By Alice Rossignol and Rachael Gleason
Editor’s note: Great Lakes Smackdown! is an ongoing Great Lakes Echo series.
Don’t forget to turn in your brackets before Friday, October 15th. More information here.
Round 1, Bracket 1
Here’s how the first two competitors in the Great Lakes SmackDown! flex their mussels:
With 22 years of Great Lakes fighting experience and stretching the tape by up to 5 centimeters in length is Zebra “Big Z” Mussel. This mollusk is known for clogging water pipes, clinging to boat hulls and filtering enough water to disrupt the Great Lakes food chain. Recognizable by its striped shell, this critter is capable of producing 30,000 to 1 million eggs per year.
And in the other corner, hailing all the way from the Ukraine, is Quagga “the Quagmeister” Mussel! Slightly less experienced than the Big Z, don’t underestimate this bivalve’s prowess. The Quagmeister is highly adaptable and has the Big Z’s appetite for filtering enough water to disrupt an entire ecosystem. Quagga Mussels accumulates large loads of pollutants in their little shelled systems and pass these contaminants up the food chain.
These two contenders from the same genus are similar in size and fighting skills and like to compete in the same arenas. But which is the worst for the Great Lakes ecosystem?
Zebra "The Big Z" Mussel. Photo: USGS
Zebra “THE BIG Z” Mussel
Legal name: Dreissena polymorpha
Home Turf: Black, Caspian and Azov seas in Eastern Europe and Asia.
U.S. Fighting Debut: 1988 in Lake St. Clair
Agent: Ballast water
Preferred fighting arena: By 1990, all of the Great Lakes.
Weight/Size class: Less than 5 cm.
– A super water filter, this mussel disrupts the food chain by sucking up smaller organisms.
– Completely ruthless, they clamp on to other mollusks, crayfish and turtles and starve them.
– Navigation buoys have sunk under their extreme weight.
– They crowd intake pipes, cutting off water supplies to power plants, factories and water treatment plants.
– Born with a love for hard surfaces, they cling to hulls and increase drag on boats, not to mention their ability to enter engines and destroy them.
Life Expectancy: Four to five years.
Offspring: The Big Z is busy to say the least. They produce 30,000 to 1 million eggs per year.
Quagga "The Quagmeister" Mussel. Photo: USGS.
Quagga “THE QUAGMEISTER” Mussel
Legal name: Dreissena rostriformis bugensis
Home Turf: Ukraine, Ponto-Caspian Sea.
U.S. Fighting Debut: September 1989 near Port Colborne, Lake Erie.
Agent: Ballast water
Preferred fighting arena: All five Great Lakes.
Weight/Size class: Reaching sizes up to 4 cm – but they are often larger than zebra mussels.
– This fella is highly adaptable.
– As ravenous water filters they suck up phytoplankton and water particulates starving out creatures higher up on the food chain that depend on them.
– By filtering water they increase water clarity, which can cause an increase of aquatic plants.
– This competitor loves to cling to hard surfaces like water pipes, inhibiting the water flow to these structures.
– Quaggas gather toxins in their systems. When eaten by predators these toxics are passed up the food chain.
Life Expectancy: Three to five years.
Offspring: Up to one million eggs per year.
Vote for the winner here and make your case in the comments below.