What are zebra mussels and why should we care about them?

Zebra mussels are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk that is native to fresh waters in Eurasia. Their name comes from the dark, zig-zagged stripes on each shell.

Zebra mussels probably arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s via ballast water that was discharged by large ships from Europe. They have spread rapidly throughout the Great Lakes region and into the large rivers of the eastern Mississippi drainage. They have also been found in Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Zebra mussels negatively impact ecosystems in many ways. They filter out algae that native species need for food and they attach to--and incapacitate--native mussels. Power plants must also spend millions of dollars removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes.

Related Content

Filter Total Items: 5

How can the spread of zebra mussels be prevented?

The USGS documents the zebra mussel's geographic distribution and studies its behavior and biology. The resulting information is critical in helping to develop strategies aimed at containing and controlling the mussel's spread. Meanwhile, catching and transporting zebra mussels for use as bait, food, and aquarium pets is highly discouraged. We...

What are snakeheads?

Snakeheads are air-breathing freshwater fishes that are not native to North America. In scientific terms, snakeheads are divided into two distinct genera: Channa (snakeheads of Asia, Malaysia, and Indonesia) Parachanna (African snakeheads) In the summer of 2002 and again in late spring 2004, Channa argus , the northern snakehead, generated...

What is an Asian swamp eel and what does it look like?

Swamp eels are freshwater fish, but they are not closely related to other living eels or snake-like marine and freshwater fishes. In addition to the name swamp eel, other English common names used for members of this group of fish include rice eel, rice-paddy eel, and belut. The swamp eel family includes more than a dozen species. Asian swamp eels...

What are Asian Carp?

Carp are not native to North American waters, but various carp species have been introduced here since the mid-1800s, much to the detriment of native fish. Although carp eradication measures have been active for over 100 years, long-established species, like the common carp, are present in almost every state. Asian carp (bighead, black, grass, and...

What is an invasive species and why are they a problem?

An invasive species is an introduced, nonnative organism (disease, parasite, plant, or animal) that begins to spread or expand its range from the site of its original introduction and that has the potential to cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. A few well-known examples include the unintentional introduction of the...
Filter Total Items: 2
Date published: September 9, 2004

Snakehead in your inbox? Welcome to the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Alert System

Want to know how many new species have been found in your state in the past six months, or where the latest sighting of snakeheads occurred? You can find the answers to both these questions at the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) Alert System.

Date published: September 18, 1997

Zebra Mussels Are Spreading Rapidly, USGS Reports

Zebra mussels expanded their range in the past year, invading 11 new lakes in the Great Lakes region and dramatically increasing in Lake Champlain, according to U.S. Geological Survey biologists.

Filter Total Items: 13
Detailed view of a Quagga Mussel (right) and a Zebra Mussel.
April 27, 2016

Detailed view of a Quagga Mussel (right) and a Zebra Mussel.

Detailed view of a Quagga Mussel (right) and a Zebra Mussel. Image credit: USGS.

A pile of invasive Zebra mussels
February 4, 2016

Zebra Mussels WARC

Zebra mussels.

Image: Invasive Zebra Mussels
July 22, 2003

Invasive Zebra Mussels

The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) is a small, non-native mussel originally found in Russia. In 1988, this animal was transported to North America in the ballast water of a transatlantic
...
Image: Invasive Zebra Mussels
July 22, 2003

Invasive Zebra Mussels

The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) is a small, non-native mussel originally found in Russia. In 1988, this animal was transported to North America in the ballast water of a transatlantic
...
USGS Scientist Randy Hines with rock full of zebra mussels
November 30, 2000

USGS Scientist Randy Hines with rock full of zebra mussels

USGS Scientist Randy Hines with rock full of zebra mussels  (Dreissena polymorpha) at Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Zebra Mussels on rock
November 30, 2000

Zebra Mussels on rock

Zebra Mussels on rock.

Titleist golf ball covered in zebra mussels
November 30, 2000

Titleist golf ball covered in zebra mussels

Titleist infested with multiple age groups of newly settled and previously settled zebra mussels. Collected by physical survey from a transect on Maple Lake near Alexandria, Minnesota

Image: Zebra Mussels
March 14, 1992

Zebra Mussels

Zebra Mussel, Lake Huron specimens.

Image: Zebra Mussels
March 14, 1992

Zebra Mussels

Zebra Mussel, Lake Huron specimens.

Image: Zebra Mussel

Zebra Mussel

Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) vs Quagga Mussel (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis). The only two dreissenid mussels known to have been introduced into the US. Both the quagga mussel and zebra mussel are prolific breeders possibly contributing to their spread and abundance. The introduction of both dreissenid species into the Great Lakes appears to be

...
Image:  Zebra Mussel

Zebra Mussel

Zebra mussels are small, averaging about an inch long. Two inches is approximately the maximum size.