What is a Zebra Mussel?
The Zebra Mussel, Dreissena polymorpha (Pallas 1771), is a small
clam-like animal (mollusk) about the size of an adult's fingernail. Its
shell is shaped somewhat like a letter D with dark- and light-colored
stripes, hence the name "zebra." The Zebra Mussel is not native
to the United States, but rather is native to the colder streams and
rivers of Europe. It has been speculated that these mussels were introduced
into the United States from the ballast, or waste water, of a European cargo
ship traveling in the Great Lakes area.
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Why Should I Care?
Zebra mussels can cost you, the taxpayer, MONEY!!
Zebra mussels multiply rapidly and settle on any hard surface, even on top
of each other forming dense colonies. Because there aren't many known natural
predators in US waters, these dense colonies can clog municipal, industrial
and agricultural water intake pipes and have been known to cause power
plants to overheat. On a more personal level, when attached to a boat
hull, zebra mussels can create drag making the boat's engine work harder
thus lowering fuel efficiency. (It should be noted
that most insurance will NOT pay for zebra mussel induced damage to your
boat since this type of damage is listed as a preventable problem.)
Zebra mussels filter food from the water and, because they eat so much,
they have been known to actually make the water cleaner. This may sound
like a good thing, but it can also have an adverse effect on native
aquatic species (i.e., fish and mollusks). With less food available,
some species may die out. For example, native mussels have been found
covered with large zebra mussel colonies.
These colonies filter all the food from the water before it reaches the
native mussel, essentially starving it to death. Some areas of the Great
Lakes have reported a drastic reduction in (or complete elimination of)
native mussel populations due to the zebra mussel invasion.
Because of this potential damage to both industry and native aquatic
species, some states (i.e., California and Florida) now have laws which
make it illegal to knowingly bring zebra mussels into the state.
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What if I see one?
Zebra mussels have been seen in the Wheeler Reservoir of the Tennessee
River in North Alabama, but they have not multiplied to the extent
seen in northern parts of the country. If zebra
mussels aren't in your area yet, they probably will be soon since barge
traffic and/or recreational boaters spread the mussels from infested rivers
and lakes to uninfested waters.
If you see zebra mussels in any Alabama waterbody:
- Note the date and precise locations where the mussel or its
shell(s) were found;
- Take the mussel with you (several, if possible) and store it in
(Do Not throw any back into the water); and
- Immediately contact the:
- Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Zebra Mussel Hotline
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What Can I Do to Help?
Zebra mussels attach to any solid surface not protected by antifoulant
paints. Veligers (baby mussels), which can not be seen with the
naked eye, can also be found in the water of motor cooling systems
and can even be transported in bait buckets. (It should be noted
that most insurance will NOT pay for zebra mussel induced damage
since it is listed as a preventable problem.)
"It will take all of us working together
To help prevent unexpected
expense from zebra mussel damage and/or to prevent transporting
zebra mussels to another area, follow this checklist every time:
to slow the spread of zebra mussels in Alabama."
- Inspect your boat and all equipment that gets wet and
remove any plants and animals that are visible before
leaving any waterbody.
- Drain water from the motor, live well, bilge, and
transom wells while on land before leaving any waterbody.
- Empty your bait bucket on land before
leaving the waterbody. Never release live bait into a
waterbody, or release aquatic animals from one waterbody into another.
- Wash/Dry your boat, trailer, tackle, and other
boating equipment to kill veligers that were not visible at the boat
launch. This can be done on your way home or once you have returned home.
Adult zebra mussels can survive 10 to 14 days out of water, so it is
important to either:
- Rinse your boat and equipment that normally
gets wet with HOT tap water: or use a concentration of 1/2 cup salt to 1
gallon of hot water. Salt will kill the mussels. However, you must
thoroughly rinse with fresh water to prevent corrosion from the salt; OR,
- Spray your boat and trailer with high
pressure water; OR,
- Dry your boat and equipment for at least
5 days before launching somewhere else.
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- The Zebra Mussel Invasion in Alabama
- Boaters: Beware of Zebra Mussels
Information on this page was taken from several Auburn University
Marine Extension & Research Center brochures and is used by
permission. For further information on zebra mussels and what
you can do to avoid spreading them into Alabama waters, contact:
Marine Extension and Research Center
4170 Commanders Drive
Mobile, AL 36615
Phone: (334) 438-5690
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Zebra Mussel Information Resources
- This site has distribution maps, a
Mussel Fact Sheet, and other links related to zebra mussels. From the
Florida Caribbean Science Center which is part of the
Biological Resources Division of the Geological Survey within the U.S.
Department of the Interior.
[Alabama Mollusks] -
[North Alabama Shell Club] -
Page Curator: Deborah Wills (dwills@HiWAAY.net)
This page has been accessed
times since March 12, 1997.
Last Revised: 15 December 1998