What do fawnfoot, monkey face and fat pocketbook all have in common? They are a few of the fun names of Missouri’s 69 freshwater mussel species.
More commonly known as clams or shellfish, mussels are found throughout the show-me-state. They provide food for muskrats, raccoons, river otters and many fish. Native Americans relied heavily on mussel meat during winter months when other food was scarce. They carved mussel shells and shaped them into tools.
Mussels are good indicators of the ecological heath of a waterbody. They live on the bottoms of many Missouri rivers and streams. They need stable habitat consisting of rocks, sand and boulders for securing themselves in an otherwise turbulent environment. If you pick up a mussel out of curiosity be sure to replace it with the same end down as you found it. Freshwater mussels use their foot to root onto the bottom of a waterbody.
Nearly two-thirds of Missouri’s mussel species are of conservation concern. Since mussels are filter-feeders, they clean water as they feed. Heavy silt in local waters interferes with the filtering and feeding activities of adult mussels and can smother juveniles. Mussels can close their shells to avoid pollutants coming downstream, but eventually they need to open up to breathe and feed. Long-term water quality problems in a watershed will eventually kill them.
Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.