City Cast

The Invading Mussels Clogging Lake Mead

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on July 18
Photo of very many quagga mussels

We can’t even eat these invaders; they retain too many toxins from the water they filter. (Dave Britton/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

These invaders are trouble — it’s right there in the lumpy sound of their name: quagga mussels. Ugh. They’re not native to North America, but they’re in waterways all over the continent — including Lake Mead. Reproducing in huge numbers, they colonize intake pipes and other industrial structures; they junk up boat engines. They feed, voraciously, each adult “filtering one or more liters of water each day,” removing the organisms that native species feed on. And this relentless eating clears up the water, which isn’t the upside it sounds like: “Improved water clarity increases light penetration (which can) alter the entire ecosystem.”

And there’s not been much we can do about them. Once these suckers establish a slimy foothold, there’s no financially viable way (chemicals, predators) to eradicate them. However, the Interior Department has been funding research in what this article describes as some promising directions: sequencing the quagga genome to find exploitable weaknesses or  infecting them with mussel-specific diseases — what could possibly go wrong with that?

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