From Russia, With Ballast

During a recent fishing trip, my crappie jig snagged a small, striped shell. I placed it in an empty water bottle and sent a photo to Dr. Jim Long at Oklahoma State University to confirm my suspicions.

“This is significant,” he stated as he verified it as a zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha).

Native to the Caspian Sea, this tiny critter hitchhiked in the ballast of a ship. Well, not this particular mussel, but its ancestors did. And not that long ago. “Great, great grandpa zebra mussel” (life span may average about 6 years) disembarked from a freighter in the Great Lakes by about 1990. Since then, Oklahoma has listed 20 lakes as having zebra mussel populations. Now, thanks to a slow day of fishing and rather unorthodox bivalve sampling methods, Lake McMurtry is #21.

Biologists are concerned because zebra mussels can dramatically alter their environment with staggering numbers. These filter feeders can outcompete native mussels and larval fish for plankton. Plus, they clog pumping equipment for municipalities. Freshwater drum and channel catfish consume these mollusks, but cannot control the population.

To minimize the spread and effect of these and other invasive species, take these precautions such as cleaning and drying your boat between different bodies of water. Zebra mussels can live out of water for several days. And if they happen to be hitting minnow tipped crappie jigs in your lake, report it on the NAS Alert System. By gathering this biological data, hopefully we can learn how to control and manage these uninvited guests.

For more information on invasive species, click here.

Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.