More often than not, we hear about invasive species being bad for local ecosystems, and the Great Lakes have long been a delicate ecological area reliant on the stability of the water sources in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Michigan DNR regularly warns us of new, and old invasive species of insects, plants, and animals that come into our part of the country. But it turns out, there's actually one species, not native to the Great Lakes, that may be contributing and helping our beautiful Great Lakes.

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Great Lakes Now/credit: U. S. Department
Great Lakes Now/credit: U. S. Department

If you go anywhere else in the country, mussels, specifically zebra and quagga mussels, have been labeled Invasive Species Public Enemy No. 1. They attach themselves to people's boats, and when you put in on a new body of water, will release, and spread in that new body of water.

They're typically only about the size of a fingernail, so not easy to see, and are only supposed to be native to Europe and Asia.


But they may be responsible for the beautiful blue water we see on the Great Lakes in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Over the past 30- years, both Zebra and Quagga mussels have been slowly spreading across the Great Lakes Regions, and in that time, the waters in most bodies of water have gone from a murky greenish-brown, to more of a clear blue.

This is because as these mussels grow, they filter more and more of the "stuff" that makes fresh water look dark and murky.

That's not to say there aren't other mussels in the Great Lakes, though. More than 30 species of Mussels live here, and do their own filtering. But none spread and are as efficient as our two most invasive species of mussel.

Retrieval of zebra mussel-encrusted Vector Averaging Current Meter near Michigan City, IN. Lake Michigan, June 1999. Photo by M. McCormick.
Retrieval of zebra mussel-encrusted Vector Averaging Current Meter near Michigan City, IN. Lake Michigan, June 1999. Photo by M. McCormick.

Is it REALLY good for the Ecosystem?

Here's the bad news, while it is nice to have more clear water to look over, and swim in, unfortunately, the "stuff" that the Zebra and Quagga mussels are filtering out is very nutritious, and the main food source for a number of other species. Small fish and other microscopic species rely heavily on the algae that grows to survive.

Which means, if it's completely filtered out by the mussels, then their species struggles to survive.

Not to mention, power plants that rely on hydro-energy spend millions of dollars removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes every year.

So yes, they're still an issue.

In moderation, there's no reason these guys couldn't live cohesively with the rest of the Great Lakes ecosystem. But, moderation isn't the name of their game.

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