5 Invasive Species in the Mississippi River

Mississippi River - New Orleans
© Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: June 7, 2023

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Key Points:
  • The Mississippi River is the second-longest river in North America, stretching approximately 2,320 miles from its source in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The river is a major economic force, serving as an important waterway for transportation and commerce, as well as providing water for agriculture, hydroelectric power, and recreation.
  • The Mississippi River is a dynamic and ever-changing system that is subject to floods, droughts, and shifting course over time. The river is also home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, including rare and endangered species such as the pallid sturgeon and the interior least tern.

The Mississippi River starts in Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, ends in the Gulf of Mexico, and houses more marine life than any other lake in Wisconsin.

According to the Wisconsin Government, the river is home to more than 119 species of fish and much other flora and fauna.

And while some of these species such as basses, catfishes, and mussels are naturally occurring or native to the region, others are not.

This article takes a look at five invasive species in the Mississippi River.

Infographic of 5 Invasive Species in the Mississippi River
Invasive species in the Mississippi take over territory, disrupt the ecosystem, and damage infrastructure.

What Are Invasive Species?

You’ve probably heard someone speak about invasive species but what are they, really? And why do they matter? The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources answers these questions best:

“Many non-native or exotic species have been introduced to Wisconsin from other countries or another part of the U.S., either deliberately or by accident. Some of these plants and animals have not been a detriment to the resource; others have become pests and are considered invasive exotics.”

Since Mississippi’s invasive species are introduced, some of them affect the river negatively. One of the most common negative effects of introduced species is territory takeover.

Introduced species grow and expand at faster rates than native species for many reasons, such as a lack of natural predators. This makes it rather difficult to keep them in control.

What Are 5 Invasive Animal Species in the Mississippi?

The Mississippi hosts many invasive species whose presence is intentional or accidental.

©Milen Mkv/Shutterstock.com

The Mississippi River is home to many invasive species. Zebra mussels, round gobies, rusty crayfish, Asian carp, and faucet snails are five of the most infamous and detrimental invasive species. They were introduced into the Mississippi River either intentionally or accidentally.

1. Zebra Mussels

what do mussels eat

Zebra mussels were first discovered in the waters of Lake St. Clair in 1988.


Zebra Mussels are native to Eastern Europe’s Caspian Sea and were first discovered in the waters of Lake St. Clair in 1988. By 1991, they had made their way into the Mississippi River.

One fun fact about these animals is that they are the only freshwater mollusk species able to attach to hard surfaces.

Mississippi isn’t the only lake invaded by zebra mussels. They are now found in 23 states of the United States. This is primarily because the female zebra mussel can lay up to 1 million eggs per year. They are preyed upon by ducks, crabs, and some fish species.

One of the major problems with having zebra mussels is that their ability to attach to hard surfaces causes problems for urban infrastructures, such as underwater electrical utilities and even pipes.

2. Round Gobies

Round gobies are native to central Eurasia.

©Geza Farkas/Shutterstock.com

Native to Central Eurasia, round goby fishes invaded and established themselves in large populations in the Mississippi. They have soft skins and dorsal fins on their small bodies. Round gobies have large eyes that seem to want to pop out.

Female round gobies reach maturity within one to two years and can spawn up to six times in a year. They place their eggs in crevices between rocks. Male gobies are extremely territorial and guard their eggs really well. Generally, round gobies are aggressive feeders that hunt and forage easily in total darkness.

This invasive species is found in the Mississippi River as well as other Great Lakes. They are also known to have spread into the Ship Canal, Chicago Sanitary, and even the lower parts of the Des Plaines River.

3. Rusty Crayfish

Rusty Crayfish (Faxonius rusticus)

The rusty crayfish originate from the Ohio River Basin and are named for two rusty spots on their claws.

©Peterwchen / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

The rusty crayfish is native to the Ohio River Basin. They are an aggressive and large species of freshwater crayfish. Rusty crayfish have greenish-gray to reddish-brown colors. They get their name from two rusty-red spots on the sides of their back and front claws.

When native crayfish in the Mississippi come across predators, they turn around and flee to try to escape. Sometimes, they are caught, which keeps their population in check.

However, rusty crayfish do not flee but fight attackers. Since the fish that prey on crayfish in the Mississippi aren’t used to their prey fighting, they do not attack rusty crayfish. This allows their population to grow unchecked.

They are also good at avoiding predators and often grow to be too large to be caught or eaten. Rusty crabs also snatch up all the best hiding spots from native fishes. This makes them safe while endangering native Mississippi fish.

4. Asian Carp

Asian carp were brought from China to the U.S. in the 1970s.

©Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock.com

In the 1970s, Arkansas fish farmers brought bighead carps, silver carps, and grass carps to the U.S from China in Asia. They did this to improve the quality of the water in their fish farms. Carps will feed on algae and can purify waters if used carefully for that purpose.

However, in the 1980s, the carp escaped from the farms and made their way to the Mississippi. Carps in the Mississippi are said to eat their weight in plankton. Eating such large amounts reduces what is left of Mississippi’s natural fishes that feed on plankton. They also feed on other vegetation. This way, they disrupt the balance of the ecosystem.

5. Faucet Snails

Faucet snail (Bithynia tentaculata), also called mud bithynia or common bithynia

The faucet snail is native to Europe and an invasive species in the U.S.

©Michal Maňas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

The faucet snail is a European species now found in many Wisconsin lakes including the Mississippi River. It is said that they were introduced by vegetation in packing crates or in ballast water. They have coiled spiral shells and are colored light brown or black. Faucet snails are known to host exotic trematodes or flukes which travel with them to the Mississippi.

However, while faucet snails can be majorly harmless, the same cannot be said of the organisms they host. Trematodes are known to cause waterbird mortality as they are intestinal parasites for waterbirds. They are known to have been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of ducks.

Faucet snails are also known to destroy infrastructure such as pipes as they easily clog them.

Summary of 5 Invasive Species in the Mississippi River

Here’s a recap of the five invasive species introduced to the Mississippi that we took a look at.

NumberSpeciesNative HabitatEnvironmental Threat
1Zebra MusselsEastern Europe’s Caspian SeaAbility to attach to hard surfaces creates issues for pipes and electrical utilities; lay up to 1 million eggs per year
2Round GobiesCentral EurasiaEstablished themselves in large populations in the Mississippi
3Rusty CrayfishOhio River BasinAvoided by predators due to fighting back, allowing population to grow unchecked; endanger native fish by taking up hiding spots
4Asian CarpChinaDisrupt the balance of the ecosystem by eating large amounts of plankton
5Faucet SnailsEuropeOrganisms they host cause waterbird mortality; destroy infrastructure such as pipes through clogging

What Type of Animals Live in the Mississippi?

The Mississippi River is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, ranging from small insects and invertebrates to large mammals and fish.

The river’s unique environment provides a rich habitat for a wide variety of species that are adapted to live in and around the water.

These types of animals live in the Mississippi:

  • Fish
  • Birds
  • Mammals.

The Mississippi River is home to a large variety of fish species, including catfish, carp, bass, and sturgeon. Some of the more unique species found in the river include the paddlefish, which has a long snout filled with sensors that it uses to locate food, and the alligator gar, which can grow to over 8 feet in length.

The Mississippi River is an important stopover point for many migratory bird species, including waterfowl, songbirds, and shorebirds.

The river and its surrounding wetlands provide critical habitats for these species, as well as a source of food and shelter. Some of the more common bird species found in the area include the great blue heron, the American white pelican, and the sandhill crane.

The Mississippi River is also home to a variety of mammal species, including beavers, muskrats, and river otters. These species play an important role in the river’s ecosystem, helping to control the flow of water, maintain the health of the river’s vegetation, and control populations of smaller animals.

How to Help Prevent the Spread of Mississippi’s Invasive Species

If you want to help prevent the spread of invasive species in the Mississippi River, there are things you can do if you swim or fish in the river. First, you can assist natural resource managers to monitor the river and spot these invasive species.

If you spot a new infestation of invasive species, you can help by reporting it to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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