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  Spiny Water Flea
in the Great Lakes Region

Overview | General Resources | Related Resources
 
Current invaders:
Crustaceans: Rusty Crayfish | Spiny Water Flea
Fish: Goby (Round) | Goby (Tubenose) | Rudd | Ruffe | Sea Lamprey | White Perch
Mollusks: Quagga Mussel | Zebra Mussel
Plants: Curly-leaf Pondweed | Eurasian Watermilfoil | Phragmites (non-native) | Purple Loosestrife
Viruses: Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia Virus (VHSv)
 
Potential invaders:
Fish: Asian Carp

[Invasive species home page]

 
What's New
Spiny water fleas in Great Lakes indicate a larger problem
Great Lakes Echo (10/17)
The self-sustaining populations of the spiny water flea, an invasive species, suggest a greater problem in the Great Lakes, according to researchers.

Invasive spiny waterflea confirmed in Lake Champlain
Burlington Free Press (8/28)
The arrival of the invasive spiny water flea into Lake Champlain, which invaded the Great Lakes in the 1980s, has been officially confirmed by regional scientists.

Video seeks help in preventing Great Lakes species invasions
The Associated Press (5/21)
Three states in the Great Lakes region are cooperating on a video campaign encouraging boaters and anglers to avoid spreading invasive species.

Spreading the invasive spiny water flea upsets lake ecosystems
Great lakes Echo (4/23)
Researchers believe that anchors and fishing lines can help spread the invasive spiny water flea, and Great Lakes fishermen may need to follow stricter equipment cleaning regulations.

Why the water flea makes life miserable for lake fish
The Citizen (8/3)
Water fleas, an invasive species from Europe, is problematic because it isn't a good source of food for fish, it competes for food with juvenile fish, and it can foul fishing lines.

20 years after discovery, spiny water fleas thrive in Island Lake
Duluth News Tribune (10/11)
Two decades after first invading Island Lake Reservoir north of Duluth, spiny water fleas have muscled their way ahead of native species and signaled that they are here to stay.

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Overview
Single Bythotrephes specimen The spiny water flea (Bythotrephes cederstroemi), or "B.C.," is not an insect at all, but a tiny (less than half an inch long) crustacean with a long, sharp, barbed tail spine. A native of Great Britain and northern Europe east to the Caspian Sea, the animal was first found in Lake Huron in 1984--probably imported in the ballast water of a trans-oceanic freighter. Since then, populations have exploded and the animal can now be found throughout the Great Lakes and in some inland lakes.
 
Spiny Water Flea on downrigger cable No one is really sure what effect spiny water fleas will have on the ecosystems of the Great Lakes region. But resource managers are worried, because the animals may compete directly with young perch and other small fish for food, such as "Daphnia" zooplankton.
 
Spiny water fleas also reproduce rapidly. During warm summer conditions each female can produce up to 10 offspring every two weeks. As temperatures drop in the fall, eggs are produced that can lie dormant all winter.
 
High numbers would not pose a problem if spiny water fleas were heavily consumed by predators. But its sharp spine makes it extremely hard for small fish to eat, leaving only some large fish to feed on them. As a result, spiny water flea populations remain high while populations of plankton, which they eat, have declined.
 
Likely means of spread: Spiny water flea eggs and adults may wind up unseen in bilge water, bait buckets, and livewells. Also, fishing lines and downriggers will often be coated with both eggs and adults.

 
Photo credits: Single Bythotrephes specimen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Spiny Water Flea on downrigger cable; Jeff Gunderson, Minnesota Sea Grant.
 
References: A Field Guide to Aquatic Exotic Plants and Animals, University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program

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General Resources
Factsheet: Bythotrephes cederstroemi (PDF)
Ohio Sea Grant College Program

Spiny Tailed Bythotrephes
Minnesota Sea Grant Program
The Spiny Water Flea's life history and effects on the Great Lakes.

Spiny Water Flea (Bythotrephes cederstroemi)
Sea Grant Nonindigenous Species Site (SGNIS)
Includes scientifically reviewed articles as well as images from Sea Grant researchers.

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Related Resources
GLIN: Agencies and Organizations, Fauna
GLIN: Fish and Fisheries in the Great Lakes Region

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Updated: December 20, 2014
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