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Zebra Mussel

(Dreissena polymorpha)

Photo of zebra mussel
Photo credit: Amy Benson, U.S. Geological Survey

Zebra Mussels are an invasive species that have inhabited Wisconsin waters and are displacing native species, disrupting ecosystems, and affecting citizens' livelihoods and quality of life. They hamper boating, swimming, fishing, hunting, hiking, and other recreation, and take an economic toll on commercial, agricultural, forestry, and aquacultural resources.The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) is a tiny (1/8-inch to 2-inch) bottom-dwelling clam native to Europe and Asia. Zebra mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes in 1985 or 1986, and have been spreading throughout them since that time. They were most likely brought to North America as larvae in the ballast water of ships that traveled from fresh-water Eurasian ports to the Great Lakes.

Zebra mussels look like small clams with a yellowish or brownish D-shaped shell, usually with alternating dark- and light-colored stripes. They can be up to two inches long, but most are under an inch. Zebra mussels usually grow in clusters containing numerous individuals.


Other names for this animal include:
  • Common names: zebra mussel
  • Scientific names: Dreissena polymorpha
Ecological threat:
  • Zebra mussels feed by drawing water into their bodies and filtering out most of the suspended microscopic plants, animals and debris for food. This process can lead to increased water clarity and a depleted food supply for other aquatic organisms, including fish. The higher light penetration fosters the growth of rooted aquatic plants which, although creating more habitat for small fish, may inhibit the larger, predatory fish from finding their food. This thicker plant growth can also interfere with boaters, anglers and swimmers. Zebra mussel infestations may also promote the growth of blue-green algae since they avoid consuming this type of algae but not others.
  • Zebra mussels attach to the shells of native mussels in great masses, effectively smothering them. A survey by the corps in the East Channel of the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien revealed a substantial reduction in the diversity and density of native mussels due to zebra mussel infestations. The East Channel provides habitat for one of the best mussel beds in the Upper Mississippi River. Future efforts are being considered to relocate such native mussel beds to waters that are less likely to be impacted by zebra mussels.
Overview map of zebra mussel classification in WI
Restricted (orange) counties

Classification in Wisconsin: Restricted

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for zebra mussels was based upon this literature review [PDF] developed by the department.


Shell: Zebra mussels look like small clams with a yellowish or brownish D-shaped shell, usually with alternating dark- and light-colored stripes. They can be up to two inches long, but most are under an inch.

Similar species: Quagga mussel, bullhead mussel


See the reported locations of this species in Wisconsin on the Aquatic Species Tracking pages.

Do you know of additional populations? Send us a report.


Mechanical: Once zebra mussels are established in a water body, very little can be done to control them. It is, therefore, crucial to take all possible measures to prevent their introduction in the first place. Some of the preventative and physical control measures include physical removal, industrial vacuums and backflushing.

Chemical: Chemical applications include solutions of chlorine, bromine, potassium permanganate and even oxygen deprivation. An ozonation process is under investigation (patented by Bollyky Associates Inc.) which involves the pumping of high concentrations of dissolved ozone into the intake of raw water pipes. This method only works in controlling veligers, and supposedly has little negative impacts on the ecosystem. Further research on effective industrial control measures that minimize negative impacts on ecosystem health is needed.


Links for more information: