Invasive Zebra Mussels

By: Amber Thompson

Zebra Mussels are originally from Eastern Europe. They were brought over to the United States in the 1980s. They were carried over here from the bottoms of ships and boats.

Reproduction: In a single lifetime one zebra mussel can produce about 5 million eggs only 100,000 will mature to adults. It is estimated that 10 trillion zebra mussels blanket the bottom of the Great Lakes. Now you can understand why its hard to get rid of these mussels.

Diet: Zebra and quagga mussels feed on small organisms called plankton that drift in the water. The 10 trillion quagga and zebra mussels blanketing the bottom of the Great Lakes filter water as they eat plankton and have succeeded in doubling water clarity during the past decade. Clear water may look nice to us, but the lack of plankton floating in the water means less food for native fish.

Zebra Mussels harm native fish populations, ruin beaches and attach to boats, water intake pipes, and other structures causing the Great Lakes economy billions of dollars a year in damage.

They devastate native species by stripping the food web of plankton, which has a cascading effect throughout the ecosystem. Lack of food has caused populations of alewives, salmon, whitefish and native mussel species to plummet.

Zebra Mussels promote water clarity which means more sunlight penetrates the bottom of the lakes creating ideal conditions for algae to grow. In this way, zebra mussels have promoted the growth and spread of deadly algae blooms. Algae foul beaches and cause botulism outbreaks that have killed countless fish and more than 70,000 aquatic birds in the last ten years.

Once zebra mussels become established in a water body they are impossible to fully eradicate. Scientists have not found solutions that kills zebra and mussels without also harming other wildlife.

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