Picture this: It is the middle of the session at camp, it is by far the hottest day yet, and you are finally going to be able to go jump in the lake. You sign in at the buddy board, and you and your buddy do your best excited walk to the end of the dock and jump in the refreshing water. After an hour jumping off the swing, playing on the swim mats, and escaping the heat, the whistle blows and it is time to get out of the lake. As you climb up the ladder and onto the dock, you feel something sharp against your hand. Although you are fine, you are still annoyed by the pain and wonder what it could have been? The answer of course is the only thing in the lake that competes with swimmers itch as the most annoying part of Whitefish Lake….Zebra Mussels. Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming more and more common each year, and in more lakes in our area. Zebra Mussels are causing chaos in lakes all across Minnesota, and while they are annoying to swimmers they cause much bigger problems than scratching hands and feet. These invasive species are disrupting the habitats in our lake and are a threat to the lake that we know and love. Also, while Zebra Mussels are the most visible and common threat to our area at camp, unfortunately they are not the only invasive species that has come to our area. As the years go on, these species have becomes issues that can no longer be ignored. While they may be around to stay for the foreseeable future, we want to give a little information about them and share a few things we can all do to help out!
Let’s start with the Elephant (in this case Zebra) in the room. Zebra Mussels are native to Eastern Europe and Western Russia. They made their way over to the United States in the ballast water of ships who traveled through the Great Lakes. Since then they have slowly spread to more and more lakes around the area. An adult Zebra Mussel is only about the size of your fingernail, but it begins as a free swimming specimen that is only 0.1millimeters in diameter. A Zebra Mussel can live up to 5 days in dry conditions, but more than 21 days if it is out of water in a wet place. For this reason, they have spread when boats, live wells, fishing equipment, or anything else is taken from one lake to another. If this equipment is still wet or has not been dry for more than 5 days. In the larvae stage, Zebra Mussels will find something hard to attach to. It could be anything from a rock to a boat lift. Here they will grow into adulthood, where an adult can produce up to 1,000,000 eggs per year. These animals grow at an alarming rate once they have a foothold in a body of water. Zebra Mussels filter out nutrients in the water that disrupts the native food chain. Everything from snails searching for food to Eagles circling for fish from the sky feel the effects of the Zebra Mussels. They also have a large economic impact, as they can attach to boats, docks, and lifts causing very costly repairs. Since Zebra Mussels are also a nuisance to swimmers it deters people from visiting lakes with mussels, which has a negative impact on resorts and those looking to sell their homes. Once Zebra Mussels have gotten a foothold in a body of water, it is very hard to remove them and they will likely always be there in some form or another. However, there are ways to slow their growth and prevent them from spreading to other lakes. These simple steps can help protect our environment from these annoying little creatures:
1. Inspect all equipment that has been in contact with the water, look for evidence of Zebra Mussels.
2. Drain all water from your boats, live wells, or any other equipment you used
3. Clean and dry all equipment that has been in contact with the water. Do not let your wash water flow into any body of water or storm sewer.
4. Dry boats and trailers in the sun for at least five days before launching them into another body of water.
We can all help prevent the spread of Zebra Mussels. Lets work together!