Texas Parks and Wildlife officials warn aquarium moss balls could contain invasive zebra mussels

The products should be disposed of properly and tanks disinfected, TPWD said

File Photo - Zebra Mussels
File Photo - Zebra Mussels

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is warning pet stores and pet owners about a moss ball aquarium plant that could be contaminated with invasive zebra mussels.

TPWD officials are asking stores to remove the products from their shelves and urging customers to dispose of them properly.

The moss balls are sold as an aquarium plant under names including “Beta Buddy Marimo Balls,” “Mini Marimo Moss Balls,” and “Marimo Moss Ball Plant.”

They are sold separately but also included in the sale of betta fish.

The products are believed to be imported from Ukraine, officials said.

“Zebra mussels can be recognized as small shellfish with triangular, brownish shells, often with their namesake zebra stripes, that may be attached to or growing inside the moss balls. They are very small, growing to no more than an inch in size, and the individuals found on the moss balls in Texas were less than a quarter of an inch long,” TPWD officials said in a press release.

“Petco stores have been working diligently to remove these products from their shelves and I have informed PetSmart of the presence of zebra mussels within this product,” said Jarret Barker, TPWD Assistant Law Enforcement Commander. “We urge any other pet and aquarium or retail store selling these ‘moss balls’ to remove this product from shelves and discontinue future sale.”

To properly dispose of the moss balls, they should be dried, frozen or placed into a plastic zipper bag before disposed of in a garbage bag.

Aquarium water should be replaced and filters and cartridges should be replaced or disinfected, TPWD said.

“Aquarium water can be disinfected prior to disposal by adding one cup of bleach per gallon and allowing it to sit for 10 minutes before disposing the water down the drain. This method can also be used to disinfect gravel, filter, and other structures, and is highly recommended if zebra mussels are found attached to the moss or in the aquarium,” TPWD said in a release.

Zebra mussels are a highly invasive species in Texas.

“Zebra mussels have already been introduced into many Texas lakes and are causing changes to the ecosystem along with damage to boats, water supply and control infrastructure,” said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director. “It is important that we take all possible precautions to prevent them from being introduced elsewhere.”

Officials warn against “aquarium dumping” which many well-meaning pet owners do to release unwanted pets into the wild, but the practice harms native fish and wildlife, not only because of non-native fish but also because of non-native plants and organisms in the aquarium.

Aquarium owners are urged to never dump their tanks and to learn more about alternatives to aquarium dumping by visiting the TexasInvasives website.

“Invasive species such as these zebra mussels and snails can hitchhike in aquatic plants sold for aquarium use,” said Monica McGarrity, Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species. “It is important for staff at stores as well as customers to always check aquarium plants for hitchhiking organisms and to alert store management and not sell or buy plants with mussels, snails, or other organisms attached.”

To learn more about zebra mussels and other invasive species in Texas, visit the TPWD Stop Invasives website.

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Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.