What are crawdads in Where the Crawdads Sing? The inspiration behind Delia Owens's title explained

 Where the Crawdads Sing.
Where the Crawdads Sing.

What are crawdads in Where the Crawdads Sing? It’s a question that might have come to mind again now that the film is on Netflix.

Since making its way to Netflix this spring Where the Crawdads Sing has been introduced to a whole new audience two years after the movie adaptation of Delia Owens’s bestselling book was released. Where the Crawdads Sing is set in North Carolina and follows Kya, whose home in a marsh has earned her the nickname “Marsh Girl” from the townspeople of Barkley Cove. She forms connections with firstly Tate and then popular quarterback Chase and after Kya’s story takes a shocking turn the Where the Crawdads Sing ending delivered an unexpected twist.

Alongside wondering about this - and about the real events that inspired the book - some fans might now be curious about the title. Yes, crawdads are real creatures and here we reveal what they are, whether they sing and how Where the Crawdads Sing got its name.

What are crawdads in Where the Crawdads Sing?

For those wondering what crawdads are you might be a little surprised to learn that this is an alternative name for crayfish. You’d be forgiven for thinking that crawdads might be birds given the reference to song in the title of both Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing book and the movie, but crawdads are crustaceans.

Crayfish is the name most commonly used in the UK, whilst crawfish and crawdads are terms that are both popular in certain parts of America. It’s been suggested by some that central and southwestern parts of the US often use the word ‘crawdad’, although Where the Crawdads Sing is set in the south eastern state of North Carolina.

Red noble crayfish crawling near shallow water
Red noble crayfish crawling near shallow water

Whatever term you use, these animals live in freshwater habitats like lakes and streams and look very similar to a lobster, only smaller. Multiple species of crayfish live in North America and they’re commonly eaten by humans like other forms of shellfish.

Do crawdads sing?

Whilst US-based fans of Where the Crawdads Sing might have instantly known what crawdads are, fans who don’t use this term might have been left a little confused by the book and show’s title after discovering these animals are crayfish. Crawdads don’t actually sing but they can make a sound that resembles clicking.

According to the Bernheim Forest and Arboretum website, crayfish can supposedly produce sounds both in and out of the water. They make these sounds by moving the thin appendage that draws water through their gills. So not quite the joyful songs produced by birds or the more mournful sounds of whale song, but crawdads do vocalise to an extent.

Why is Where the Crawdads Sing called that?

The title of Where the Crawdads Sing is said to have been inspired by author Delia Owens’s mother and was part of a phrase she used to say to her. As reported by CBS News in 2019, Delia’s mother used to encourage her to go out and explore the woods around their home in Georgia and to listen to what they really had to say to her.

“I learned from a book that crawdads don't really sing,” Delia explained. “But I learned from my mother that if you go far enough into the wilderness, by yourself, and there's nothing but you and nature, you will hear the crawdads sing.”

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens | Was £9.99, Now £7.93 at Amazon

If you haven't yet read Delia Owens's brilliant book and loved the Where the Crawdads Sing adaptation then you might want to dive right in. Like the movie, it charts Kya's life in North Carolina and the murder mystery that unfolds in the small town of Barkley Cove.View Deal

It seems that the phrase essentially calls you to really be at one with the natural world, understanding it and appreciating everything that makes it up. In the Where the Crawdads Sing book Kya views the phrase similarly as encouragement to go out and explore the marsh around her which was far removed from the contemporary society of the town.

In the novel, Tate says this to Kya when they are considering a place they could hang out together. Suggesting that they go off in search of the place “where the crawdads sing”, he then discloses to her that this means “far in the bush where the critters are wild, still behaving like critters”. Mirroring Delia’s own experience, Kya’s mother also used to tell her to go out “yonder” where the crawdads sing. Because of her mother’s words she did become one with the marsh and the animals that live there.

Where the Crawdads Sing is available to watch on Netflix now.