A startling piece of news has come from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, that some ‘moss balls’ sold in pet stores for aquariums, contain live aquatic invasive mussels.

Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau Chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Tom Woolf has details.

“This is an issue that's just arisen in the last couple days,” said Woolf. “What we have found is an aquarium plant, called moss balls, which are a ball of algae that people put in their fish tanks. These moss balls have been found with zebra mussels on them and they've been distributed not just to Montana but throughout the country.”

Woolf said the nation’s wildlife agencies are mobilizing to notify the public about this possible hazard.

“The states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to try to figure out the distribution of this, and it’s going on right now,” he said. “But we can tell you that we have found these in Montana pet stores. They all should be pulled from the shelves now, but people also have purchased them already. We're still working with the pet store industry to see if we can get to these folks that have purchased them, make them aware of it and have them either return them or dispose of them so that they don't actually have live zebra mussels on them.”

Woolf said great care must be taken to properly dispose of the moss balls, so that the aquatic invasive species don’t enter the general water supply.

“We're still working on protocols for that,” he said. “If you have a moss ball that has mussels on it, put it in the freezer, make sure it's frozen solid, leave it in there overnight and then dispose of it in the trash, and that'll take care of it. As far as protocols for aquariums that may have live muscles in them, we're still working on protocols on what to do with that, so we're asking people not to dump them down the toilet or down the drain. Maybe bleach will be what we end up recommending, but we don't have a standard recommendation at this point in time.”

Woolf spoke directly to aquarium owners who may have purchased the moss balls.

“Initially, we're just looking for people that have purchased these things,” he said. “ If they see muscles on them, they are very small ‘d’ shaped shells are like a little clam.That's what we're looking for. We haven't verified any live ones in Montana yet, but other states have. So we're asking folks to keep an eye out for these things. If you see them, freeze them, and kill them. If you need some help give a call and we can get you more information to help on that.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says it is illegal to release fish and other aquarium pets into natural waterways. If you can’t keep your pet, find someone else who can adopt it, turn it in to a pet store or humane society, or euthanize it.  Aquarium plants can impact native aquatic plant and animal species. Let unwanted plants dry and then dispose in the garbage. Aquarium water can harbor pathogens and diseases, so dispose of tank water on the ground away from waterways.

Get help by calling the FWP Aquatic Invasive Species hotline at 406-444-2440.

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