A striped invasive species has found its way into the U.S. and Texas is not immune.
The Zebra mussel — a freshwater mussel similar to a clam — is overtaking lakes throughout North Texas. Fortunately, Ellis County has yet to be invaded.
The mussel has black stripes and is about the size of an adult’s thumbnail. It is an invasive species that is non-native to American ecosystems and harms the ecosystems they are incorporated into, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Zebra mussels were brought into the U.S. in the 1980s from Asia through the Great Lakes, explained Richard Ott, Inland Fisheries District Project Leader at the Tyler South District of Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“They’re filter feeders,” Ott said. “Because they are so efficient, they can basically sterilize an entire body of water.”
Ecosystems with the mussel introduced may cause the extinction to native plants and animals, destroy biodiversity and alter habitats, according to the USDA.
Along with altering the native organisms and habitat, the mussels can clog pipes and interfere with residents’ water source which can cause an odor, Ott said.
Texas Parks and Wildlife measure the level of Zebra mussels in lakes based on if there is an infestation, a detection of the species and if a lake is suspect to having the mussel.
Fifteen Texas lakes are classified as fully infested with the striped mussel, which means it has an established and reproducing population, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife. Six of those lakes are found in North Texas including Bridgeport, Dean Gilbert (a community fishing lake in Sherman), Eagle Mountain, Lewisville, Ray Roberts and Texoma.
Nine other Texas lakes tested positive for Zebra Mussels, which means either the mussel or its larvae have been detected on more than one occasion. Five of the lakes can be found in North Texas: Fishing Hole Lake (Dallas), Lake Grapevine, Richland-Chambers Reservoir (Navarro County) and Lake Worth (Fort Worth).
“The problem is the larvae are microscopic,” Ott said. “You can’t tell if it’s in the water or not.”
Fall and spring are prime seasons for the Zebra mussel to reproduce because the water is not too hot or cold. Ott said the water conditions make for a suitable habitat for their larvae.
This is why it is illegal to move water from one lake to another for fear of contamination an otherwise clean body of water, Ott explained.
With these lakes close to Lake Waxahachie and Lake Bardwell, the Ellis County bodies of water could be at risk. That risk comes when a boat travels from an infected body of water to a non-infected body without being cleaned and dried prior to being dropped, Ott said.
The striped mussel attaches itself to the bottom of boats, and if a boat is not properly cleaned before being placed in another lake, it can transfer the small mussels, Ott added.
To limit the mussel infestation, people are required to drain all water from boats and onboard receptacles before going into another body of water, Ott said. He noted that boats and trailers must be cleaned and dried before being used again.
John Smith, Waxahachie Parks and Recreation director, said Lake Waxahachie is not infested because people have been cleaning their boats.
He said about 200 boats a week enter into the lake but did note there are currently no officials monitoring the lake to ensure boats are clean upon entering.
If the mussels are detected, Smith said he would report it to Texas Parks and Wildlife then follow their process.
“We’d do whatever we can to prevent the spread of the mussels,” Smith said.
Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty