Aquatic invasive species are found throughout Central New York, including Cortland County. Most of these species were transported to our area or released from aquariums. Aquatic invasive species often grow fast and dense, creating a loss of native species and biodiversity.
Rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) are native to the Ohio River Basin. They can grow to be about 10 cm in length. They are dark brown and have rust colored spots on each side of their body. They have larger claws that have black bands on the tips. They inhabit waterways that have clear water and lots of debris to hide under. They are aggressive and reproduce quickly, leading to a decline in native crayfish species.
Curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) is a perennial aquatic plant that is native to Europe, Africa and Australia. This plant has rigid red-green wavy leaves and small red flowers. Curly-leaved pondweed can grow quickly in dense mats. Infestations of this plant can inhibit boating, swimming and fishing. This plant will outcompete native species, cause a critical loss of dissolved oxygen in the water, and its decomposition can lead to harmful algal blooms. This species primarily spreads through water crafts and boating equipment.
Eurasian watermillfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) is the most common and widely distributed aquatic invasive plant in New York. It is originally from Europe, Africa and Australia. It is a plant with bright green feathery leaves that grow in whorls around the stem. It can grow between 3 and 10 feet in length and is found in ponds and lakes. It grows in dense mats that outcompete and displace native species. These dense mats can also inhibit recreational activities like boating and fishing. This species can spread through fragmentation, meaning that if just a piece of the plant is spread to other bodies of water, it will grow.
Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are freshwater filter feeding mussels native to southern Ukraine and Russia. It can be found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, streams and ponds. They are shaped like a “D” and will grow up to 4 cm long. They can attach to a variety of substrates including sand, silt, cobbles, plants, concrete and metal. They breed faster than predators can consume them. Since they are filter feeders, they can greatly disrupt the clarity and content of the water, adversely affecting the food chain. They are very sharp and can cut skin when touched. They are spread by boating equipment, watercrafts and live wells transporting them to other bodies of water.
Chinese mystery snails (Cipangopaludina chinensis) are native to east Asia and were introduced into New York waterways in the 1940’s when people were dumping them from their aquariums into the Niagara River. The only known location of these snails in Cortland County is in Melody Lake near Willet. These snails can grow to be 6 cm in size. Their shells are olive green with vertical striping. These snails will outcompete native species and are hosts for parasites that are harmful to humans and waterfowl.
To help prevent the spread of these invasive species, REMEMBER TO CLEAN, DRAIN and DRY. Always inspect your water crafts and equipment before and after use!