Invasive zebra mussels found in Michigan pet stores, feds say

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Michigan is among 21 states where federal officials are warning about potentially destructive shellfish being sold in pet stores.

On Feb. 25, an employee of a pet store in Seattle filed a report to the U.S. Geological Survey's Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database after recognizing a zebra mussel in a moss ball, representatives said in a Monday statement. Further investigation turned up the invasive species in stores in 21 other states.

The Geological Survey agency couldn't immediately identify which pet stores in Michigan were found to have the zebra mussels in the moss balls.

Geological Survey fisheries biologist Wesley Daniel told us for now all moss balls should be treated as potentially containing zebra mussels and properly destroyed and disposed of," Geological Survey spokesman Jason Burton said in a Monday email.

Zebra mussels are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk native to freshwaters in Eurasia that can clog water intakes and have prompted response from authorities and others to halt their spread. They also have spread throughout the Great Lakes. Moss balls are ornamental plants imported from Ukraine that are often added to aquariums, according to the federal agency.

Daniel, who coordinates the Geological Survey's database, alerted federal invasive species managers about his initial discovery. He also found a zebra mussel in a moss ball at a Gainesville, Florida, pet shop, according to the agency.

“The issue is that somebody who purchased the moss ball and then disposed of them could end up introducing zebra mussels into an environment where they weren’t present before,” he said in a statement. “We’ve been working with many agencies on boat inspections and gear inspections, but this was not a pathway we’d been aware of until now.”

A moss ball sold in pet stores containing an invasive zebra mussel

Amid concerns that the moss balls with zebra mussels could have accidentally spread the pest to previously untouched areas, federal agencies, state officials and the pet store industry are working to remove the pieces from pet store shelves nationwide and have developed decontamination instructions.

Consumers who bought the moss balls or have them in aquariums are instructed to decontaminate them by freezing them for at least 24 hours, placing in boiling water for at least one minute or in diluted chlorine bleach, or submerging in undiluted white vinegar for at least 20 minutes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, state wildlife agencies and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council are also taking steps to mitigate the problem. National alerts have gone out from the Fish & Wildlife Service, the federal Aquatic Nuisance Task and regional aquatic invasive species management groups.

Other states with reports of zebra mussels in moss balls include Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Washington and Wyoming.

To report a suspected sighting of a zebra mussel or another non-indigenous aquatic plant or animal, go to https://nas.er.usgs.gov/SightingReport.aspx

mhicks@detroitnews.com