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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
Bizarre video attacks pesky bug in Great Lakes
WXXI - Rochester, NY (7/30)
There are plenty of invasive species vying for the public’s attention, especially in the Great Lakes, so researchers trying to raise awareness about a little aquatic animal called the Spiny Water Flea have to get creative.

Serious invasive species education blitz begins with a bit of humor
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (6/29)
The Wisconsin DNR and University of Wisconsin Extension have released a video titled "Stop the Spiny Water Flea Invasion," which includes a takeoff of the movie "Patton."

Spiny water flea clouds lake and its future
Great Lakes Echo (3/29)
The spiny water flea is a small invader causing big problems in Wisconsin. The invasive crustacean has clouded that state’s Lake Mendota, which could cost millions of dollars to restore, according to a new study.

This little flea — and its huge appetite — could ruin the Great Lakes
The Washington Post (3/22)
Since their arrival in cargo ships that sucked up fresh water in Europe and the Far East and dumped it in the Great Lakes, spiny fleas have had significant impacts on Lake Mendota in Madison, Wis.

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.

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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 15, 2017
Selected Photos: Copyright ©John and Ann Mahan
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