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Zebra mussel-sniffing K9 inspects two Hubbard County lakes

DNR Conservation Officer Larry Hanson and his K9 searched for zebra mussels on docks pulled from Garfield Lake.1 / 5
Eighteen lakeshore owners on Garfield granted permission for a K9 inspection.2 / 5
DNR Invasive Species Specialist Nicole Kovar inspects a cinder block for zebra mussels. She didn't find any adults, but the K9's keen sense of smell may have detected larvae.3 / 5
Reggie, a six-year-old black lab, has clearly bonded with his partner, Larry Hanson.4 / 5
K9 Reggie paws a dock wheel, then sits, indicating he's picked up the scent of either adult or larval zebra mussels. Kovar was unable to confirm their presence because the wheel opening was filled with mud and water. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)5 / 5

Scientists say a dog's sense of smell is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours.

So it should come as no surprise that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has four zebra mussel-sniffing K9s.

Earlier this week, Nicole Kovar, a DNR invasive species specialist, brought a K9 team to work on Garfield, Benedict and Leech lakes.

DNR Conservation Officer Larry Hanson and his K9, Reggie, arrived from Marshall, Minn. on Wednesday.

"My dog basically came from a rescue group. He's probably the oldest on the team," Hanson said of the six-year-old black Labrador.

Reggie was slated for extermination at a dog pound when he was rescued.

"Now he's got a job," Hanson said. "It is very fascinating. I mean, it's unreal as to the noses on these dogs. They're really fantastic."

He said friendly Reggie "sometimes gets a little too nosy."

The DNR's K9s are trained to detect zebra mussels, both adults and larvae.

In September, an independent laboratory confirmed zebra mussel larvae, called veligers, in Garfield Lake. Two veligers were found in a water sample taken from the lake.

Located near Laporte, Garfield Lake is about 960 acres, with a maximum depth of 32 feet. There is one public access and roughly 110 parcels.

Benedict Lake, in Steamboat Township, is considered "infected" with zebra mussels due to its physical connection with Leech Lake. Zebra mussels were confirmed in Leech Lake last year.

Benedict was the first lake in Hubbard County to be added to the infested waters list for zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels are able to produce offspring quickly. Females cast into the water somewhere around a half-a-million eggs, according to the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center.

Based on the two confirmed veligers, Kovar can estimate the population in Garfield. It's feasible that the veliger survival rate could be low in this instance, she said.

"With the shoreline having a lot of wild rice and a very mucky bottom, when they settle maybe they'll get smothered out by that muck, but there are sandy areas where they could settle and attach," Kovar said. "When we do these lakewide searches, we want to put in that effort to determine if it's a lakewide distribution."

The fact that Minnesota is utilizing K9s to detect zebra mussels makes it unique, Kovar noted. Many other states don't even have dedicated AIS programs.

During a portion of his reconnaissance on Garfield Lake, Reggie indicated the presence of zebra mussels in a dock's wheels, several cinder blocks and a boat motor. Subsequent searches by Kovar and Hubbard County AIS Program Coordinator Bill DonCarlos did not reveal adults. Veligers, however, are microscopic.

"It could be dead veligers. I don't know. That I can't say," Hanson said.

Reggie is trained to recognize both adult and larval zebra mussels.

"It's too bad they can't talk."

Dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. They possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us.

"Good job, Reggie," chimed Garfield lakeshore owners who observed his efforts.