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Monday, November 01, 2010

Spiney Water Fleas: Not so small an issue

One of the least known of the aquatic invaders to US waters is the Spiney water flea and it's smaller cousin, the Fishhook water flea.  Both of these critters fall into the crustacean family along with shrimp, crabs, crayfish and the like.  But unlike the more popular crustaceans these guys are pretty small, placing them in the zooplankton family.

As a general category, zooplankton are a very important part of the food chain and contribute greatly to a healthy waterway.  However, both these water fleas are larger than your average zooplankton and as such feed heavily on the smaller, native zooplankton. They also reproduce very rapidly and quickly takeover a food supply.  The smaller plankton that they feed on are a very important food source for most juvenile fish.

It's not just being bigger than other zooplankton, but these fleas also have a funky body shape.  Their body is longer and has barbs along its length making it difficult for small juvenile fish to handle them.  Studies have shown that poor growth rates in fish have been the result.

Now all the above is bad enough, but try to visualize this; infestations so great that nuisance build ups occur on fishing line making angling nearly impossible to enjoy.  These build ups look and feel like wet cotton on the line.  As the line is reeled in the water fleas build up in the guides jamming the whole show.  Fisherman are often left with no alternative but to cut their line in order to free up the mess.

These guys are European imports and currently are found in Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan and some inland lakes in New York state.  Odds are, based on where they're confirmed now, that they're in other places too. To curb their spread it is important to be extra diligent in cleaning equipment. Not just the usual wader cleaning and boat scrub but also cleaning fishing line on the reel as these little guys can easily hide and survive there too.

Let's put up a good defense to this invasion and always follow the cleaning instructions on Protect Your Waters website to curtail the spread of these and other aquatic nuisances.