to see if what he and Mathes found is truly a new sub-species of crayfish.
“East Tennessee is highly diverse in the number of fish and plant species, and I am happy that Breanna and I might have found another example,” Calloway said. “I am looking forward to seeing the results of the examination and will be pleased if Tusculum was the source of something distinct.”
Although the process of testing the crayfish will take some time, everyone involved said it’s worth the wait to progress the knowledge of wildlife in the Tusculum area.