Whilst some prefer yabbies with a little garlic sauce, others find them to be intriguing pets that make attractive additions to both tropical or coldwater aquariums. When yabbies are caught in a dam they are a muddy brown colour but in fresh water they can be quite colourful shades such as electric blue, pale blue, almost white and may even have orange highlights.
Yabbies can be kept with most active fish but they do need some space since, if kept in too close quarters, they will fight. A regular size aquarium will house two yabbies of about 10cm each but keep in mind that they can grow up to 20cm long. Yabbies that are kept in the same tank should always be about the same size as each other.
Yabbies can live for up to seven years and because they grow fast they need to regularly shed their outer skeleton or shell which makes them prone to being attacked by larger fish such as Oscars. They may also lose their claws or limbs through fighting or injury but these will regrow over several months.
Adding new yabbies to existing ones in a tank could result in fights since yabbies are very territorial. To help alleviate this, remove the existing yabbies from the tank and rearrange the rocks, plants and ornaments. Once this is done, put them all back in at exactly the same time so that they think that they are in a new space.
Yabbies will do best at a water temperature of between 12°C and 20°C but they will tolerate water that is a little colder or warmer. At the colder temperatures they tend not to feed too much so there is no noticeable growth but when the temperature is over 22°C the growth is quite rapid.
Keep the water level of the tank lower for yabbies as they will crawl up plants, hoses and pipes to escape and make sure that there is always a lid on the top. They like to have some hiding spaces that mimic their natural territory so make sure that there is a deep layer of gravel or sand for them to dig in as well as shelters such as rocks, logs or terracotta pots.
Yabbies are true scavengers so will eat almost any sinking food that fish eat as well as disks of carrot, peas, potato peels, spinach and most fruit. They will also eat aquatic plants and the carcasses of dead or dying fish. Don’t feed them chunks of meat but the occasional garden worm is a nice treat. Specially formulated yabbie pellets are available which cover everything that they need nutritionally but feed them very small portions making sure that each bit is eaten before giving more food.
Yabbies are messy eaters so the water will soon become contaminated. Make sure that the tank has a good filter and clean the tank once a month. It is important for the water to stay clean because yabbies breathe through their gills just like fish.
All invertebrates are sensitive to copper so avoid using aquarium medications that contain this in their tank.
Yabbies will breed in temperatures above 15°C and usually during summer when the day lengths are longest. The hundreds of eggs stay under the mother’s tail until they hatch which could take several months depending on the water temperature. The adults should be removed to another tank as they may eat the babies. The babies can be fed baby fish food that sinks but will also eat anything else that sinks to the floor.
As tempting as it might be, don’t hold yabbies in your hand as they tend to dry out when not in the water which is very bad for them. And besides, they are very strong and their nip can hurt!