Freshwater Mussels Facts



pond mussel
Jim Rathert

View mussels in the field guide.

Freshwater mussels and snails are members of the phylum Mollusca, invertebrate animals with a soft body that is enclosed wholly or in part in a mantel and a shell. Squid, octopuses, oysters, scallops and other shellfish are ocean-dwelling mollusks. There are nearly 300 species of freshwater mussels in North America, with most of these species in the eastern and midwestern United States. This mussel diversity has caused some biologists to call the U.S. "the rain forest of freshwater mussels." In fact, there are more different kinds of freshwater mussels in this country than on the entire African continent!

Important for clean water and other wildlife

Fawnfoot, hickorynut and fat pocketbook are a few of the fun names of Missouri's 65 mussel species. Our mussels are important for healthy rivers, streams and ponds. They provide food for muskrats, raccoons, river otters and some birds. Through their gills, mussels filter out small particles from the water and transform them into food for fish and other animals. Since mussels are filter-feeders, they clean water as they feed. This eating habit unfortunately makes mussels vulnerable to water pollution, which often kills them. Mussels, just like people, need clean water to survive.

Most are Missouri species of conservation concern

Nearly two-thirds of Missouri's mussel species are of conservation concern. Since most mussels stay in a single spot their entire lives, they need stable living conditions. Their most serious threat is river damming, which reduces or removes currents necessary to most species. In-stream sand and gravel mining also greatly disturbs stream channels and stream bottoms, where mussels live. Pollution from herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, mining waste and residential and livestock sewage kill mussels and other aquatic life.

Protect them

Consult Missouri mussel and clam regulations before collecting them. You can also help protect our mussels by joining or forming a Missouri Stream Team in your area. Stream Teams are volunteer groups that monitor water quality and report threats to our rivers and streams.