Quagga mussel

Scientific Name: Dreissena rostriformis bugensis

Mike Quigley, NOAACopyright Info

U.S Geological SurveyCopyright Info

Identification: The quagga mussel is a small freshwater mollusk that has hinged shells like clams. Its color pattern varies widely with black, cream, or white stripes. Although similar in appearance to the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), the two species can be easily distinguished. When placed on a surface, zebra mussels are stable on their flattened underside, but quagga mussels – lacking a flat underside – will fall over.

Size: This species reaches up to 1.5 inches (4 cm) in size.

Native Range: The quagga mussel is native to the Black Sea and rivers in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

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 rostriformis bugensis are found here.

Full list of USGS occurrences

State/ProvinceYear of earliest observationYear of last observationTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
Illinois200220132Lake Michigan; Pike-Root
Indiana200320031Lake Michigan
Michigan1997201813Betsie-Platte; Boardman-Charlevoix; Brule; Carp-Pine; Cheboygan; Detroit; Fishdam-Sturgeon; Lake Erie; Lake Huron; Lake Michigan; Lake St. Clair; Muskegon; Pere Marquette-White
Minnesota200520062Beartrap-Nemadji; St. Louis
New York199120199Headwaters St. Lawrence River; Irondequoit-Ninemile; Lake Erie; Lake Ontario; Niagara; Oak Orchard-Twelvemile; Oneida; Raisin River-St. Lawrence River; Seneca
Ohio199220132Ashtabula-Chagrin; Lake Erie
Pennsylvania199420121Lake Erie
Wisconsin200020175Beartrap-Nemadji; Duck-Pensaukee; Lake Michigan; Lake Superior; Manitowoc-Sheboygan

Table last updated 9/30/2019

† 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 introduction of quagga mussels into the Great Lakes appears to be the result of water discharge from transoceanic ships that were carrying veliger (a larval stage), juvenile, or adult mussels. Although adult quagga mussels move very little, they produce larvae that are free-floating in the water. This mobile larval stage contributes to their rapid dispersal. Adult mussels can attach to boats and barges that navigate the waterways. In this way, people moving their boats from infested waters can transfer quagga mussels over land to nearby waterways.

Status: Although quagga mussels may have arrived in the Great Lakes before zebra mussels, this species was first recognized as distinct from the zebra mussel in 1991. In August 1991, a quagga mussel was found in a sample of zebra mussels from Lake Erie. When it was clear it was not a variety of zebra mussel, the new species was named “quagga mussel” after the “quagga,” an extinct African relative of the zebra.

The quagga mussel is now well established in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Lake Michigan. While this species’ population is small outside the Great Lakes, it has been identified in the Mississippi River and many other inland lakes and rivers as far west as California. Quagga mussels now outnumber zebra mussels in certain locations.

Remarks: Researchers are continuously studying this species to learn more about its life cycle and environmental and physiological tolerances, with the hopes of developing environmentally safe ways to control dreissenid populations. There is promising research on dreissenid control using what may be a lethal bacteria, Pseudomonas fluorescens, a common soil bacteria found everywhere that is harmless to humans.

Author: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Contributing Agencies:
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Revision Date: 4/24/2012

Citation for this information:
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, 2019, Quagga 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=95&Potential=N&Type=1&HUCNumber=, Revision Date: 4/24/2012, Access Date: 10/13/2019

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.