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‘Sinister’ Chinese mussel has found its way into British waters

‘Sinister’ Chinese mussel that can smother scallops and oysters has found its way into British waters

  • Asian date mussels have striking zigzag marks on their small shells
  • They were first found in China and have caused problems worldwide
  • Dense mats of the mussels can choke scallops, oysters and seagrass

Shellfish that can nip scallops and oysters have found their way to Britain – and feel at home on our beaches.

The Asian date mussel can be distinguished from its original counterparts by the zigzag marks on the scale.

Found for the first time in China, it has caused significant problems in other areas where it has been invaded. It can form dense mats of up to 1500 mussels per square meter – which can choke scallops and oysters and damage seagrass.

The Asian date mussel can be distinguished from its native counterparts by the zigzag markings

The Asian date mussel can be distinguished from its native counterparts by the zigzag markings

The mats form when hundreds of mussels live side by side. Each creates a protective cocoon around him of short, fine, hair-like threads that get tangled and connect the group together.

First described by William Benson in 1841, he gave them the Latin name Arcuatula senhousia – presumably a reference to the British naval officer Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse who died during the Opium War in Hong Kong.

Peter Barfield, a marine scientist at the University of Portsmouth, was the first to publish a confirmation that the Asian date mussel has made British waters home, in the Journal of Conchology.

He said there is “clear evidence” that the mussels live and feed on the south coast.

“It is mentioned in invasive species databases as” one to watch out for, “but whether it thrives here or causes problems for British native species depends on a wide range of factors,” he said. “It would be wise to keep an eye on it.”

British scallops (photo) are said to be at risk because of the Chinese mussels that they can destroy

British scallops (photo) are said to be at risk because of the Chinese mussels that they can destroy

British scallops (photo) are said to be at risk because of the Chinese mussels that they can destroy

The mussel has settled everywhere from Siberia to Singapore and has also been found in the Netherlands. The coming years will be crucial to see if it spreads over the British coast.

It has been found to live in soft sediment in British waters, and is known to attach to hard surfaces such as other shells both below the sea and up to the high water line.

Until this year, the previous closest known sight of the mussel was in the Bay of Biscay in 2009.

“If those people had moved slowly north, it’s reasonable to assume that it would have been seen by someone,” Barfield said.

“The fact that no observations have been recorded suggests that those found in British waters have been transported here, for example via shipping.”

Creatures known to hunt mussels are seabirds, fish, crustaceans and snails.

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