Cambarus sheltae (Cooper & Cooper, 1997)

Shelta Cave crayfish



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Orconectes sheltae Cooper & Cooper, 1997 (protonym)


Traditionally placed in the genus Orconectes, the most recent analysis of its phylogenetic position following the species' rediscovery places it in Cambarus (Dooley et al., 2022).


Conservation Status

Last record: 1988 (Hobbs & Bagley, 1989)

Rediscovered on 31 May 2019 (Dooley et al., 2022)

IUCN RedList status: Critically Endangered


The Shelta Cave Crayfish is critically endangered, and was considered possibly extinct (Buhay & Crandall, 2005; Schuster et. al., 2010), being known from only 17 specimens as well as a further 97 individuals which were recorded and then released over a 7 year period (1968 to 1975; see Cooper, 1975). No specimens had been recorded in the last two decades (Buhay & Crandall, 2008). The reasons for its decline are believed to be a decline in the availability of nutrients (in the form of guano) in the cave, as the result of Gray bats (Myotis grisescens) abandoning it. However, competition with the other two troglobitic species of crayfish in Shelta Cave (Oconectes australis australis and Cambarus jonesi) may also be partly to blame.

During a series of surveys within the cave, two Shelta Cave crayfish were discovered and photographed between 2018-2021, confirming their continued existence:

"We conducted 20 visual surveys of aquatic habitats at Shelta Cave between October 2018 and July 2021. Although the aquatic community has not recovered, we did confirm the continued existence of O. sheltae, which had not been observed in 31 years, with observations of an adult female on 31 May 2019 and an adult male on 28 August 2020."

(Dooley et al., 2022)



Shelta Cave, Huntsville, Alabama (northern), USA


Biology & Ecology

The species may mature at around 40 years old and live for a century (Cooper & Cooper, 1997).



17 individuals were collected (and presumably preserved in institution collections) (Buhay & Crandall, 2008).



The original photographic observation of the adult male on 28 August 2020 by Matthew L. Niemiller on iNaturalist:



Original scientific description:

Cooper, John E. and Cooper, Martha Riser. (1997). New troglobitic crayfish of the genus Orconectes, subgenus Orconectes (Decapoda: Cambaridae), endemic to Shelta Cave, Huntsville, Alabama. Journal of Cave and Karst Studies 59(3): 119-127.


Other references:

Buhay, Jennifer E. and Crandall, Keith A. (2005). Subterranean phylogeography of freshwater crayfishes shows extensive gene flow and surprisingly large population sizes. Molecular Ecology 14: 4259-4273.

Buhay, Jennifer E. and Crandall, Keith A. (2008). Taxonomic revision of cave crayfishes in the genus Orconectes, subgenus Orconectes (Decapoda: Cambaridae) along the Cumberland Plateau, including a description of a new species, Orconectes barri. Journal of Crustacean Biology 28(1): 57-67.

Buhay, Jennifer E. and Crandall, Keith A. (2009). Taxonomic revision of cave crayfish in the genus Cambarus, subenus Aviticambarus (Decapoda: Cambaridae) with descriptions of two new species, C. speleocoopi and C. laconensis, endemic to Alabama, U.S.A. Journal of Crustacean Biology 29(1):121-134.

Cooper, J. E. (1975). Ecological and Behavioral Studies in Shelta Cave, Alabama, with Emphasis on Decapod Crustaceans. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. 364 pp

Crandall, K. A., and De Grave, S. (2017). An updated classification of the freshwater crayfishes (Decapoda: Astacidea) of the world, with a complete species list. Journal of Crustacean Biology 37(5): 615-653.

Dooley, Katherine E., Niemiller, K. Denise Kendall, Sturm, Nathaniel and Niemiller, Matthew L. (2022). Rediscovery and phylogenetic analysis of the Shelta Cave Crayfish (Orconectes sheltae Cooper & Cooper, 1997), a decapod (Decapoda, Cambaridae) endemic to Shelta Cave in northern Alabama, USA. Subterranean Biology 43: 11-31.

Hobbs, H. H. III and Bagley, F. M. (1989). Shelta Cave Management Plan, Biology Subcommittee of the Shelta Cave Management Committee. 78 pp.

McLaughlin, P. A., Camp, D. K., Angel, M. V., Bousfield, E. L., Brunel, P., Brusca, R. C., Cadien, D., Cohen, A. C., Conlan, K., Eldredge, L. G., Felder, D. L., Goy, J. W., Haney, T., Hann, B., Heard, R. W., Hendrycks, E. A., Hobbs, H. H. III, Holsinger, J. R., Kensley, B., Laubitz, D. R., LeCroy, S. E., Lemaitre, R., Maddocks, R. F., Martin, J. W., Mikkelsen, P., Nelson, E., Newman, W. A., Overstreet, R. M., Poly, W. J., Price, W. W., Reid, J. W., Robertson, A., Rogers, D. C., Ross, A., Schotte, M., Schram, F., Shih, C., Watling, L., Wilson, G. D. F. and Turgeon, D. D. (2005). Common and scientific names of aquatic invertebrates from the United States and Canada: Crustaceans. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 31: 545 pp.

Mirarchi, R. E., Bailey, M. A., Garner, J. T., Haggerty, T. M., Best, T. L., Mettee, M. F., and O'Neil, P. (2004). Alabama Wildlife. Volume Four: Conservation and Management Recommendations for Imperiled Wildlife. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 221 pp.

Schuster, G. A. and Taylor, C. A. (2004). Report on the crayfishes of Alabama: literature and museum database review, species list with abbreviated annotations and proposed conservation statuses. Illinois Natural History Survey Technical Report, 2004(12): 47 pp.

Schuster, G. A., Taylor, C. A. and Cordeiro, J. (2010). Orconectes sheltae. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. ( Downloaded on 07 June 2011.

Schuster, G. A., Taylor, C. A. and Cordeiro, J. (2010). Orconectes sheltae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T153962A4569540. Accessed on 15 March 2023.

Schuster, G. A., Taylor, C. A. and Johansen, J. (2008). An annotated checklist and preliminary designation of drainage distributions of the crayfishes of Alabama. Southeastern Naturalist, 7(3): 493-504.

Taylor, C. A., Schuster, G. A., Cooper, J. E., DiStefano, R. J., Eversole, A. G., Hamr, P., Hobbs, H. H. III, Robison, H. W., Skelton, C. E. and Thoma, R. F. (2007). A reassessment of the conservation status of crayfishes of the United States and Canada after 10+ years of increased awareness. Fisheries 32(8):371-389.


<< Back to the Malacostraca database