When most people hear of mussels in Michigan, they think of the invasive and destructive zebra mussels which first entered the Great Lakes in 1988.
However, all mussels are not bad. Some clean and filter water. And there are two more that need our help.
The rayed bean and snuffbox mussel species, found throughout Michigan and the Midwest, is currently being considered for federally endangered status.
Less than one-and-a-half inches in length, the rayed bean mussel is typically green, yellow-green or brown in color. Slightly larger, the snuffbox mussel can grow to almost three inches and is yellow and yellow-green in color and becomes darker with age.
Both the rayed bean and the snuffbox are suspension feeders, spending their entire lifetime buried in substrate feeding on algae, bacteria, detritus, microscopic animals and dissolved organic material.
For reproduction, a host fish is necessary. The larvae must become attached to the gills or fins of the appropriate host fish to complete growth and development, without harming the fish.
Generally, the rayed bean mussel prefers sand and gravel in small, headwater creeks.
The snuffbox can be found in small-to medium-sized creeks to larger rivers and lakes also prefers sand and gravel substrates.
Historically, the rayed bean mussel could be found in 112 streams and lakes. Currently they can only be found in 28. The snuffbox’s habitat numbers have dropped as well from 208 streams and lakes to 74.
The decline of both species can be linked to habitat loss and degradation through impoundments, channelization, chemical contaminants, mining and sedimentation. The arrival of the zebra mussel was also a contributing factor to their decline.
In Michigan, the rayed bean mussel can be found in Black River (Mill Creek), Pine River, Belle River and Clinton River. The snuffbox mussel lives in Grand River, Maple River, Pine River, Belle River, Clinton river, Huron River, Davis Creek, South Ore Creek and Portage River.
Some MNA sanctuaries include those river systems. Coldwater River Nature Sanctuary in western Michigan and Huron River Nature Sanctuary in Southeast Michigan for example, have the potential to have either species of mussel.
These two mussels, among others, act as an indicator of water quality because mussels require clean and pristine water to survive.
“They are kind of like the canary in the coal mine as far as water goes,” said Georgia Parham, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a press release.
By burrowing in the bottom of riverbeds, mussels also help to stabilize the bottom and sediment.
The status of mussels around the world is far worse than mammals or birds. According to The Nature Conservancy, 16.5 percent of mammals and 14.6 percent of birds are extinct. This compared to the 70 percent of mussels that are either extinct or imperiled.
The public has until January 3, 2011 to comment on a proposal for both species to be listed as endangered.
For more information on the proposal, click here.
To learn more about MNA sanctuaries and the mussels they protect, click here.