Mini mussels cause major problems

Mini mussels cause major problems

Mini mussels cause major problems
September 12
08:04 2013

Javier Navarro / Intern

Researchers at the UNT Health and Science Center in Fort Worth may have found a way to control the damage done by miniature mollusks making their way into lakes in north Texas.

Zebra mussels are sharp, clam-like mollusks that are about the size of a fingernail that can cause damage by blocking pipelines and clogging water supply. The invasive species has shown up in lakes around north Texas such as Lake Lewisville, Lake Ray Roberts and Lake Texoma.

According to associate professor of the Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience Dr. John Schetz, the UNTHSC is researching environmentally safe ways to reduce the number of zebra mussels with a simple plan – prevent them from sticking on surfaces.

“We have in fact developed surface chemistries that prevent barnacle glues from hardening, thus the glues don’t work,” Schetz said. “We believe we can use the same process that we developed to inhibit barnacle cement to prevent zebra mussel glue from curing.”

Schetz said the glue from barnacles works similarly to cement, and with the researchers already having a way to prevent the barnacle from hardening, they believe that they can do the same thing for zebra mussels.

James H, Kennedy, Regents Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of Elm Fork Education Center and Natural Heritage Museum, explains zebra mussels by comparing with a Uniondale. Kennedy and his students were the first to discover zebra mussels in the Trinity River. -- Photo by Xizian Chen / Intern

“There is a free-flowing, uncured glue component and then there’s a hardener component,” Schetz said. “Our surface chemistries prevent the hardener component of the barnacle cement from working.”

Zebra mussels were first discovered in the Black and Caspian Sea in the 1700s, and arrived in the United States around the late 1980s from the water of ships that went into the great lakes. They attached onto boats and ships moving across the country.

The invasive species ultimately made its way into Texas and started to become a problem in north Texas about three years ago, Biology professor James Kennedy said.

“The first evidence of the adult zebra mussel that we saw here came from the inner base of transfer of water from Lake Texoma into a stream that went into Lake Lavon,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the zebra mussels were originally thought to exist only in colder climates due to being unable to adapt to the hotter environment, but that is not the case, and the species is quickly populating.

“They’ve got that genetic capability and that variability in their populations. It’s become fairly easy for them to adapt, and I don’t think temperature is going to be a problem here,” Kennedy said.

The damage from zebra mussels can be costly. According to an article by the Huffington Post, between 2000 and 2010 the species cost water users in the Great Lakes region $5 billion.

Kennedy also said that not only do the zebra mussels cause damage to pipes and boats, they can also damage the ecosystem.

“They do a very efficient job of pulling particles out of the water and in those particles can be inorganic substrate,” Kennedy said. “It’s what we call particular organic carbon – which is organic material, broken down pieces of leaves, those sorts of things – that form the base of the food chain for a lot of the partisan insects that are in the river itself.”

Over the past summer, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Departement announced zebra mussels were discovered in Lake Lewisville near the dam and cautioned boaters to clean, drain and dry their boats.

David McIntyre, sales manager at the Slalom Shop Boats and Yachts at Eagle Point Marina, said the marinas are being more cautious before boats get into the water and boaters should continue to inspect their boats.

“Make sure you do an inspection of your boat, make sure zebra mussels don’t attach themselves through them,” McIntyre said. “Make sure everything is clean and scraped off before you move it into another body of water.”

McIntyre also said that the zebra mussels aren’t as a big of a problem to the lakes right now as some make it seem.

“I think it’s a little blown out of proportion to be quite honest,” McIntyre said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s something for everybody in the business and community to be aware of, but it’s not like you put your boat in the water for a day or two and you pull them out and you see zebra mussels all over them.”

Schetz said that there are also education programs by the Department of Fish and Wildlife that can instruct boaters to the proper ways to inspect their boats.

Feature photo by Zixian Chen / Intern 

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