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Spiny waterflea found in Indian Lake

August 24, 2016
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

INDIAN LAKE - An Adirondack lake that was touted as one of the last outposts free from invasive species is now confirmed to no longer hold that mantle.

The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) confirmed this week that the spiny waterflea has been found in Indian Lake. An astute angler found the incredibly small zooplankton on his fishing gear and reported it to the watershed steward on duty at the lake's boat launch.

The spiny waterflea was first detected in the Great Sacandaga Lake in 2008, and has since spread to several other lakes in the southeastern Adirondacks, including Peck's Lake, Lake George, Lake Champlain, Sacandaga Lake and Piseco Lake.

Article Photos

Two adult spiny waterfleas on the tip of a pinky finger. The specimen on the left has yet to be hatched offspring in the brood pouch on its back.
Photo provided by APIPP

Even though spiny waterflea sounds like something you could step on or have to shave your head to get rid of, Erin Vennie-Vollrath of APIPP says that the small animal doesn't pose a threat to humans.

"There is no human harm concerns with spiny waterflea," Vennie-Vollrath said. Vennie-Vollrath is the Aquatic Invasive Species project coordinator for APIPP. "The spines look really stiff, but they aren't strong enough to pierce skin."

But that doesn't mean that there is no cause for concern with the discovery.

Spiny waterfleas range from about a quarter of an inch to little over half an inch in size as adults, and create havoc on lake's ecosystems by feeding on native zooplankton that young fish would be consuming.

This limits the natural diet of species such as trout and salmon, and removes an important, yet often unseen, source of nutrition for native fish. The waterflea makes for a poor replacement as the long spines, though harmless to us, make them hard to consume and digest for young fish.

According to an APIPP press release, the discovery of the waterflea in Indian Lake is thanks to a fisherman who noticed them on his line and showed them to the steward. Vennie-Vollrath said that anglers are often the first to notice this small invasive.

"They'll often get it on their fishing lines or they'll catch on the down-riggers," she said Wednesday morning. "Or in the eyelets as the angler is reeling back the line.

"They'll kind of look like a gelatinous blob. Hundreds of spiny waterfleas can collect on the line. I've heard it explained as kind of like balls of cotton with spines sticking up," she added. "You've got to really look closely at it, but you'll see them."

"Hopefully they'll (anglers) know there's something suspicious about that and then report it to us here at APIPP."

The waterflea's small size and ability to attach to almost any part of a trailer, boat or fishing gear can make it hard to detect. So APIPP says that the standard Clean, Drain, Dry protocol to prevent invasive species movement is the best option. This is also New York State law.

Vennie-Vollrath said that there is some science that shows the waterfleas can't live very long out of the water, but it's best to let everything dry for at least five days before going from one body of water to another. There is no remedy to remove the waterfleas once they've been introduced to a waterbody, so prevention is key.

"One of the best things is to let the boat dry out completely. (But) they can be carried in any little pockets of water that might be on the boat," she said. "Really make sure that the bilge is drained out (and) lowering the mower so that the water out of the motor can be drained out."

She said that fishing gear should be carefully checked, along with other parts of the boat that might get overlooked, like anchor and bumper lines.

Vennie-Vollrath added that high-pressure hot water can also be effective and that boaters and anglers can use the expertise of watershed stewards to help wash the boat.

APIPP has about 25 free boat wash station around the Adirondacks, and they can be found by visiting



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