Look out for zebra mussels in home aquariums, says invasive species group

·2 min read
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service tweeted a picture of one of the invasive species recently found on popular aquarium plants known as moss balls, originally shipped from pet suppliers in Europe. (B.C. Conservation Officer Service - image credit)
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service tweeted a picture of one of the invasive species recently found on popular aquarium plants known as moss balls, originally shipped from pet suppliers in Europe. (B.C. Conservation Officer Service - image credit)

The Invasive Species Council of New Brunswick are asking New Brunswickers to keep a close eye on their aquariums for any sign of zebra mussels.

The zebra mussel, an invasive species known to damage infrastructure, may have gotten into aquariums by hitching a ride on moss balls, a type of algae aquarium owners often add to beta and shrimp tanks.

"It's just a very common aquarium addition," said Kristin Elton, project coordinator for the council.

Elton said the mussel has already been found on moss balls at a New Brunswick pet store and one in Nova Scotia, but they've also been found at pet stores across Canada and the United States.

"A lot of our pet stores get their shipments from the same supplier," said Elton.

"That's one of the things that everyone is trying to figure out is exactly how many of these contaminated moss balls have made it to the province."

Elton said zebra mussels are considered one of the worst invasive species on the planet and they can cause a lot of damage if released into the wild.

"They multiply extremely quickly, they take over areas to the point where they damage infrastructure, clog water pipes, endanger native species," said Elton.

"They drastically alter ecosystems because they're filter feeders, which means that when there's so many of them, they filter so much out of the water, they leave nothing else."

Checking moss balls

Elton suggests aquarium owners check their moss balls for any sign of the mussel, but warns they can be difficult to detect.

"They're not like the mussels you think of when you order them in a restaurant," said Elton.

"They can be very tiny ... no bigger than your thumbnail when they're full grown."

If a moss ball is found to be contaminated, Elton said steps should be taken to ensure any zebra mussel is destroyed before the moss ball is thrown away.

"What they should be doing is ... boiling it in water for at least a minute," said Elton.

"Or you can put it in the freezer in a bag for 24 to 48 hours and then disposing of it in a bag within the trash."

After the moss ball is destroyed, it's important to check on the remaining water in the tank.

"We're asking people to also disinfect their aquariums and especially the water before they throw it down the drain so that we prevent anything from making it to our natural water bodies," said Elton.

Elton said anyone who does find a moss ball contaminated with zebra mussels should report it to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.