If you’re like me, you’ll be hitting the creeks this spring to catch a trout or smallmouth bass. But did you know that as you wade along, the very stream bed you walk on is teeming with life? In fact, much of the stream bed itself is alive…
|Mussels are diverse and often mistaken for rocks (source).|
Freshwater mussels have one of the most unique life cycles of any aquatic organism. After spawning occurs in spring, a female mussel will keep her brood inside her shell. When the juvenile mussels (called glochidia) are old enough to be released, the female uses a fish to disperse them. That’s right—mussels send their kids out on the gills of fishes.
How does she do this?
|Mussels have artificial lures that sometimes resemble fish (source).|
|Be sure to watch the video below about these "fishing lures".|
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone so well for freshwater mussels. There are approximately 300 species of mussels in North American freshwaters, and over half of them are imperiled (vulnerable to extinction). Over 30 mussel species are believed to already be extinct.
|Mussel shells were often used to make buttons (source).|
In the southeastern US, which is home to one of the richest aquatic fauna in the world, declines of mussel populations were made worse by extensive dam construction and water quality degradation. To make matters worse, the widespread establishment of exotic zebra mussels has had significant impact on native mussel populations.
There is still hope for the threatened bivalves. Groups across the country—from federal agencies, to private citizen groups, to university research groups—are working to stabilize populations of imperiled mussels.
|Researchers surveying a river for mussels (source).|
Mussels have had a large influence on our society, and we’ve had a larger influence on their very existence. Mussel conservationists hope to do a better job, so these natural biofilters can hang on and keep doing what they do best.