Effects of Zebra Mussels in our Lakes

Zebra musselYou’ve seen the billboards or the signs at waterfronts warning to “stop aquatic hitchhikers.” Although other aquatic species can spread from lake to lake, one of the most common and damaging invasive species is the zebra mussel. 

Zebra mussels are invasive mollusks, meaning they are not native to the lakes of Minnesota. They are a mollusk that originates in Eurasia that likely landed in the Great Lakes sometime in the 1980s. They can now be found across the United States in many freshwater lakes, and impact each of these aquatic ecosystems in negative ways.

How do zebra mussels get into our lakes?

Zebra mussels are thought to have arrived in the great lakes within water discharged from ships that came from Europe. From then on, they have become famously resilient hitchhikers that attach themselves to boats, swim rafts, boat lifts, and docks. 

Zebra mussels can only survive outside of water for about five days. If they make their way into lift pipes or somewhere else that provides wet conditions, they can survive for up to 21 days. They also latch onto aquatic plants, and their larvae have been found in bait buckets, motors, or other water-collecting devices. 

The ability to survive outside of water means that when water-related equipment is relocated, the mussels can start new lives within the new water unless they’re removed. 

Stop the spread of zebra mussels

Minnesota law encourages water recreationists to abide by the following rules to help stop the spread of these invasive species:

  • Clean all aquatic plants and invasive species from your watercraft.
  • Drain all water from the watercraft by removing drain plugs to prevent hitchhiking during transport. 
  • Dispose of unused or unwanted bait in the trash. 
  • Dry water-related equipment for a minimum of 21 days before placing it into a new body of water. 

The effects of zebra mussels

Some native mollusk species live within Minnesota’s lakes. However, zebra mussels and other invasive species do not have the same effects as these native mollusks. One of the most damaging impacts of zebra mussels is that they filter out algae needed for food by native species. 

Beyond that ecosystem impact, that are several other ways zebra mussels negatively affect the environment they invade: 

  • Cause cuts and scrapes for pets and people enjoying the waters. 
  • Crowding out native mussels and, in most cases, killing them by attaching to them. 
  • Coating and clogging pipes or water intakes creating costly problems for residents, power plants, and cities. 
  • Creating water toxicity like botulism that is caused by clostridium botulinum bacteria. Zebra and other invasive mussels filter out phytoplankton and suspend solids in the water, lowering oxygen levels triggering bacteria growth. 

Zebra mussels are not the only invasive species contributing to these problems, but they are one of the most rapidly spreading as they only take one year to mature. All invasive species cause extensive economic, recreational, and ecological damage to Minnesota lakes and rivers. 

How to remove zebra mussels 

The good news is that not only can we prevent the spread, but zebra mussels can be removed. 

Waterfront Restoration offers two different zebra mussel extraction techniques:

  1. Swimming area extraction
  2. Lake irrigation extraction

For both of these types of extraction, we use specialized scraping tools to remove the mussels. You can also use Zequanox, which is the only other way to get rid of zebra mussels besides scraping them off. You can remove the mussels by yourself, but it is a time-consuming and tedious process that is very difficult without the proper equipment. There is no permit requirement for removing them. However, permits are only required for transporting invasive mussels

The Waterfront Restoration removal process consists of removing weeds and rocks around the dock that the zebra mussels have attached to. Using this method takes time, so we cannot extract mussels from very large areas, but this removal process works well for homeowners

Let’s Connect & Get to the Root of Your Problem!

It is important to control these invasive species early on to help stop the spread. Call Waterfront Restoration to schedule a free no-obligation in-person or virtual consultation. Any of our WR team members welcome the opportunity to walk you through our programs, capabilities, and pricing options for zebra mussel removal. 

Located in the Twin Cities, call Waterfront Restoration today at 952-356-0614. 

Located in the Brainerd Lakes area, call us at 218-210-2003.