Can You Eat Zebra Mussels?

by Charlie
Zebra Mussels on Driftwood

If you are a fan of seafood, you are probably always keen to try the next new thing, and zebra mussels sound like a delicious and exotic dish. If you have also heard that they are causing problems for native species, you might be wondering why we aren’t eating them in great quantities.

Can you eat zebra mussels? Unfortunately, zebra mussels are not very good to eat. They are technically edible, but they do not contain much meat, making them a poor choice for mussel dishes. Additionally, like all filter feeders, they are likely to collect a lot of pollutants and toxins inside them, which you might not want to consume.

Can You Eat Zebra Mussels?

You technically can eat zebra mussels if you want to, yes. If you are keen on trying all kinds of different foods and these take your fancy, you should not suffer any ill effects as a result of consuming them. They are edible, but the USGS does not recommend their consumption by people.

A lot of animals do eat zebra mussels, including ducks and fish, so they are not poisonous, but they will collect up pollutants from the local water, and this may make them unsuitable for humans to eat, even if these are not detectable in the flesh.

It is better to choose other species of mussels to eat if you wish to consume mussels. There are many brands available commercially, and most of these contain more meat and more flavor. They may still have some inherent problems because they are also filter feeders, but they are considered better food.

Some people also claim that zebra mussels taste bad, and this makes them an unpopular food as well. A few diners may enjoy the flavor, but it is not generally popular and you are very unlikely to find zebra mussels sold in stores or restaurants.

What’s the Problem with Filter Feeders?

You might be wondering what issue filter feeders cause. The issue is not with the feeders themselves, but with what might be in the water that they pick up. Admittedly, humans are to blame for the vast majority of the pollutants and toxins, but most of us still don’t want to be eating these things for dinner.

Zebra mussels feed by sucking in water and filtering the particles out of it. They will then decide what particles they want to eat, and eject the rest. Usually, they will keep fish feces, tiny organisms, and any organic matter that they can consume. They will digest this, and it serves as food.

However, it is not uncommon for other things to be trapped during this process, and they are known to collect up pollutants, toxins, and plenty of things that you would not want to be putting into your mouth. They are particularly efficient filter feeders, too, which makes them a worse option than many of the other kinds.

While it isn’t the fault of zebra mussels that our water contains these things, the situation does not make the mussels very appetizing, and most experts do not recommend that people eat them because of these things.

This is unfortunate, because they are a highly invasive species that is spreading across the world, but because of the pollution and the low meat content, zebra mussels aren’t considered good food.

Are Zebra Mussels a Problem?

You might be wondering if these creatures can serve any other useful purpose, if they aren’t a suitable food source, or if they are just a nuisance. On the whole, they are considered a pretty big nuisance, and they are spreading quickly, which makes them an issue.

Zebra mussels do have many natural predators, so in balanced conditions, they can make up a part of the natural food chain. Many large fish feed on zebra mussels, as do ducks and some other water birds, although they are not thought to provide a great amount of nutrition to these creatures. Alone, they cannot sustain a bird or fish.

It is also thought that they cause major damage to microscopic plants in the water, and filter out so much of the phytoplankton that native species cannot find enough to eat.

Zebra mussels may attack native mussel populations, and because they concentrate toxic materials within their shells, they could also be harmful to any fish or birds that eat them – just as they could be toxic to people.

If you take a boat out in waters that are affected by these mussels, it is advised that you clean and sterilize the boat afterward to try and reduce the spread of them, because they are causing major issues, and conservationists everywhere are trying to prevent them from traveling further.

In short, zebra mussels can be a pretty big problem, and they do not serve as a useful commodity to humans, meaning that there is little hope of an industry picking them up and solving the problem. About the only use for them that we have is turning the shells into jewelry or art projects.

Can You Keep Zebra Mussels in an Aquarium?

It isn’t advisable to keep zebra mussels in an aquarium, no. This may be simply because governments are trying to control the spread and reduce the numbers of this species, as they do not directly cause any harm in an aquarium.

They will not add any notable benefit, however, and it may be best to choose one of the mussel species which is under threat, instead. If you plan on the mussels providing food for fish, note that zebra mussels are not very nutritious and would therefore be a poor choice.

Final Thoughts

You can technically consume zebra mussels in that their flesh is edible, but they are not considered a particularly safe source of food, because they filter toxins and pollutants from the water, and these may end up in concentrations within the mussels’ shells.

Zebra mussels are also not particularly tasty, and some people even say that they taste bad. They are not very nutritious, either, so they do not make a good source of food, however exotic they might sound!

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