There are zebra mussels in Texas, and that’s a pretty big deal.
The zebra mussel is a tiny, striped mussel that grows up to 1.5 inches in length in maturity. While seemingly harmless on their own, the mussel tends to grow in large, damaging clumps, releasing microscopic larvae into a freshwater environment.
How did they get here?
Originally from the Balkans, Poland, and the former Soviet Union, the zebra mussel is a species made to grow tough, wherever it winds up. Their microscopic larvae are capable of latching onto whatever they can, and it is suspected that they first made their way to the Americas in the 1980s lurking in the ballast water of a ship. In 1988, they were first discovered in Lake St. Clair in Michigan, and have since infested over 600 lakes and reservoirs across 29 states.
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On April 3, 2009, it made its first known appearance in Lake Texoma, Texas, and it hasn’t slowed down since.
What’s the impact?
Like most invasive species, zebra mussels are tough, difficult to track, and have few natural predators in their new environment. They multiply at a tremendous rate and, according to the online National Atlas of the United States, they are almost impossible to eradicate once they have established themselves in a body of water.
Though they appear harmless at first glance, the clumping growth of the zebra mussel is what truly makes it dangerous. They are known to grow rapidly, clogging up public water intake pipes and water cooling systems, covering beaches and shorelines with their sharp bodies, and latching on the hulls and engines of boats. They are even known to grow in clusters so heavy they can sink vessels.
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They are naturally extremely difficult to control. The larvae cause the biggest threat with their ability to cling to vessels and float downstream from one lake to another. Since their appearance in Texas, no less than six bodies of water have suffered an infestation: Lakes Texoma, Lavon, Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Bridgeport and Belton. Experts fear the species may enter the Trinity River system and, from there, the gulf. Though they are known to experience shorter life spans in Texas than elsewhere in the United States, their rapid reproductive capabilities make them equally devastating.
What can we do?
Because the zebra mussel’s primary form of transportation is by catching a lift on boats, the best way to prevent the spread of this species is to drain, clean, and dry boats, trailers after use. In fact, as of July 1, it’s no longer going to be a just good idea. It’s going to be the law.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this doesn’t just apply to fishing boats. All vessels, powered or otherwise, must be drained, cleaned, and completely dried after being used in public waters.
Additionally, anglers cannot use the same bait in multiple bodies of water. Because the mussel larvae can cling to any surface in the water, using your favorite lure in two lakes could spread the invasive species.
In the meantime, scientists across the United States are searching for other alternatives. So far metal-based, chlorine, and hot water solutions have been unsuccessful. Daniel Molloy, a research scientist at the Stare University of New York, may have found an answer in a new, environmentally safe pesticide called Zequanox.
However, Zequanox cannot presently be used in an open body of water an unconfined infrastructure. While it may someday help in eradicating the zebra mussel, the best plan remains to drain, clean, and dry all vessels and equipment that come into contact with infested waters.
Featured image via US Fish and Wildlife Service