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Dreissena spp.

Diagnostic features

Shells equivalve, mytiliform, inflated, sunken elongate internal ligament. There is a distinct septum behind umbos. Periostracum present. Edentate hinge without teeth. Pallial line not sinuate. Anatomy: eulamellibranch gills, closed mantle with two well developed short siphons. Very small foot with a byssal apparatus (Huber 2010)..


Class Bivalvia

Subclass Heterodonta

Order Veneroidea

Superfamily Dreissenoidea

Family Dreissenidae

Genus Dreissena van Beneden, 1835

Type speciesMytilus polymorphus Pallas, 1771

Original reference: Van Beneden, P. J. (1835). Histoire naturelle et anatomique du Driessena [sic] polymorpha, genre nouveau dans la famille de mylilacées [sic]. Bulletins de L’Academie Royale des Sciences et Belles-lettres de Bruxelles 2: 25-26

Type locality: Tributary of the Ural River in the Caspian Sea Basin, Russia.

Biology and ecology

Epifaunal. Very adaptable and can tolerate a wide range of salinity and water conditions, ranging from fresh to brackish water. Dioecious with external fertilisation and planktotrophic larvae. Extremely fertile and fast growing, can reach huge population densities.


Native to the lakes of southeast Russia, the Dnieper River drainage of Ukraine and includes the Black and Caspian Seas but has spread throughout Europe and North America, China and India.


Dresseina spp. do not occur in Australia but because it could be accidentally introduced, it is mentioned here as a potential threat.

Two members of this genus have become major pests in freshwater environments in North America and Europe by clogging water intake structures (e.g., pipes and screens). Recreational activities on lakes and rivers are also affected as mussels accumulate on docks, buoys, boat hulls, anchors, and beaches can become fouled by masses of empty shells. They can adversely affect native freshwater molluscs by attaching to their shells which affects their mobility, impedes their respiration and compete with them for food.

Dreissena polymorpha (Pallas, 1771) (The Zebra Mussel) is shaped like many mytilid mussels but is not related to them. It is highly variable, and while young specimens have characteristic zig-zag markings these are often lacking in adult specimens. Dreissena polymorpha is similar in appearance to Dreissena bugensis but has a narrower and more elongated shell. Dreissena polymorpha has a flat or concave ventral margin with the ventral edge of the shell flattened with an acute angle on each side.

Dresseina bugensis (Andrusov, 1897) (The Quagga Mussel) is similar in appearance to Dreissena polymorpha but has a broader and less elongated shell, it is also paler in colour toward the hinge. Dreissena bugensis has a convex ventral margin and lacks the carina between the ventral and lateral shell surfaces resulting in a rounded cross-section.

Where Dresseina bugensis and D. polymorpha co-exist, the former appears to outcompete the latter.

Further reading

Domm, S., McCauley, R. W., Kott, E. & Ackerman, J. D. (1993). Physiological and taxonomic separation of two dreissenid mussels in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Canadian Journal of Fisheries And Aquatic Sciences 50: 2294-2297.

Huber, M. (2010). Compendium of bivalves. A full-color guide to 3,300 of the World’s Marine Bivalves. A status on Bivalvia after 250 years of research. Hackenheim, Germany, ConchBooks.

Karatayev, A. Y., Burlakova, L. E. & Padilla, D. K. (2002). Impacts of zebra mussels on aquatic communities and their role as ecosystem engineers. Pp. 433-446 in E. Leppäkoski, Gollasch, S. & Olenin, S. Invasive aquatic species of Europe. Distribution, impacts and management, Springer.

Mills, E. L., Rosenberg, G., Spidle, A. P., Ludyanskiy, M., Pligin, Y. & May, B. (1996). A review of the biology and ecology of the quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), a second species of freshwater dreissenid introduced to North America. American Zoologist 36: 271-286.

Molloy, D. P., bij de Vaate, A., Wilke, T. & Giamberini, L. (2007). Discovery of Dreissena rostriformis bugensis (Andrusov 1897) in western Europe. Biological Invasions 9: 871-874.

Morton, B., Nalepa, T. F. & Schloesser, D. W. (1993). The anatomy of Dreissena polymorpha and the evolution and success of the heteromyarian form in the Dreissenoidea. Zebra mussels: biology, impacts, and control. B. Morton. %%, %%. %%: 185-215.

Nalepa, T. F. & Schloesser, D. W., Eds. (2014). Quagga and zebra mussels; biology, impacts, and control. Second edition. Boca Raton, Florida, CRC Press.

Ng, T.H., Tan, S.K., Wong, W.H., Meier, R., Chan, S-Y., Tan, H.H. and Yeo, D.C.J. 2016. Molluscs for Sale: Assessment of Freshwater Gastropods and Bivalves in the Ornamental Pet Trade. PLOS One. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0161130.