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News More mussels mean cleaner water

Help freshwater mussels to improve water quality.
3/26/2019
  • MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
  • Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Media Contact for More mussels mean cleaner water

Marion Larson, MassWildlife

Six freshwater mussels displayed on a hand.

Behold, the mighty freshwater mussel. It doesn’t look like much. To most people, it just sits there doing nothing but hurt your feet as you walk barefoot in the river or stream. In fact, most people mistake freshwater mussels for rocks. Rocks that keep our rivers and streams clean.

Freshwater mussels—like their cousins, saltwater mussels—eat plankton and other small things by filtering water that passes over them. This filtration doesn’t just take nutritious bits out of the water for the mussels to eat, it also takes floating debris like silt and algae out of the water, making the water cleaner for everyone. One mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water moving over it in a single day. That's a lot of cleaning going on for an animal that most of us mistake for a rock.

Most of the freshwater mussels in Massachusetts rivers are in danger of disappearing. Despite their filtering prowess, freshwater mussels are sensitive to chemicals and other man-made pollutants in the waterways where they live. Freshwater mussels are also dependent on fish for their survival. Before living a rather long life (some species live for 70–100 years!), freshwater mussels begin life parasitizing fish. Their version of hitchhiking cross country, larval mussels called glochidia hitch a ride on the gills or fins of fish for about 3 weeks. The fish act as a nutrient source and transportation for the mussels until they fall to the waterway bed and begin their lifelong career of filtering. But habitat fragmentation blocks passage for these host fish in rivers and streams, hurting their chances of survival. As numbers of fish decline, larval mussels will miss a crucial step in their development and not be able to survive to adulthood.

Of the 12 freshwater mussel species in Massachusetts, six of them are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program is working with partners at UMass Amherst to study the life history of our protected mussels to better aid in their conservation. With knowledge gained from these studies, we are better able to protect land and improve habitat at high priority sites.

You too can help freshwater mussels. When you give a voluntary contribution through Line 33A for Endangered Wildlife Conservation on your state income tax form, you are taking part in freshwater mussel conservation. Money voluntarily contributed through Line 33A for Endangered Wildlife Conservation goes directly into a fund that can only be used for conservation work in Massachusetts. Funds donated through this income tax check-off line are used for conservation work with freshwater mussels and over 400 other rare species protected by the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.

Already filed your taxes? No problem! You can still help endangered animals and plants.

Rare mussels in Massachusetts

Six of the 12 species of freshwater mussels in Massachusetts are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Click on the common names below to learn more about each species.

Common name Scientific name MA status Federal status
Dwarf wedgemussel Alasmidonta heterodon Endangered Endangered
Brook floater Alasmidonta varicosa Endangered  
Yellow lampmussel Lampsilis cariosa Endangered  
Tidewater mucket Leptodea ochracea Special concern  
Eastern pondmussel Ligumia nasuta Special concern  
Creeper Strophitus undulatus Special concern  

Media Contact for More mussels mean cleaner water

MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program 

The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program is responsible for the conservation and protection of hundreds of species that are not hunted, fished, trapped, or commercially harvested in the state, as well as the protection of the natural communities that make up their habitats.

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife 

MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy.
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