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Zebra mussel, the feared invasive species, confirmed in Cunningham Lake

August 6, 2018

The presence of the destructive invasive species known as the zebra mussel has been confirmed in Cunningham Lake, one of Omaha’s premiere fishing and boating spots.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission confirmed the discovery of adult mussels at the lake late last week. The lake in northwest Omaha had been considered suspect since May, when microscopic young zebra mussels, known as veligers, were detected in a water sample. A search of the shoreline at that time did not yield any.

Zebra mussels cause multiple problems, said Daryl Bauer, Game and Parks’ fisheries outreach manager.

They disrupt the food chain and lead to a drop in population of key fish species. They form dense colonies on surfaces, clogging intake valves and leaving razorlike edges on piers and shorelines. As their population explodes, they fundamentally alter a lake — making the water clearer and changing the type of vegetation and other aquatic life that can survive.

The primary method for combating the mussel has been to slow its spread by cleaning, draining and drying boats after use. Signs have been placed at Cunningham telling boaters to follow proper cleaning practices.

The popularity of Cunningham Lake has Game and Parks officials concerned that boats will be transporting the mussel to other bodies of water in the region.

The City of Omaha, the University of Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Game and Parks will increase surveillance of boaters and anglers at the lake to increase awareness. And they’re considering whether other steps are appropriate, according to a statement by Game and Parks.

Boats transporting zebra mussels can be impounded and the owners fined up to $500.

First discovered in the Great Lakes in 1988, the zebra mussel has hitchhiked its way, mostly on boats, throughout the Mississippi and Missouri River watersheds, including Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.

In 2010, it was discovered in Zorinsky Lake and last year, veligers were found in Carter Lake. The lake at Offutt Air Force Base also has been infested.

The zebra mussel looks like a striped, D-shaped clam and is usually about an inch long. A female mussel can release about 1 million eggs in a single season.

The mussel is native to Europe and Asia and has no serious predators in North America. A few duck, crawfish and fish species, such as catfish, prey on the mussel, but not enough to reduce its population.

For more information on zebra mussels, visit the websites for the U.S. Geological Survey or the Nebraska Invasive Species program.

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