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Dreissena bugensis

What do they look like?

Quagga mussels have two shells that have a hinge on one side and an opening on the other. A full grown quagga mussel is no larger than a thumbnail, which is about 30 to 40 millimeters. The shell of the mussel is a light brown to almost white by the hinge of the shell with black or dark brown stripes/rings. The shell is fan-shaped with edges that come to points on both sides. Larvae are tiny and microscopic at a size ranging from 40 to 462 micrometers. (Benson, et al., 2013; Sykes, 2010; "Quagga Mussels", 2014)

  • Range length
    30 to 40 mm
    1.18 to 1.57 in

Where do they live?

Dreissena bugensis, the quagga mussel, originally lived in only a few places in Ukraine in 1890. The mussels began to spread throughout Eastern Europe over the next few decades, and in 1991 they were brought to Canada and the United States. The quagga mussel has spread throughout the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, into Michigan, Missouri, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona and California. (Mills, et al., 1996; Rintelen and Van Damme, 2014)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Quagga mussels live in freshwater estuaries, lakes, and ponds. As larvae, they swim around in the water. When they become juveniles, they attach to hard surfaces such as rocks, wood, and plants. In deeper waters, they are also able to live on soft surfaces such as sand. These mussels also attach themselves to man-made structures made of steel, wood, nylon, metal piping, or concrete. Mature mussels tend to attach themselves to these surface structures right under the surface of the water less than 100 meters down. They have been found as deep as 140 m, though most are found at a depth of about 4 to 10 m. (Britton, 2007; Ianniello, 2013; Mills, et al., 1996; Ussery and McMahon, 1995)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range depth
    140 (high) m
    459.32 (high) ft

How do they grow?

The life cycle of the quagga mussel starts several day after eggs are fertilized in the water, when trochophore larva develop, starting the planktonic stage of development. A trochophore is a larva that swims around and is not attached to anything. In 4 to 5 days the trochophore will change into a D-shaped veliger. Soon the veliger forms part of its shell, and then it develops a body part called the foot. The veliger then attaches itself to something, and it begins to develop into a juvenile mussel. As a juvenile, it develops and eventually becomes a mature adult that is capable of reproducing. For females, this happens when they are 2 years old. (Ianniello, 2013)

How do they reproduce?

Instead of mating, quagga mussels release their sperm and eggs into the water, where fertilization takes place outside of the female's body. (Ianniello, 2013)

Quagga mussels produce many, many gametes (sperm and eggs). Females can produce 40,000 eggs in one reproductive cycle. Females and males live together and release their sperm and eggs into the water for fertilization to take place in the water. This is called spawning. Spawning takes place when water temperatures are warm. Quagga mussels can reproduce year-round. (Ianniello, 2013)

  • Breeding season
    Mating takes place year-round.

Quagga mussels have no parental care. Once the sperm and eggs leave the parents, the mussels are entirely on their own. (Ianniello, 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

Quagga mussels live about 4 to 5 years. (Ianniello, 2013)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 5 years

How do they behave?

Adult quagga mussels are sessile, meaning that they are attached to an object in one place, and they stay there. Larvae are free-swimming and can move around. (Mackie, 2010)

How do they communicate with each other?

Quagga mussels have no head or eyes. Therefore, they are not able to see. They are able to detect chemicals in the water, as well as detect gravity, movement, and temperature. If quagga mussels feel threatened, they will tightly close their shell. (Mackie, 2010)

What do they eat?

Quagga mussels feed on plankton. They are filter feeders, meaning that they filter food particles out of the water. They have little hairs called cilia, which pull water into their shell through a tube called the incurrent siphon. Once inside the body, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and algae are filtered out of the water. The water then leaves the body through another tube called the excurrent siphon. Adult mussels are able to filter out about one liter of water each day. (Mackie, 2010)

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Quagga mussels have few predators. One predator is yellow perch, Perca flavescens. In 1994, scientists found that yellow perch did not eat quagga mussels, but by 2004, other scientists found that yellow perch were now eating quagga mussels. (Popple, 2006)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Quagga mussels are an invasive species, meaning that they live in areas that they did not use to live in, and are causing problems for other animals that live in the habitats the mussels are not supposed to be in. Since quagga mussels filter out so much water each day for food, they remove large amounts of nutrients and plankton from the water. This prevents other organisms that live near the quagga mussels from getting to eat those nutrients and plankton. Quagga mussels also often live with another closely related mussel, the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Zebra mussels are also an invasive species. Quagga mussels are taking over areas that zebra mussels live in, causing the zebra mussels to decrease in number.

Quagga mussels also have few predators, except for yellow perch. This is one reason why they are invasive species, since no other animals are able to eat them and control their population size. The predation by yellow perch may actually cause problems though. There is a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism. This bacteria can live in quagga mussels. When yellow perch eat quagga mussels infected with the bacteria, the perch get infected too, and anything that eats the perch also gets infected. This bacteria has already caused heavy damage in Lake Erie, killing tens of thousands of bird and fish species. (Hickie, 2010; Mills, et al., 1996; Popple, 2006)

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • bacterium, Clostridium botulinum

Do they cause problems?

Quagga mussels are a persistent invasive species. When they collect in large numbers, they can form thick layers on waterways, slowing down water flow and even clogging pipes in water treatment plants. By filter feeding, quagga mussels remove large numbers of plankton that other organisms might need to eat. They also release pseudofeces, which raises acid levels in the water, causing more problems for other organisms in the water. (Hickie, 2010; Hoddle, 2011)

How do they interact with us?

Quagga mussels do not help humans in any way.

Are they endangered?

Quagga mussels are not an endangered species. Since they are an invasive species and can cause many problems for people and their ecosystems, people are trying to decrease the size of the quagga mussel populations. (Mackie, 2010)


Ashley Eaton (author), Grand View University, Cody Redmond (author), Grand View University, LundyS Vansylalom (author), Grand View University, Felicitas Avendano (editor), Grand View University, Dan Chibnall (editor), Grand View University, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


Wisconsin DNR. 2014. "Quagga Mussels" (On-line). EEK-Critter Corner. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Benson, A., M. Richerson, E. Maynard, J. Larson, A. Fusaro. 2013. "Dreissena rostriformis bugensis" (On-line). USGS-Nonidigenous Aquatic Species. Accessed March 05, 2014 at

Britton, D. 2007. "Zebra & Quagga Mussel Invasion in North America" (On-line pdf). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Hickie, V. 2010. "The Quagga Mussel Crisis At Lake Mead National Recreation Area" (On-line). EBSCO Host. Accessed April 04, 2014 at

Hoddle, M. 2011. "CISR" (On-line). Quagga & Zebra Mussels. Accessed April 02, 2014 at

Ianniello, R. 2013. "Effects of Environmental Variables on the Reproduction of Quagga Mussels (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) in Lake Mead, NV/AZ" (On-line pdf). UNLV. Accessed March 02, 2014 at

Mackie, G. 2010. "Dreissena bugensis" (On-line). Global Invasive Species Database. Accessed April 04, 2014 at

Mackie, G. 2010. "Dreissena bugensis (mollucs)" (On-line). Accessed March 10, 2014 at

Mills, E., G. Rosenberg, A. Spidle, M. Ludyanskiy, Y. Pligin, B. May. 1996. A review of the biology and ecology of the quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), a second species of dreissenid introduced to North America. American Zoologist, 36: 271-286.

Popple, I. 2006. "Perch discover nature's junk food" (On-line). Mcgill. Accessed April 04, 2014 at

Rintelen, T., D. Van Damme. 2014. "Range Description" (On-line). Accessed March 10, 2014 at

Sykes, C. 2010. "Development of an Efficient Method for Removal of Quagga Mussel Veligers from Transport Tanks at Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery" (On-line pdf). Accessed March 04, 2014 at

Ussery, T., R. McMahon. 1995. "Comparative Study of the Desiccation Resistance of Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and Quagga Mussels (Dreissena bugensis)" (On-line pdf). Accessed March 01, 2014 at

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Eaton, A.; C. Redmond and L. Vansylalom 2014. "Dreissena bugensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 17, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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