What is a zebra mussel?

TEXAS - Zebra mussels, an invasive species, have officially made their way into Lake Travis. And this news has many of you wondering what a zebra mussel is exactly and how can something so small cause so much damage.

According to Texas Invasives, one zebra mussel can produce up to one million microscopic larvae, which in return cause tremendous environmental and economic damage by hurting aquatic life, damaging boats, hindering water recreation and even threatening the water supply.

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Invasive zebra mussels confirmed in Lake Travis

Because their larvae are so small, and adults only grow to less than two inches in length, they can be hard to detect. They can survive for days in water trapped in boats where they can encrust boat hulls, clog water systems, air conditioners and heads.

In addition to damaging your boat, Texas Invasives said zebra mussels, which are known for their distinctive zebra-striped shell, are dangerous for many other reasons. They can disrupt water supplies by colonizing inside pipelines and damaging water intake structures that provide water to thousands of homes and businesses. They can also take over habitats from native species, damaging lake ecology and affecting fish populations.

While many lakes have tested positive for zebra mussels, Texas Invasives said the following lakes are classified as “infested” with zebra mussels:

- Belton
- Bridgeport
- Canyon
- Dean Gilbert
- Eagle Mountain
- Lewisville
- Ray Roberts
- Randell
- Stillhouse Hollow
- Texoma
- Travis

Texas Parks & Wildlife also offers a map outlining infested, positive and suspect waterways in Texas.

Texas Invasives reports that possession or transportation of zebra mussels in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor for the first offense, punishable by a fine of up to $500. Repeat offenders can be punished with a Class B misdemeanor that comes with a fine of up to $2,000, jail time up to 180 days or both.

To avoid the spread of this invasive species, effective July 1, boaters are required to drain all water from their vessels, including live wells, bilges, motors and other receptacles, before leaving or approaching a body of water.

Texas Invasives offers the following tips to help boaters remove any traces of zebra mussels and their larvae:

- Clean boats, trailers and gear by removing all plants, animals and foreign objects.
- Drain all water from the boat, including the motor, bilge, live wells and bait buckets before leaving the lake.
- Dry the boat and trailer for a week or more before entering another body of water. If unable to let it dry for at least a week, wash it with a high-pressure washer and soapy water that is at least 140 degrees.

For an extensive biological description of the zebra mussel, go here.

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