If you're a customer of Petco or Petsmart you may have unwittingly brought home an invasive species hiding inside your purchase.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation warns consumers that they may have introduced a dangerous animal to the environment without even knowing it. The warning says the invasive species can easily cause "environmental and economic harm" to the region.

The aquarium sections of Petco and Petsmart sell plant life for fish tanks. Beside plastic seaweed and imitation grasses, you can find live plants that give aquariums a more natural look. Some of the plant life sold, however, may be hiding a dangerous secret.

The DEC warns that commercially purchased moss balls could be harboring the larvae of Zebra Mussels.  These creatures are classified as an aquatic invasive species and can wreak havoc on the environment. The larvae are so small that they can't be seen by the naked eye, but the DEC warns that they can grow into Zebra mussels and cause big problems if released into the environment.

NYS DEC

If you purchased moss balls at either Petco or Petsmart you should follow these steps suggested by the DEC:

  • Dispose of moss balls removed from tanks in a sealed garbage bag. Other aquarium plants should also be disposed of as they may harbor zebra mussels;
  • To disinfect a tank after safely removing any animals, apply household bleach - one cup of bleach per gallon of water - and let it sit for 10 minutes before disposing of water down the sink or toilet;
  • Disinfect filters, gravel, and structures with a solution of bleach. Water from filters must also be treated with household bleach before disposing of water down the sink or drain;
  • For larger tanks that cannot be easily drained, email isinfo@dec.ny.gov for instructions;
  • If zebra mussels are in a tank or on a moss ball, take a photo if possible and report the observation via email isinfo@dec.ny.gov, or by phone, 518-402-9405; and
  • Be advised, just because zebra mussels might not be seen does not mean their larvae are not present.

Petco and Petsmart both have posted information about voluntary recalls of the moss balls.

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