The mussel problem
Montana FWP finds record number of mussel boats
Montana has a mussel problem. Last week invasive mussels were found on two boats in Eastern Montana. According to a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department press release, this marks boat #38 found carrying invasive mussels. Just a week prior, mussels were found on a boat headed through Yellowstone National Park, according to Yellowstone Public Affairs. This marks the first mussel boat of the season in YNP, however this problem is spreading throughout the state, into our area as well. These boats were found carrying Quagga mussels which are one of two invasive mussels to the state of Montana. The other of which is the Zebra mussel.
Both the Quagga and Zebra mussels are related to one another. They are native to the Black sea and Caspian sea in Eastern Europe. They traveled to North America and throughout the majority of the country by living in dormant water trapped in the organisms to attach themselves to just about any surface. This is how they are able to attach themselves to boats so frequently.
Both the Quagga and Zebra mussels also have the unique ability to close their shell and survive up to 30 days without water. This allows them to spread quickly and live in environments without water for long stretches.
These mussels are incredibly invasive to Montana's environments. While both mussels can grow to be the size of your thumbnail, they are most dangerous in their larvae state. It is at this time that these organisms are invisible to the eye because they are so small. They are free floating in any body of water. This is frequently the state the mussels are in when they are introduced to new, according to the Montana FWP website.
Both mussels can do serious ecological damage when they are fully developed. In the Montana environment they have no natural predators, therefore their growth can be quite extreme. They also don’t experience the intense weather conditions that they do in their native environments.
This allows these organisms to reproduce rapidly and overrun other important native species. Quagga and Zebra mussels can interrupt Montana’s fragile aquatic food chain and diminish multiple important populations of fish. This issue does not limit itself to boaters coming from out of state. Boaters from across Montana could be susceptible to spreading aquatic invasive species such as Quagga or Zebra mussels.