Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 179, Issue 4, pp 493–507 | Cite as

Food utilisation and digestive ability of aquatic and semi-terrestrial crayfishes, Cherax destructor and Engaeus sericatus (Astacidae, Parastacidae)

  • Stuart Maxwell Linton
  • Benjamin J. Allardyce
  • Wilhelm Hagen
  • Petra Wencke
  • Reinhard Saborowski
Original Paper


Both Engaeus sericatus and Cherax destructor are omnivorous crayfishes consuming a variety of food items. Materials identified in the faeces of both E. sericatus and C. destructor consisted of mainly plant material with minor amounts of arthropod animals, algae and fungi. The morphology of the gastric mill of C. destructor suggests that it is mainly involved in crushing of food material while the gastric mill of E. sericatus appears to be better suited to cutting of food material. Given this, the gastric mill of E. sericatus may be better able to cut the cellulose and hemicellulose fibres associated with fibrous plant material. In contrast, the gastric mill of C. destructor appears to be more efficient in grinding soft materials such as animal protein and algae. Both species accumulated high amounts of lipids in their midgut glands (about 60% of the dry mass) which were dominated by triacylglycerols (81–82% of total lipids). The dominating fatty acids were 16:0, 16:1(n-7), 18:1(n-9), 18:2(n-6), and 18:3(n-3). The two latter fatty acids can only be synthesised by plants, and are thus indicative of the consumption of terrestrial plants by the crayfishes. The similarity analysis of the fatty acid patterns showed three distinct clusters of plants and each of the crayfish species. The complement of digestive enzymes, proteinases, total cellulase, endo-β-1,4-glucanase, β-glucosidase, laminarinase and xylanase within midgut gland suggests that both C. destructor and E. sericatus are capable of hydrolysing a variety of substrates associated with an omnivorous diet. Higher activities of total cellulase, endo-β-1,4-glucanase and β-glucosidase indicate that E. sericatus is better able to hydrolyse cellulose within plant material than C. destructor. In contrast to E. sericatus, higher total protease and N-acetyl-β-d-glucosaminidase activity in the midgut gland of C. destructor suggests that this species is better able to digest animal materials in the form of arthropods. Differences in total cellulase and gastric mill morphology suggest that E. sericatus is more efficient at digesting plant material than C. destructor. However, the contents of faecal pellets and the fatty acid compositions seem to indicate that both species opportunistically feed on the most abundant and easily accessible food items.


Engaeus sericatus Cherax destructor Crayfish Feeding Nutrition Stomach content Gastric mill Midgut gland Storage lipids Fatty acids Digestive enzymes 



The International Office of the German Ministry of Education and Research supported this work by a travel grant to R. Saborowski (AUS 02/06A). The Hermon Slade Foundation provided a research grant to S. Linton.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stuart Maxwell Linton
    • 1
  • Benjamin J. Allardyce
    • 1
  • Wilhelm Hagen
    • 2
  • Petra Wencke
    • 2
  • Reinhard Saborowski
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin UniversityGeelongAustralia
  2. 2.Marine ZoologyUniversity of BremenBremenGermany
  3. 3.Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Biologische Anstalt HelgolandHelgolandGermany

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