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August 17th, 2019

This article was originally published in the Erie Times News by Matthew Rink.

The bloody red shrimp were found recently off of the Lampe Marina Campground.

Three Penn State Behrend students, with the help of two professors, have for the first time discovered that an invasive freshwater crustacean known as the bloody red shrimp occupies Lake Erie waters in Pennsylvania.

Before Emily Dobry, Kyle Deloe and Noel Moore's discovery, the closest the bloody red shrimp had been found in Lake Erie waters was near Dunkirk, New York. It's also been found off the Ashtabula, Ohio, shoreline, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Because bloody red shrimp, which are only a few millimeters in length, feed off small plankton, they could pose a long-term threat to native organisms like small fish. The students found bloody red shrimp about two hours after sundown on July 25 near Lampe Marina Campground.

"It's a tiny little organism that probably for a lot of people is of little import," said Dobry, 35, who will begin graduate work in horticulture this fall at Pennsylvania State University's main campus. "They don't care a whole lot. It's tiny. You can't see it. What does it do? But if you love where you live and you want to protect it, you need to know what's there. So, for us, this was really important. It was just an unanswered question. For Erie, lake recreation is such an important part of our economy in the summer. We need to know what's going on in our waters."

The discovery was confirmed by James Grazio, Ph.D., a Great Lakes biologist with the Department of Environmental Protection.

"It was detected in New York. It was detected in Ohio, but we'd looked in Pennsylvania and we were never successful in finding it," Grazio said. "This research group from Penn State, they took the initiative to speak with some experts and learn how to collect these organisms. They went out to a location that we'd actually sampled before. It was a promising location, but they sampled it at the right time, which happens to be later in the evening, and using the right technique. Lo and behold, there it was."

Grazio noted that in addition to his own efforts to locate the "elusive, not particularly abundant" crustacean, a team with the Pennsylvania Sea Grant that operates out of the Tom Ridge Environmental Center has conducted passive surveillance using a monitoring device around Presque Isle.

"They monitored for an entire summer with no success," he said.

Bloody red shrimp, also known as mysids and opossum shrimp (because females carry their eggs in a pouch), are native to the Ponto-Caspian region of Eastern Europe, according to Sea Grant, a partnership between the state, Penn State and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are either ivory or translucent but can change the color of their upper hard shell and telson (or tail) to a reddish color in response to environmental conditions, like changes in light or temperature. Distinguishing features include large eyes and a square-shaped telson.

They were first found in the Great Lakes in 2006 in Muskegon Lake, which connects to Lake Michigan. They most likely were introduced through ballast water discharges from ships. They've likely spread to other areas through bait-bucket transfers, bilges, boat motors, trailers and hulls.

Grazio noted that the bloody red shrimp comes from the same region as round goby and zebra mussel — other non-native species that have invaded Lake Erie.

"We know that it comes from an area with some known bad actors," he said. "But here's the thing with some invasive species, you really don't know what the full impacts are for years later."

Dobry, Deloe and Moore made their discovery as part of a research project led by Matt Gruwell, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at Behrend who specializes in evolution, genetics, entomology and invertebrate zoology, and Ivor Knight, Ph.D., a biology professor and the associate dean of research and graduate studies. Gruwell and Knight were awarded a $177,373 grant through the Great Lakes Protection Fund to study "early detection of ship-mediated invasive species through eDNA detection." The research focused on the efficacy of Environmental DNA, or eDNA, processes as they relate to crustacea, specifically the bloody red shrimp.

"Much like you would look for evidence of certain human beings at a crime scene, it's the same sort of technique," Knight said.

Environmental DNA research aims to determine the presence of an organism by collecting samples of water, soil, snow or even air that might contain DNA that an organism has expelled while living in or moving through the environment. Gruwell and Knight, for example, found that the DNA of bloody red shrimp does not persist in water after a few weeks and that it is viable for an even shorter period in an environment rich with other organisms, including bacteria and fungi.

This summer, the team traveled to Geneva, New York, to meet with Meghan Brown, a biology professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Brown's research focuses on the North American invasion of non-native species, including the bloody red shrimp, according to her profile on the colleges' website. Brown not only provided the Behrend team with insight on her research, but she also supplied it with samples of the organism to use in their own eDNA study. Those samples were frozen to mitigate any risk of introducing them to a new environment.

Gruwell and Knight's research did not require that the bloody red shrimp be discovered in local waters.

But a few days after returning from the Finger Lakes region, Dobry, Deloe and Moore ventured out to Lampe Marina Campground.

"I wasn't as concerned to find them because we're doing these experiments, but they really wanted to do it as soon as we came back from Geneva," Knight said. "They took the initiative, went out on that pier late at night and came back with the organisms, so it was really their initiative to (make) this first discovery in Pennsylvania of bloody red shrimp invasion."

Deloe, 31, said the students had a bit of luck making their discovery on the first try.

"It was good that it was brought to the Department of Environmental Protection's attention for our state," the senior biology major said.

They credit the time of day when and location where they looked. Bloody red shrimp are nocturnal and tend to live in rocky areas that are not too deep in the water.

Grazio said the DEP will continue to monitor their presence in Lake Erie.

"This is not necessarily a high priority, invasive species that would trigger some sort of control effort, like a chemical response, for example," he said. "But it reminds us that you need to make efforts to prevent the ongoing spread of these organisms. And the general advice that we have for the public is that you should clean, drain and dry, any gear, any boats that come in contact with the water before you move that equipment to a new body of water."

Matthew Rink can be reached at 870-1884 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at

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