State warns of invasive zebra mussel found in aquarium moss balls sold in stores, online

Moss ball found Friday at PetSmart in Burlington. [photo courtesy NCWRC]

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is warning anyone who has recently purchased aquarium moss balls that they may contain an invasive species of mussel called the zebra mussel and should be carefully discarded immediately.

Dr. Art Bogan, research curator of mollusks with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, identified Friday afternoon the mussels found in aquatic moss ball packaging labeled ‘Marimo Moss Ball Plant Grab & Go’ and ‘Mini Marimo Moss Balls’ as zebra mussels.

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists purchased the moss balls from a PetSmart in Burlington. The commission said PetSmart is removing the product from shelves but has not shared their plans for disposal.

OBX Today is checking to see if the product is still for sale at the PetSmart in Nags Head, and will update this story. 

Another national pet supply retailer, Petco, confirmed with Wildlife Commission officials that they are taking the appropriate steps to remove and destroy the moss balls in all its N.C. locations, including Elizabeth City.

[photo courtesy NCWRC]

Other retail outlets, including online retailers like Ebay and Amazon, may also be selling contaminated moss. Smaller pet retailers should be diligent in checking their stock too.

It is widely believed that the packaging may be branded in several different ways. In an abundance of caution, anyone who has purchased ANY moss balls in the past month are urged to follow the instructions in the press release below about how to properly destroy them and clean their aquariums.

Retailers who stock this product should remove it from their shelves immediately and contact their headquarters office for disposal instructions or dispose of them as outlined below.

The Wildlife Commission received notice that it appears the moss balls were imported from Ukraine to a distributor in California that recently shipped contaminated product to pet stores nationwide. The facility that imports the moss balls has been quarantined and all shipments of moss balls have been stopped, according to a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

A moss ball is a species of green algae that is formed into a ball and is two to five inches in diameter. Moss balls are purchased for home aquariums to help absorb harmful nutrients in the water and limit the growth of undesirable algae.

It is likely that retail outlets that sell the moss balls may be unaware that they are potentially selling a contaminated product with an invasive species. Not only are zebra mussels harmful to other aquatic wildlife, they can also clog water pipes and restrict water supplies.

Fisheries biologist Todd Ewing stated, “The Wildlife Commission has led a concerted effort to keep the species out of the state because of both the negative ecological and commercial impacts. It’s actually illegal to possess zebra mussels in North Carolina.”

If you have recently purchased moss balls, the Commission is urging the public to dispose of them immediately by placing them in a plastic bag and freezing them overnight, boiling them or soaking them overnight in a bleach solution (one cup bleach per gallon of water). The moss balls should then be bagged and disposed of in the trash. Living moss balls or untreated water should not be disposed of in any location where they could reach sewage systems or streams or lakes.

For your aquarium, remove the fish and apply the bleach solution and let it set for at least one hour before disposing the water down the sink or toilet. Filters, gravel and structures should also be disinfected as described above before disposing of water down the toilet.

The Commission will work with retail outlets as well as state and federal agencies to monitor the situation. Visit the agency’s website to learn more about aquatic nuisance species.

This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.