Zebra mussels

This image provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shows a cluster of zebra mussels that were pulled from Lake Belton. As the recreation season begins, boaters are advised to take precautions against the invasive species.

Toxic, tiny and troublesome — these are the traits of zebra mussels as described by a group of student and professor presenters Monday at Temple College.

The group was selected by the college’s board of trustees to give a presentation about their recent research into zebra mussels during the board’s meeting.

The group of three biology students and teachers are working to further research into the local problem of zebra mussels and what might be able to be done going forward.

Dr. Jason Locklin, head of the college’s biology department, said to the board that the research being done by the students was less about combating the mussels more about what can be done to mitigate their effects and stop their transfer to other bodies of water.

“We spend, on average, $1 billion a year in the United States just to manage the mussel problem,” Locklin said. “We are not eradicating (the mussels), we are simply just trying to manage and clean pipelines. They are a problem ecologically and they are a problem financially.”

This project to research the mussels stemmed from a grant given to the students earlier this year for $6,000 by the Temple Health & Bioscience District.

Money given by the district was distributed to each of the three student projects that were presented at the meeting. These funds also are an attempt to help expose the college students to the process of real-world research projects.

Zebra mussels originally showed up in North America in 1988, slowly made their way across bodies of water until they reached Texas in 2009. These mussels were first discovered at Lake Belton in 2013, with Stillhouse Hollow Lake being infested in 2016. 

The quick breeding shellfish cause problems for communities bordering on infected waters due to their tendency to block up pipes and most any other solid surface placed within the water. 

The projects of students Josiah Moore and Brittany Lokcu both look at the number of these mussels in the two Bell County lakes.

Moore showed off a series of chains and plates to the board which he uses to collect then count the number of mussels in Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lake at different depths. Moore said he regularly checks these collection devices and counts the number of these mussels on each level.

“With this (study), we are getting very valuable data that we can compare the lake to and see what happens to these mussels,” Moore said. “We go out once a month and put a new sampler out to measure the mussel’s growth rates. While we are there we are looking for other things, looking at (larvae levels), looking at plankton and water temperature.”

Zebra mussels can reproduce quickly and have no natural predators. Each of the specie’s females can lay up to one million eggs per year.

Lokcu is monitoring the rise and fall of zebra mussel DNA concentration in the two lakes and compare her results to Moore’s in order to see if there is coloration between the levels.

While not studying the mussel itself, student Tyler Wilson said he is trying to study the level of compliance within the area with campaigns by the state to stop the spread of the mussels. This involves talking to boat owners and reviewing the spread of these creatures throughout the country and state.

After the student’s presentation, board members asked both the students and the professors about the mussels and what could be done to combat them. Unfortunately, these shellfish have only been eradicated twice since their appearance and are not suitable as a food source due to their small size and toxic nature to humans.