Oklahoma's Lake Murray now home to large populations of invasive zebra mussels

Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say Lake Murray is now home to significant populations of zebra mussels, a non-native aquatic nuisance species that threatens the state's waters with invasion.

"Zebra mussels are a serious threat because they're not native, but yet they compete with native species for resources," said Curtis Tackett, aquatic nuisance species biologist for the Wildlife Department. "Along with harming populations of native aquatic wildlife, they can also damage water intake structures and clog up waterways."

Zebra mussels potentially pose a multi-billion-dollar threat to industrial and public water supplies. Through both downstream movement and transport by hitchhiking a ride on boats, zebra mussels have infested several lakes in Oklahoma, but only recently have they been discovered in south-central Oklahoma's Lake Murray.

According to Tackett, water samples collected at Lake Murray last spring turned up no evidence of zebra mussels in the Carter Co. lake, which demonstrates how quickly they spread.

"One female zebra mussel can produce up to one million offspring per year, and they can begin to reproduce within a few weeks of settling," Tackett said.

The adult mussels face little competition and few predators, and even those that are consumed by large fish can sometimes survive the digestion process and remain a threat even after being preyed upon and digested.

Zebra mussels can also be transported in their larval form through the movement of water from one lake to another, or on boats that leave one infested lake and enter another before being washed. Currently zebra mussels can be found in more than 20 lakes across the state.

According to Tackett, boaters can play an important role in halting the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species by inspecting boats, trailers and equipment for the mussels or for mud, plant fragments, seeds and any other organisms from the water and removing them. They should also drain water from boats, motors, bilges, live wells, bait containers, coolers and ballasts. Finally, they can help by pressure washing boats, trailers and equipment with hot water (140 degrees). Tackett said if a boater is unable to pressure wash their equipment, they should allow it to dry thoroughly for at least five days before visiting a new body of water.

For more information about aquatic nuisance species or how to help halt their spread, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

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