Wildlife agencies urging aquarium owners to be on lookout for invasive zebra mussels

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The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and other wildlife agencies around the country are urging stores who sell aquarium products to remove a “moss ball” aquarium plant product from their shelves and for customers to dispose of the contaminated product after invasive zebra mussels have been found “hitchhiking” on these products in Texas and othe rstates around the country, according to a press release.

“Petco stores have been working diligently to remove these products from their shelves and I have informed PetSmart of the presence of zebra mussels within this product,” said Jarret Barker, TPWD Assistant Law Enforcement Commander, in the press release. “We urge any other pet and aquarium or retail store selling these ‘moss balls’ to remove this product from shelves and discontinue future sale.”

These “moss balls” are a species of algae that form green balls up to a few inches in diameter. They are sold as an aquarium plant under names such as:

•“Beta Buddy Marimo Balls,”

•“Mini Marimo Moss Balls,”

• and “Marimo Moss Ball Plant.”

They may be sold separately or provided with the sale of Betta fish. These moss balls are believed to have been imported from the Ukraine and distributed across the continental U.S.

What are Zebra mussels?

Zebra mussels are small shellfish with triangular, brownish shells, often with zebra stripes. They may be attached to or growing inside the moss balls. They are very small, reach no more than an inch in size; the individuals found on the moss balls in Texas were less than a quarter of an inch long.

Zebra mussels are highly invasive, causing economic and ecological damage when released into the wild, and these aquarium products pose a risk of this species being introduced into new water bodies, causing serious harm.

“Zebra mussels have already been introduced into many Texas lakes and are causing changes to the ecosystem along with damage to boats, water supply and control infrastructure,” said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director, in the release.

What should aquarium owners do?

Aquarium owners are urged to stop buying this product and to safely dispose of any that have already been purchased.

This can be done safely by:

•Completely drying, freezing, or placing the moss balls into a plastic zipper bag and then disposing of it in a garbage bag.

•Aquarium water should be replaced, and filters/cartridges replaced or disinfected.

•Aquarium water can be disinfected prior to disposal by adding one cup of bleach per gallon and allowing it to sit for 10 minutes before disposing the water down the drain.

•This method can also be used to disinfect gravel, filter and other structures, and is highly recommended if zebra mussels are found attached to the moss or in the aquarium.

Aquarium dumping and invasive species:

Aquarium dumping is a well-known pathway for introduction of aquatic invasive species as well-meaning pet owners release unwanted pets, unintentionally causing harm to native fish and wildlife. This includes not only the fish, but also aquarium plants and organisms like the zebra mussels that may be hitchhiking on these plants.

Aquarium owners are urged to never dump their tanks and to learn more about alternatives to aquarium dumping by visiting the TexasInvasives website.


Featured photo:

“Zebra Mussel cluster” by NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


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