Crayfish Are Threatening Crater Lake's Smallest Creatures

Jul 17, 2017

Biologist Mark Buktenica scours the shoreline of Crater Lake. He scans white sun-bleached rocks, takes a step, flips a rock.

Scan, step, flip.

Downed flying ants coat the surface of the water. A lizard hunts nearby. Small grey-green toads, about the size of a quarter, hop out of his way.

Scan, step, flip.

“Good candidate, perfect rock, but no salamanders,” he mumbles under his breath.

Dozens of times he repeats. Then dozens more as the rocks shift and clank under his boots. The salamander Buktenica is looking for is rare. In fact, it only lives here, in the shallow coves of Crater Lake.

Finally, the search pays off.

“The Mazama newt. Found no place else in the world,” Buktenica says as he places a 3-inch long orange-bellied newt in the palm of his hand.

Crater Lake formed nearly 8,000 years ago, after Mount Mazama erupted and the caldera began filling with snow and rainwater.

“We don’t know when newts entered the caldera but some time thousands of years ago,” says Buktenica, who’s worked at Crater Lake National Park for nearly 30 years.

There were no fish or other predators in the newly-formed lake, and the Mazama newt expanded and thrived. It was the undisputed top of the food chain.

But not anymore.

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