Invasive species confirmed in aquarium product sold in Iowa

Iowa News

DES MOINES, Iowa (KCAU) — The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said an invasive species may be in a popular aquarium product sold at some Iowa aquarium supply stores and pet stores.

The invasive species are zebra muscles, and they are a highly invasive species that can cause damage to the food chain and infrastructure if released in lakes and rivers.

According to the Iowa DNR, the products that might contain this species are moss (Marimo) balls. Moss balls are used to absorb harmful nutrients in the water and limit algae growth in aquariums.

Moss balls recently distributed nationwide contained zebra mussels. “Betta Buddy” Marimo Balls was found to be contaminated with an adult zebra mussel at a Petco store in Washington state on March 3. Since then, contaminated Marimo balls have been found in pet and aquarium stores in otherstates. Many pet stores, including ones in Iowa, have removed the product from their shelves. 

“State and federal law enforcement have been checking pet stores across Iowa and removing the moss balls if they hadn’t been removed already,” said Kim Bogenschutz, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Iowa DNR.

Aquarium owners are urged not to purchase this product from stores or online. If you have bought this item in the last month, dispose of it properly and sanitize your tank using the following guidelines to prevent the spread of zebra mussels from aquariums:

  • Place the Marimo ball in a sealable plastic bag and freeze for at least 24 hours
    • Or place the moss ball in boiling water for at least 1 full minute
    • Or submerge the moss ball in chlorine bleach, diluted to one cup of bleach per gallon of water
    • Or submerge the moss ball in undiluted white vinegar for 20 minutes.
  • Place the treated moss ball and any of its packaging in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash.  
  • Do not flush this product, or the mussels, down the toilet, and do not discard them outside.  

Possibly infected aquarium owners are recommended to:

  • Remove the fish
  • Soak the tank, substrate, rocks, décor, and filter in household bleach, 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water for 15 minutes
  • Dispose of the water down a household sink
  • Rinse off all items before setting up the aquarium
  • Owners can use a dechlorinating product to neutralize any residual chlorine before reintroducing aquatic life

“We need the public’s help to prevent the spread of zebra mussels from aquariums and fish tanks into our water bodies. Please make sure you dispose of any Marimo balls and aquarium water properly so the waters we all enjoy remain invasive-free,” said Bogenschutz.

Zebra mussels look like small, D-shaped clams that have alternating light and dark bands, and most are less than one inch long. They can form dense clusters as they attach to hard underwater surfaces.

Large infestations could interfere with aquatic food chains, kill native mussels, clog water intakes, increase algae blooms, and cover beaches with dead shells. There is no effective treatment to control zebra mussels once they have infested a lake. 

It is illegal to possess or transport prohibited aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels, in Iowa. 

Find more information about aquatic invasive species and how you can help prevent their spread in Iowa’s waters on the DNR’s website.

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