The zebra mussel is one of the most economically damaging aquatic organisms to invade the United States. Its destructive power lies in its sheer numbers and its ability to attach itself to solid objects – water intake pipes, propellers, boat hulls, dock pilings, submerged rocks and even other aquatic animals. Zebra mussel populations can reach astonishing densities, up to 750,000 individuals per square meter in layers more than a foot thick.
- Damage to water systems
Zebra mussels are responsible for millions of dollars in economic losses to municipal and industrial water delivery systems and power plants. Colonies of zebra mussels clog filters, pipes, pumps, and power plant cooling systems. In the coming decade, they pose a multibillion-dollar threat to industrial and public drinking water supplies.
- Threats to natural areas and other wildlife
Native mussels, fish and wildlife are also threatened. Zebra mussels consume available food and alter the ecology of infested waters. They are a direct threat to native mussels, accumulating on their shells in sufficient numbers to smother their hosts. In infested waters, they can wash up on beaches, covering them with thousands of broken sharp shells. The dead mussels create a foul smell.
- Problems for boats
Zebra mussels can ruin boat engines by growing in the cooling system intakes and blocking water flow. They can also jam steering equipment.