Zebra Mussel


Scientific name: Dreissena polymorpha
Common name(s): Zebra Mussel

Zebra Mussels on a RockThe picture to the right shows a bunch of Zebra Mussels attached to a rock. The Zebra Mussels aren't native to Minnesota. And, they've become a problem wherever they show up in the United States.

So, why are they a problem? Well, look at the picture below and see how they've massed on top of the larger clam, which is native to Minnesota. If you had 10 friends pile on top of you, do you think it would be hard to breath? That's exactly what the Zebra Mussels do. Their massive numbers literally suffocate any other animals they cling to.

Did you know that one female Zebra Mussel can produce 30,000 eggs in one year? That's a lot of mussels! And that many Zebra Mussels eating and taking up space makes it difficult for native clams and other aquatic life to find food and space to live. In some places in the Mississippi River, there are more than 100,000 zebra mussels per square yard!

Zebra Mussels on top of native musselZebra Mussels are also a problem for many industries. They clog up water pipes and add lots of weight to other items floating in the water, from boats to buoys.

In Minnesota, the Zebra Mussel was first found in Lake Superior in 1988. Since then, they have spread to major waterways, including the Mississippi River downstream from the Twin Cities.

What You Can Do

Often times, Zebra Mussels get into other waterways, such as lakes and rivers, through our boats! So, whenever you take your boat out of the water, check it over and make sure there aren't any Zebra Mussels attached to it. And, if you've left you minnow bucket in the water overnight, be sure to check for Zebra Mussels inside it before you take it to another lake.

Are They Good for Anything?

Well, that's a good question. People are starting to think about how they can use Zebra Mussels because they have two qualities that could come in handy in certain situations:

  1. They filter water -- that's what mussels and clams do. One adult Zebra Mussel can filter one quart of water each day. Filtering water is how they get their food. During the filtering process, they remove particulates, vegetative matter and contaminants from the water.
  2. They reproduce in huge numbers. One adult female can lay 30,000 eggs in one year.

Some of the creative ways being tested to use Zebra Mussels include:

  • Water filtration. They remove lots of contaminants and help purify water.
  • Livestock feed. Pigs will eat just about anything and Zebra Mussels are a good source of protein.
  • Water treatment in livestock manure lagoons.

Zebra Mussels are very adaptable and successful nonnative aquatic creatures that are starting to inhabit Minnesota's waterways more and more. Be sure that you don't accidentally bring them into other waterways on your boat or minnow buckets. And, if you're creative, maybe you can help us find ways to use these interesting creatures!

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Bivalvia
Subclass: Heterodonta
Order: Veneroida
Superfamily: Dreissenoidea
Family: Dreissenidae

Coloring Page

Zebra Mussel Coloring Page
Zebra Mussel
gif or PDF icon pdf file

More coloring pages are available!

More Info

Want to know more about Minnesota's water? Check out our Water page and find out more about the quality of Minnesota's water.

The creature highlighted on this page was collected by MPCA's Water Quality Lab. This lab samples and analyzes water from around Minnesota.