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Either of two species of tiny mussels (genus Dreissena) that are prominent freshwater pests. They proliferate quickly and adhere in great numbers to virtually any surface. The voracious mussels disrupt food webs by wiping out phytoplankton, and their massive clustering on water-intake valves and pipes, bridge abutments, and other structures can cause severe commercial damage. They made their first known attack on Europe in the early 19th century and were carried (probably in ship water ballasts) to North America c. 1986; their invasion of all the Great Lakes has had devastating effects on the lakes' native mussel and fish populations.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on zebra mussel, visit Britannica.com.