By TODD GLASSCOCK
Some muscles are alluring. Other mussels, when cooked in dishes like linguine and clams, for instance, are tasty. Boaters heading out to area lakes and rivers this time of year, however, should be aware that one species of mussel – the zebra mussel – is not alluring or tasty, and can pose a threat to the environment and to native species.
These small freshwater creatures, originally from the Balkans, hitchhike from waterway to waterway on boats and other watercraft, said biologist Tom Lang with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Wichita Falls District Fisheries Office that oversees Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Palo Pinto and Lake Mineral Wells.
They are more than a nuisance, he said. They reproduce rapidly, usually forming large clusters between 30,000 and 1 million, and can encrust boats, clog pipelines at water pump stations and create other environmental hazards.
Their shells are also razor sharp and can injure swimmers, Lang said.
Because they are filter feeders, and have no native natural predators, he said, they threaten the food chain from the bottom up, rapidly eating up and covering vegetation and other nutrient-rich food sources that small fish and other aquatic animals rely upon.
“When you cover the bottom, you lower the top,” he said of the mussels interfering with the food chain.
While most fish won't eat them, some do, he said, but they are largely indigestible and often survive through the fish's digestive tract to be expelled back into the water.
The mussels can be easily transported from waterway to waterway by boats and other watercraft, he said, and this time of year, as more boaters hit area lakes and rivers such as Possum Kingdom and the Brazos for fishing and recreation, these waterways have a greater risk of mussel invasion.
And this is why boaters should carefully clean, dry and drain their vehicles, he said.