Photo credit: Robert Siegel
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Species at a Glance
While not yet found in North America, researchers predict that the golden mussel could colonize areas in North America where zebra and quagga mussels could not. It is often referred to as an “ecosystem engineer”, due to its ability to rapidly alter aquatic ecosystems.
The shell of the golden mussel is dark brown above the keel and yellow to golden brown below. The interior nacre of the shell is purple above the keel and white below. Average shell length is 20 mm (0.8 in), although certain South American populations have reached up to 40 mm (1.5 in) and certain Asian populations have reached up to 60 mm (2.4 in). Females typically compose two-thirds of the population.
The golden mussel is similar to the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis). A distinctive characteristic of the golden mussel is the presence of a nacreous layer within the shell. Although these mussels share some of the same physical characteristics, the golden mussel exhibits a wider tolerance of ecological conditions than both Dreissenid mussels; therefore, if introduced into North American waters, the golden mussel is expected to invade a broader range of habitats.
While it can acclimate itself to many types of environments, the golden mussel prefers brackish to freshwater lakes, rivers, and estuaries between 8-32°C (46-89°F). It uses sticky byssal threads to attach itself to hard substrates such as rocks, docks, logs, pilings, and other organisms. This species is tolerant of polluted and contaminated water conditions.
The golden mussel was most likely introduced to South America in the ballast water of ships, or as a contaminant in shipments of live Asian clams. Once introduced, golden mussels reproduce frequently after they reach maturity at one year of age. The larvae can be transported in bait buckets, live wells, bilges, or in ballast water. Adults may attach to boats, trailers, equipment, and aquatic plants and be moved to new locations.
Native to China and southeastern Asia, the golden mussel was introduced into Argentina in 1991. Within a decade, it spread to four other South American countries. Although it has not yet been detected in North America, it is predicted to be a future threat.
Note: Distribution data for this species may have changed since the publication of the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016), the source of information for this description.
The golden mussel settles in high numbers on native bivalves, causing them to suffocate or starve. It has similar impacts to zebra and quagga mussels, reproducing frequently and in large numbers, fouling water intakes pipes, and damaging equipment. By filter feeding, it also alters water quality and decreases food sources for native species. Communities in South America estimate a cost of $200,000 per day in industrial and ecological losses.
Information for this species profile comes from the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016).