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Environment & Climate Change

Researchers find tiny new non-native creature in Lake Erie

Joe Connolly
Cornell University
Non-native female Thermocyclops crassus (above), native Mesocyclops edax (below).

There’s a new creature in the Great Lakes and it has “cyclops” in its name.

It’s called Thermocyclops crassus. It’s a kind of zooplankton.

Elizabeth Hinchey Molloy is with the EPA’s Great Lakes Program Office. She says it's extremely small.

“It’s less than one millimeter, so smaller than the dot a pencil makes,” she says.

The EPA and researchers from Cornell University found the species in western Lake Erie. It’s native to Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that we don’t have enough information to know what sort of risk the species may or may not pose to the Great Lakes. So its risk status is classified as uncertain at this time," says Hinchey Molloy.

She says the EPA will work with other researchers to figure out how widespread the organism might be. She says so far, they haven’t found it in any of the other lakes.

Marc Smith is with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office.

“It’s troubling and serious because it basically underscores how our Great Lakes and all of our U.S. waters, communities and businesses remain vulnerable,” he says.

The EPA's Hinchey Molloy says it’s not clear yet how Thermocyclops crassus got into Lake Erie.

Here's more from the EPA's FAQs about the creature:

There isn’t enough information available yet to tell if Thermocyclops crassus is invasive. This exotic species had previously been discovered in North America in Lake Champlain in 1991, but it remains rare in that system. A study of transoceanic ships entering the Great Lakes from 2001 through 2002 -- before the current standards on flushing ballast water went into effect -- found one Thermocyclops crassus in the sediment of a ballast water tank of one ship. The species’ detection in Lake Erie was not part of that study. Its native ecosystem conditions are similar to those of western Lake Erie due to the warm mesotrophic and eutrophic water.

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