EarthWord – Quagga Mussel

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Its spelling looks similar to Quahog, and it is even distantly related—the Quagga Mussel is a bivalve mollusk just like the Quahog.  That’s where the similarities end, though. Quahogs are clams, native to the Americas and often used in chowder, whereas Quaggas are mussels native to Ukraine that accumulate toxins and have an offensive smell.

EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word!

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.

Definition:

  • Its spelling looks similar to Quahog, and it is even distantly related—the Quagga Mussel is a bivalve mollusk just like the Quahog.  That’s where the similarities end, though. Quahogs are clams, native to the Americas and often used in chowder, whereas Quaggas are mussels native to Ukraine that accumulate toxins and have an offensive smell. Quaggas have become an invasive species in the United States and other countries of the Americas.

Etymology:

  • They’re named for a subspecies of zebra-the Quagga-because of their distinctive stripes. The word quagga is Afrikaans. It’s thought to have originated with the Khoikhoi people to describe the quagga zebra’s whinny. They can be difficult to tell from zebra mussels… we are not making this up!

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Quagga mussels are thriving in the Great Lakes and creating huge problems. They’re really quite effective in filtering out phytoplankton that the food web of the Great Lakes depends on. Quaggas also produce significant amounts of waste. These waste products are broken down by bacteria, which deplete dissolved oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.

USGS Use:

  • USGS actively studies invasive species, such as the Quagga mussel. Scientists track the species’ spread, measure their impacts on native ecosystems, and study ways of halting their advance or even eliminating them.

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