Killer Shrimp Hitching Rides Across UK by Canoe

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Invasive species such as the killer shrimp, zebra mussel and American signal crayfish may be traveling from waterway to waterway throughout Britain in canoes and fishermen's waders.

A survey of 1,500 outdoor enthusiasts published in PLoS ONE shows that most aren't taking precautions to avoid transporting invasive species.

More than half of anglers and nearly 80 percent of canoeists surveyed visited more than one waterway within two weeks. If their equipment isn't properly cleaned and dried between water activities, invasive species can easily hitch a ride. Killer shrimp can survive in damp gear, even in a fold of a wetsuit, for up to 15 days, said study co-author Alison Dunn of the University of Leeds in a release.

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“Once it gets into the new water system, it is voracious,” she said of the shrimp species. “It will take bites out of things and leave them uneaten, killing when it doesn't need to eat.”

Attempting to curb the spread of invasive species, the British government launched a “Check, Clean, Dry” campaign in 2011 to encourage water sports enthusiasts to examine and thoroughly dry their equipment.

Prevention is the best way to contain these destructive animals, said study lead author Lucy Anderson, also of the University of Leeds, in a release: “Once invasive species establish in rivers and lakes, they're almost impossible to eradicate.”

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But Anderson and her colleagues show that many of Britain’s more than 4 million anglers and 400,000 boat owners aren't following that advice. Half of the canoeists and 12 percent of the anglers surveyed do not clean or dry their equipment between trips.

When traveling outside the United Kingdom, 8 percent of anglers and 28 percent of canoeists surveyed failed to clean or dry their gear after international trips, potentially transporting invasive species across borders.

Photo: Killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) travel from waterway to waterway throughout Britain. Credit: The Environment Agency