Zebra mussels, a destructive invasive species that originated in Eurasia, have been found in Lake Belton in Central Texas.
Last week, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith signed an order adopting an emergency rule to add lakes Belton and Stillhouse Hollow, and portions of the Leon and Lampasas rivers to the list of water bodies covered by special regulations intended to control the spread of zebra mussels. Under these special regulations, boaters who drain their boats and gear will not be considered in violation of rules prohibiting possession of zebra mussels.
"The Lake Belton discovery underscores how critical it is for boaters all across Texas to get informed and involved to help stop the spread of zebra mussels," said Brian Van Zee, TPWD inland fisheries regional director based in Waco. "Unfortunately, zebra mussel larvae, called veligers, are not visible to the naked eye. You could be transporting them on your boat and not even know it. This is why it's particularly important to always clean, drain and dry your boat and gear before heading to another water body."
A Texas Mussel Watch volunteer was looking for native mussels along the shores of Lake Belton Sept. 18 when she found a giant floater that had a small mussel attached to its shell. Suspecting that it might be a zebra mussel, she reported it to TPWD. The following day, TPWD confirmed that the small mussel was in fact a zebra mussel.
A follow-up survey conducted by TPWD after the discovery revealed that zebra mussels are well established in Lake Belton and are found throughout the lake.
In fact, three size classes of zebra mussels were found there indicating that they were likely introduced to the reservoir sometime in 2012.
"This is very discouraging news for several reasons," said Van Zee. "Not only does this mark the first time that zebra mussels have been documented in the Brazos River basin, this new infestation is nearly 200 miles south of where zebra mussels are currently found in Texas. Unfortunately, this means that lakes in the central portion of the state are at even greater risk."
Also, TPWD's monitoring of 23 other Texas reservoirs during the spring and summer revealed the possible presence of zebra mussels in two additional reservoirs: Lakes Worth and Joe Pool.
For more information on zebra mussels and how to clean, drain and dry a boat, visit www.texasinvasives.org.