View from the Bottom

Published in the February 2009 Issue January 2019 Multimedia Ted A. Thompson

I’m a crawfish. I could tell you my scientific name, but you probably couldn’t pronounce it and I have a feeling you don’t really care.

Technically I’m described as a decapod crustacean. I sometimes go by crayfish or crawdad, although those common names suggest fish bait, and that’s not something I appreciate. The only difference between a handsome, likable crawfish like me and plain ole everyday fish bait is a sharp hook and six-pound test line—that’s how I lost my little brother. Or was it my sister? Heck, who can tell with crawfish? Doesn’t matter, there’s plenty more where that one came from. We’ve been around for millions of years, and plan to inherit the world.

I’ve lived in soda pop cans that accidentally blew off your boats. I’ve peered at this watery underworld through your lost Ray Bans, one lens at a time. Best of all, I’ve snacked on the tasty scrapings from your lunch plates. Don’t need barbecue sauce: a pork rib is perfectly delicious soaked in plain old lake water. Try it sometime.

I spend my days looking up from the bottom, and I’ve seen more than you realize. These short eyestalks are good for more than just watching for predators or searching out something good and dead for dinner. They’re also great for studying human boating behavior. I know what you do when you think no one’s looking.

When you park in a cove and play music, I can hear it, too. Frankly, the signal from an electronic fish finder sounds better than most of it. By the time you decide that dancing on a boat is a good idea, even the crawfish are embarrassed for you. You’re about as good at dancing as I am; in fact, we have a lot of the same moves. (Don’t be proud, it’s called decapodal crustacean sarcasm, ever heard of it?) Please stop with the dancing. It looks silly, it’s murder on the tabletops, and it frightens the dickens out of the wildlife.

Furthermore, when you go skinny dipping on those warm, moonlit summer nights, guess what? I’m down here looking up and wishing I wasn’t. Romantic, my tailfin. The only bottom I want to see is the bottom of the lake. Have mercy.

Technically my claws are called “chelae,” but I’m sure you already know that. So you have opposable thumbs instead of pinchers, get over it. When was the last time you used your thumb to ward off an enemy? Or to dig a burrow in the mud and crawl in backwards? Or to pluck the eye neatly from a rotting … never mind, that probably crosses some kind of line. The point is, gram for gram of brain matter, crawfish can do more than humans and we have superior tools.

Although I live in a lake, some of my fellows make their homes in rivers, bays, and even the ocean. Several species down south actually live on “crawfish farms,” which near as I can figure must be farms run entirely by crawfish. Don’t ever sell us short.

Crawfish serve an important environmental function, too. We are the vacuum cleaners of the lake and river bottoms. We don’t have to understand it; in fact some of us don’t even know what a vacuum cleaner is. But the job we do is crucial to the circle of life. We make the water cleaner, healthier, and better because of our existence. Can humans say the same?

I’ve watched you in your boats, witnessed your celebrations, and listened to your drama. I’ve noticed you don’t always get along. Fishing boats fuss about the loud music from houseboats. Houseboats take exception to the wakes from cabin cruisers. Cabin cruisers fret about Jet Skis. And Jet Skis buzz around for no apparent reason at all except to annoy everyone else.

You humans should take a lesson from the “lowly” crawfish. We are never prejudiced, intolerant or cruel. One crawfish is pretty much like any other. We treat each other with fairness and respect, except for the little ones, of course, which we big guys sometimes eat, but always without malice.

Ted will be back next month and he’ll probably want to talk about boats. Meanwhile, perhaps you have the notion that this piece was written tongue-in-cheek. Not likely, I’m a crawfish—no tongue, no cheek. But at least you know there is more to me than fish bait, and there’s one thing you can count on.

Down here from the bottom, I’m always keeping an eyestalk out for you.

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