Texas is being invaded by an aquatic menace. No, I’m not talking about Alligators or Barracudas, I’m talking about Zebra mussels. At the very least you’ve probably heard that name in passing, as scientists and state officials alike have labeled them the scourge of Texas lakes and waterways.

But what exactly is a Zebra mussel? Robert McMahon, is a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“They’re Bivalve – the whole group of … mollusks that include clams, mussels, and oysters,” he says. “They’re only about a max of an inch long, maybe two inches long.”

On the surface that doesn’t sound very scary. But the problem is that they are an aggressive invasive species. When they get into a body of water, they populate rapidly, and filter out algae at an astronomical rate, effectively changing the entire ecosystem in their wake. They also pose a very human-centered problem.

“You can imagine now when they build up in power plant intakes or any kind of raw water intake – intake to a potable water treatment plant or an industrial plant,” McMahon says. “They impede flow, and in small diameter piping they can actually block flow.”

To make matters worse – Zebra mussel larvae is microscopic. They often hitch rides on boats and hop from lake to lake. Once they enter a body of water, there is no known way to get rid of the pests. It’s for this reason that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has ramped up an aggressive public information campaign targeting boaters – going so far as to post warnings on billboards and on boat ramps. They’re even circulating videos like this one:

It’s a little weird, but even still – it makes a good point. Brian Vanzee is an inland fisheries director for the Texas Parks Wildlife Department. He says that for boaters, preventing the spread of zebra mussels doesn’t take a lot of time.

“If [boaters] take the time at the boat ramp, if they go through and make sure they clean off any mud, debris or vegetation – make sure there isn’t anything hanging off the boat,” Vanzee says. Next thing is drain all water. Go ahead and pull the plug out of the boat, and basically just have no water left in the boat.”

Vanzee says boaters should let their boats dry, which is an effective way of killing a lot of the invasive species that can spread from lake to lake.

“Those three steps of cleaning it, draining, and drying your boat will go along way in preventing the spread of invasive species in the state,” he says.

Vanzee says that as of late – the campaign has been working well. It also probably doesn’t hurt that it’s currently against the law to knowingly or unknowingly transport zebra mussel into a lake or river – an offense that is a class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500 dollars.

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