Florida’s Latest Invasive Species
By: Kyle Grammatica
The Sunshine State has a new invasive species to worry about: zebra mussels. Zebra mussels are native to Southeastern Europe. They have triangular brownish shells that are striped; they typically grow no bigger than an inch in size. Zebra mussels are considered one of the most troublesome invasive species in the United States. In their larval stage, the mussels live freely in the water column, allowing them to be easily transported. Adult zebra mussels can stay alive for several days outside of water and are common hitchhikers on boats, fishing equipment, and aquarium plants. These factors allow them to spread at an alarming rate.
In March 2021, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was informed that moss balls imported into Florida for the aquarium trade were contaminated with zebra mussels and their microscopic larvae. Zebra mussels and their larvae may not be noticeable on the moss balls, meaning any purchased could have the invasive species attached.
Zebra mussels clog pipelines used for water filtration, render beaches unusable, and damage boats. They can also have harmful effects on native aquatic organisms. These filter feeders will outcompete other native species in rivers and lakes, and the waste they produce accumulates and degrades the environment by using up oxygen, making the water acidic, and producing toxic byproducts.
Zebra mussels have not yet become established in Florida, and action is required to ensure things stay this way. If you are an aquarium owner, please do not purchase new moss balls and dispose of purchased moss balls by following these instructions. Remember to never dump aquarium water into our waterways. The water may harbor zebra mussel larvae or the larvae of other invasive species. Instead, dispose of tank water on the ground far away from any waterways or water bodies.
Unfortunately, Florida’s subtropical climate makes it an ideal place for many non-native species to become established. We work with FWC and partners around Florida to create innovative and effective invasive species management strategies. Help us fight the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels.