Yes, moss balls are a real thing. And it's possible zebra mussels aren't just traveling by boat anymore, they may have moved into Minnesota pet stores.
Why is it NOT good? For that let's take a quick look at what the United States Geological Survey (USGS) says...
Zebra mussels are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk...(they) probably arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s via ballast water that was discharged by large ships from Europe. They have spread rapidly...(they) ...filter out algae that native species need for food and they attach to--and incapacitate--native mussels. Power plants must also spend millions of dollars removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes.
The long and the short of it is we don't want these...and if they're being spread via pet store moss balls, the problem will just keep getting bigger because of a lot of us have fish tanks.
The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center is partnering with the University of Minnesota Genomics Center to check for genetic markers so we'll know where they came from. Why is that important?
MAISRC Director and Research Fellow Dr. Nicholas Phelps said, "That way, if any new lakes become infested with zebra mussels in Minnesota over the next few years, we may be able to genetically link those populations,” explained Phelps. “Was the new lake infested from a neighboring infested lake, or was it from the release of these moss ball zebra mussels? By conducting this genetic testing now, we’ll be able to know.”
The USGS first heard about this in March of this year, but even though they moved fast to warn fish-tank-owners, "within the month, over over 25 states including Minnesota reported moss balls containing zebra mussels."
These li'l suckers are super destructive and they need to be stomped out. How can you help? If you believe you purchased a moss ball containing zebra mussels, contact your local Natural Resources Department for instructions. Find that info here.