AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Invasive species” might sound a little sci-fi, but they’re actually a real problem here in Central Texas. They’re not aliens from another planet, but rather tiny creatures that grow in our area lakes. 

We’re talking Zebra mussels.

According to Monica McGarrity, Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species Management at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Zebra mussels are definitely the most problematic and they’re very prolific in the state. One of the two of the worst invasive species in the state.”

Zebra mussels are a tiny mollusk about the size of a fingernail that originated from East Asia — they get their name from the zigzag lines on their shells. They travelled via ships and boats all across the Atlantic Ocean and into our area lakes within just the last 10 years. Since then, they have invaded 24 lakes in Texas alone.

“They have economic impacts, ecosystem impacts, and impacts on human health and quality of life. They attach to any hard surface, any valve intake for private water intake but also for water supply, water control infrastructure, hydroelectric,” McGarrity says.

Zebra mussels thrive in warm waters and can survive in the freezing cold waters of the Great Lakes. Which means, unfortunately, the recent winter storms will have little to no impact on their numbers.

“So there is some potential we could see some reduction in the reproduction next year […] but it was only about a week that we had these low temperatures, which was temporary. We’re going to have another warm winter and they’re just going to rebound.”

Now that zebra mussels are in our area lakes, there’s not much we can do to get rid of them. But McGarrity does have some tips on how to mitigate slow their continued spread.

“The only mitigation that can really be done is for the facilities that are using the raw surface water. They can put system into place that can treat the water to reduce fowling onto the system and some of that economic damage.”