Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials are seeking information on how a peanut butter jar containing several zebra mussels ended up on the doorstep of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge office near Jordan on Halloween night.
“At this point we have no leads,” says FWP’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator Eileen Ryce. “The jar was left anonymously, but we’re assuming whomever did this understands the threat zebra mussels pose to Montana waters.”
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently confirmed the contents of the jar. The small, brown- and yellow-striped zebra mussels were attached to a larger mussel identified by researchers at Montana State University and the Illinois Natural History Survey as Amblema plicata, commonly found with zebra mussels in the Mississippi River and in the Great Lakes Region.
FWP rigorously monitors Fort Peck and other waters throughout the state for invasive species like zebra mussels. Neither zebra mussels nor Amblema plicata have ever been found in Montana waters.
The zebra mussel, a small “D”-shaped mussel, is native to the Caspian Sea and first discovered near Detroit in 1988. It currently infests the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the St. Croix River. The creatures attach themselves to all manner of natural and man-made surfaces. Once attached to native mussels, zebra mussels, through sheer numbers, can suffocate them or prevent them from feeding. They clog pipes, cling to boat surfaces and are often discovered by swimmers who cut themselves on the sharp shells.
Officials don’t know if the jar was left as a Halloween prank or as a warning that zebra mussels were or could be placed in Fort Peck Reservoir. Ryce also speculated that the mussels may have been discovered by an angler who didn’t know what to do with the organisms but wanted officials to know of their presence in the state.
“We really need to know the source of these mussels,” said Ryce. “If their presence in Montana is confirmed, it would be a very big deal. If this species was released into Fort Peck or any other water they could become established in a matter of months and significantly impact the fishery, habitat, and utilities including power production and irrigation,” said Ryce.
It is illegal to transport zebra mussels within the state, but FWP officials says they are less interested in punishing the person who left the jar in Jordan than they in getting information about the source of the mussels.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Eileen Ryce at (406) 444-2448 or call the state’s hotline at 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668). Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.