Tracking those elusive zebra mussels


I think that for the interest of our anxieties, we need to take a moment to stop worrying about the escalating natural disaster taking place in the Gulf Coast, take a deep breath and focus on the escalating natural disaster taking place in the Marion Reservoir.

For those of you tuning in from my July 6 column, this is the second half of my two-part investigation of the outbreak of the zebra mussel, an invasive dime-sized crustacean named after its striped distant African second cousin (twice removed): the striped polecat. (I’m partially kidding. I think.)

Of course, when I say “escalating natural disaster,” I really mean “something that we all read about in the newspaper a couple years back, but never really got around to paying attention to.”

I started this investigation because I became concerned by the media and reservoir officials’ seemingly apathetic stance in regards to the zebra mussel infestation. In 2008, it was a big deal. Now we hardly hear about it.

So I knew something must be up. Or down, as the case may be. Possibly northeast.

Zebra mussels are dangerous, as we learned in my last column, because they are razor sharp, procreate creatively, use up valuable resources and cling in hoards to large undergarments.

Originating from Russia, zebra mussels are relatively new to North America.

I found this out by contacting Natural Resource Specialist and Obnoxious Columnist Pacifier Neal Whitaker, who is my undercover agent for such matters as this.

The first North American report of zebra mussels occurred in 1988, Neal said, in Lake St. Clair. Since then, they’ve been on the move.

“Nobody knows specifically how they got into our reservoir,” Neal said. “The best guess is that they hitched a ride on a boat that had recently come from an infected lake.”

(In fact, El Dorado had zebra mussels for five years before we found them here.)

“Or,” Neal continued, “they could have been dropped from black helicopters in the middle of the night.”

Despite their presence, however, the zebra mussels seem to be staying well out of the limelight.

“Nobody has said much about this since 2008 because they have mostly been so small and so sparse that they have been unnoticed,” Neal said.

Yeah, I thought, that sounds reasonable. But it could also be a major cover up for something much more sinister that is going on at the reservoir. What could they be hiding?

Being the investigative journalist that I am—and by “investigative journalist,” I mean “bored”—I decided to travel out to the reservoir and take a first-hand look at what really is going on.

For those impressionable young readers out there, let me just say that this sort of thing is very dangerous. The reservoir can be a very hazardous place. I’ve had a few run-ins with danger myself, the most poignant being one triple-digit day when a brand-new stick of Invisible Solid exploded as a Visible (and staining) Liquid when I tried to open it after leaving it in my car for several hours.

So for safety’s sake I took along my dad, who apparently had nothing better to do that evening.

Dad and I went out to the French Creek Cove and Hillsboro Cove portions of the Marion Reservoir to look for the zebra mussels.

Our approach was very straightforward and scientific: we got out of the car, walked to the water’s edge, looked at the ground for about 45 seconds and walked back to the car.

This is in stark contrast to when I was investigating the blue-green algae scare, in which I took my good friend Becky Steketee along. That time, instead of looking, we merely hollered at the algae, calling it by name.

Despite our diligent deliberations, neither Dad nor I were able to locate any zebra mussels. We did, however, manage to identify a collection of sandy cigarette butts, a crushed aluminum can named “Bud” and three young children who were shouting out very interesting announcements such as “I’m floating on my inner tube,” and “Stop splashing me.”

But the infamous zebra mussels remained elusive.

“That is about to change,” Neal said.

According to Neal, since being introduced into our reservoir, the zebra mussels have been quickly building up in both size and numbers—“working out and taking steroids,” he explained—to prepare for their assault on an unsuspecting public (us).

“It will begin at the end of this summer,” Neal said.

What’s my conclusion?

Well here’s what we know: The Marion County reservoir is now the home to an obnoxious breed of mussels that will soon take over because there is absolutely nothing we can do about them. However, right now they are really hard to find, which could lead to a false sense of security. But, very soon we will begin to see their destructive powers in full force.

So where does that leave us? Well, by my calculations, this puts us all a very safe distance from the Gulf Coast.


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