Zebra mussel

Scientific Name: Dreissena polymorpha

Amy Benson - U.S. Geological SurveyCopyright Info

Myriah Richerson - USGSCopyright Info

Identification: The zebra mussel is a small freshwater mollusk named for the striped pattern often found on its shells. It typically attaches to objects, surfaces, or each other by using threads underneath its shell. It is similar in appearance to the quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), but the two species can be easily distinguished. When placed on a surface, the zebra mussel is stable, but the quagga mussel will fall over because it lacks a flat underside.

Size: This species reaches up to 2 inches (50 mm).

Native Range: The zebra mussel is native to the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas, bordered by eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Table 1. Great Lakes region nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Dreissena polymorpha are found here.

Full list of USGS occurrences

State/ProvinceYear of earliest observationYear of last observationTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
Illinois199020133Lake Michigan; Little Calumet-Galien; Pike-Root
Indiana198820184Lake Michigan; Little Calumet-Galien; St. Joseph; St. Joseph
Michigan1988201849Au Gres-Rifle; Au Sable; Betsie-Platte; Betsy-Chocolay; Black; Black-Macatawa; Boardman-Charlevoix; Brevoort-Millecoquins; Brule; Carp-Pine; Cheboygan; Clinton; Detroit; Escanaba; Fishdam-Sturgeon; Flint; Huron; Kalamazoo; Kawkawlin-Pine; Lake Erie; Lake Huron; Lake Michigan; Lake St. Clair; Lake Superior; Lone Lake-Ocqueoc; Lower Grand; Manistee; Manistique; Maple; Menominee; Muskegon; Ontonagon; Ottawa-Stony; Pere Marquette-White; Pigeon-Wiscoggin; Pine; Raisin; Saginaw; Shiawassee; St. Clair; St. Joseph; St. Joseph; St. Marys; Tacoosh-Whitefish; Tahquamenon; Thunder Bay; Tiffin; Tittabawassee; Upper Grand
Minnesota198920193Baptism-Brule; Lake Superior; St. Louis
New York1989201918Buffalo-Eighteenmile; Chaumont-Perch; Headwaters St. Lawrence River; Indian; Irondequoit-Ninemile; Lake Champlain; Lake Erie; Lake Ontario; Lower Genesee; Mettawee River; Niagara; Oak Orchard-Twelvemile; Oneida; Oswego; Raisin River-St. Lawrence River; Richelieu River; Seneca; Upper Genesee
Ohio1988201712Ashtabula-Chagrin; Auglaize; Black-Rocky; Blanchard; Cedar-Portage; Cuyahoga; Grand; Huron-Vermilion; Lake Erie; Lower Maumee; Sandusky; Tiffin
Pennsylvania198920121Lake Erie
Vermont199320053Lake Champlain; Mettawee River; Otter Creek
Wisconsin1989201816Beartrap-Nemadji; Door-Kewaunee; Duck-Pensaukee; Lake Michigan; Lake Superior; Lake Winnebago; Lower Fox; Manitowoc-Sheboygan; Menominee; Milwaukee; Oconto; Peshtigo; Pike-Root; St. Louis; Upper Fox; Wolf

Table last updated 10/16/2019

† Populations may not be currently present.

* HUCs are not listed for areas where the observation(s) cannot be approximated to a HUC (e.g. state centroids or Canadian provinces).

Means of Introduction: The zebra mussel was probably introduced to North America when one or more commercial cargo ships from the north shore of the Black Sea released ballast water into the Great Lakes. The zebra mussel has been able to rapidly invade North America because of its ability to spread during all life stages. Adult zebra mussels produce free-floating larvae called veligers, which can drift to new areas. Adult mussels live attached to surfaces, and can attach to boats and be transferred to nearby water bodies when people move their equipment over land between infested and noninfested waters. Under cool, humid conditions, the zebra mussel can stay alive out of water for several days.

Status: The first North American discovery of the zebra mussel was in the Great Lakes in 1988, and the first established population was found in the Canadian waters of Lake St. Clair, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Erie. By 1990, the zebra mussel had spread throughout the Great Lakes. The following year, this species escaped the Great Lakes basin and found its way into the Illinois and Hudson rivers. Infestation of the Illinois River provided an opportunity for the zebra mussel to spread into the Mississippi River drainage, which covers more than 1.2 million square miles (3.1 km2). The zebra mussel is now widely found throughout the U.S.

Remarks: By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the zebra mussel had spread to most major European drainages because of widespread canal system construction.

Many methods have been investigated to help control the zebra mussel. Promising research continues on using what may be lethal bacteria to this species. The microorganism, Pseudomonas fluorescens, is a common soil bacteria found everywhere that is harmless to humans.

Author: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Contributing Agencies:
NOAA Sea Grant GLRI Logo

Revision Date: 9/25/2012

Citation for this information:
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, 2019, Zebra mussel: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatLakes/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=5&Potential=N&Type=1&HUCNumber=, Revision Date: 9/25/2012, Access Date: 10/17/2019

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.