SALT LAKE CITY — State wildlife officials across the U.S., including Utah, are urging anyone who recently purchased a Betta Buddy Marimo Ball for their aquarium to throw away the moss ball after boiling or freezing it.
Authorities began alerting possible customers this week after zebra mussels, an invasive aquatic species tied to all sorts of water infrastructure damage and ecological harm, was detected in the product sold at pet and aquarium stores in Utah and across the country.
Utah wildlife officials were alerted by federal officials about the issue Wednesday, said Sgt. Krystal Tucker, who oversees aquatic invasive species operations within the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources's law enforcement section.
"They were obviously concerned because that's an invasive species," she said.
The division alerted the public about the issue with social media posts Thursday. It's unclear how many moss balls with zebra mussels were sold over the past few months but Tucker said it's an issue that's "certainly a large problem."
"Since the 3rd (of March), we've had various other states that have looked into this and have also discovered zebra mussel-suspected shells and such," she added. "It seems like these moss balls are primarily being sold at PetCo, and it could be sold at various other locations."
The News Tribune in Spokane, Washington, reported Thursday that wildlife agencies in Colorado and Oregon had issued alerts about the product. An official from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks told the Independent Record in Helena, Montana that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service got involved because "they've been found from Alaska to Florida."
Heads up, aquarium owners. We've found what appear to be invasive zebra mussels in marimo moss balls sold at pet and aquarium supply stores in Utah. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/7x5hCbET6y— UtahDWR (@UtahDWR) March 4, 2021
Utah's DWR advised anyone who purchased moss balls over the last three months to boil the moss ball for at least two minutes or freeze a moss ball before tossing them in the trash. Tucker said PetCo locations across Utah voluntarily removed the current product from its shelves after learning about the discovery of the mussels in some of the moss balls.
Zebra mussels are a problem because they can clog pipes and their feeding habits can disrupt native food chains in ecosystems, the Associated Press reported in 2018. They're similar to quagga mussels, which also cause harm to waterbodies and infrastructure in water.
The threat of the mussels is why Utah launched its "STD of the Sea" informational campaign. It's also why boaters are instructed to clean up boats after launching them in a body of water in Utah since that's how the mussels primarily travel from waterbody to waterbody.
"They're really, really damaging to our water supply and infrastructure," Tucker said. "They're just a really nasty species."
That's also why Utah's wildlife officials provided strict instructions as to how to discard moss balls purchased.
Flushing the moss balls down a toilet or drain, or disposing them anywhere outdoors provides the possibility of spreading zebra mussels, which could cause millions of dollars in damage.
"Throwing them in the trash after being boiled or frozen will be the best; the reason why that is is that these zebra and quagga mussels are very hardy," Tucker said. "They can withstand quite a bit of abuse. But if we boil them at a consistent temperature for two minutes or freeze them completely solid, it's going to completely kill those zebra or quagga mussels that could be contained inside."