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Zebra mussels found in NM moss balls

This zebra mussel was found in a moss ball sold in pet stores. The mussels have been reported in the aquarium plants in New Mexico and at least 20 other states. (Courtesy of USGS)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexicans might want to check their fish tanks for unwelcome visitors.

New Mexico is one of 21 states where zebra mussels have been found in aquarium moss balls sold at pet stores, the U.S. Geological Survey said this week.

The freshwater invasive species is a fingernail-sized mollusk native to Europe and Asia.

Clusters of the striped mussels can clog pipes at power plants and water treatment plants. They also threaten aquatic wildlife by filtering algae that other small organisms need for food and attaching themselves to native mussels.

Wesley Daniel, a USGS fisheries biologist who monitors invasive species, was notified earlier this month that green algae balls with mussels had been found at pet stores in Gainesville, Florida, and Seattle.

The mollusks have since been reported in aquarium plants across the country.

“The issue is that somebody who purchased the moss ball and then disposed of them could end up introducing zebra mussels into an environment where they weren’t present before,” Daniel said. “We’ve been working with many agencies on boat inspections and gear inspections, but this was not a pathway we’d been aware of until now.”

A team of federal and state agencies is responding to the issue.

New Mexico Game and Fish used genetic analysis to confirm zebra mussels at some big-box stores, said James Dominguez, the department’s aquatic invasive species coordinator.

“They reproduce quickly and have the ability to clog infrastructure like dams and agriculture irrigation gates, pipes and drinking water infrastructure,” Dominguez said. “It would be devastating to our economy and our outdoor recreation if these mussels made it into our waterways. States spend a ton of money to control these mussels.”

PetSmart and Petco stores nationwide have stopped selling the products.

Game and Fish requires boat inspections and sometimes decontamination of boats entering the state to prevent invasive mussels from hitching a ride into New Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New Mexico Game and Fish recommends three ways to destroy the mussels: freezing the moss balls in a plastic bag for at least 48 hours, placing in boiling water for one minute, or submerging in chlorine bleach or undiluted white vinegar for 20 minutes.

“Even at adult size, these mussels are pretty small, so we’re recommending that people treat the moss balls whether or not they can see a mussel,” Dominguez said.

The plant should then be thrown in the trash in a sealed plastic bag.

Aquariums should be thoroughly cleaned. Liquid used to kill the mussels should not be poured down drains, toiletsor in the streets. The water can be poured on grass or dirt.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.


Zebra mussels can clog boat equipment and pipes and threaten native aquatic wildlife. The invasive species has been found in aquarium plants in New Mexico and 20 other states. (Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife)

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