Mussel invaders: Tiny species costing billions in repairs

(CBS News) A tiny Russian invader is making big waves in the United States and costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

The zebra mussel, a freshwater species native to southern Russia, and its close cousin, the quagga mussel, are now in more than 600 bodies of water in 27 states according the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The critters made their way from Russia and Europe by gripping onto boats and migrating to the U.S. In the last 25 years, they have made their way from the Great Lakes down to north Texas. They reproduce and grow rapidly.

Experts are concerned about these mussels because they suck up underwater resources that fish depend on and they themselves are not the breed of mussels that people eat.

"One of the major things I think that happens in the freshwater systems is they filter out the particulate organic matter and the zooplankton and phytoplankton. It doesn't mean a lot to everybody, but that's the base of the food chain. So, as you remove that, you have a catastrophic effect or cascading effect on everything," said James Kennedy, professor of biological sciences at the University of North Texas. "Fish can't eat. The insects can't eat or they've got reduced food supply."

Kennedy also explained that these invaders clog pipes and machinery, which cause billions of dollars in repairs. The mussels tend to cluster in water pipes, causing the lines to back up and creating huge problems the human population.

These mussels do not have a natural predator, so without systematically killing them off they will just continue to multiply and eliminate the indigenous mussel species that belong in these areas.

"We can control them in the intake structures and clean them out there, but there's no real effective control right now," said Kennedy.

  • Shoshana Davis

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