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'No effect': Even record freeze couldn't eradicate Texas' toughest invasive species, experts say

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Freshwater zebra mussels continue to be a problem in Central Texas lakes.

AUSTIN, Texas — Not even a historic week of freezing temperatures and record-setting snowfall last month could mitigate some of the toughest and most threatening invasive species known to Central Texas, biologists from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say.

While many of Austin’s Mexican free-tailed bats were injured or killed by the winter weather, some invasive critters such as zebra mussels, tilapia and maybe even apple snails fared just fine, said Monica McGarrity, a senior scientist at Texas Parks and Wildlife who specializes in aquatic invasive species.

Zebra mussels, which are small but prolific mollusks, first appeared in Austin-area lakes in 2017 and have since attached themselves to boats, pipes and docks.  They have even infested drinking water sources, and their presence can affect the taste and odor of drinking water.

Texas Parks and Wildlife experts have worked for years to lessen the environmental effects of the mussels, but McGarrity said there is  no way to eradicate them completely. 

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Some might have thought the mussels would die off in the freezing waters, exposed to the extreme frigid temperatures during the storm, but McGarrity said it’s actually the opposite.

“Zebra mussels are basically living at the edge of their thermal tolerance here for heat, and so, during our hot summers, they are basically just trying to survive,” she said. “So the cold really isn’t a problem for them. I’d say the cold likely had no effect on the population.” 

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