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ISM System :Introduction: Habitat<
Illinois Mussels
Life Cycle
Human Uses
Mussel Database
Photo Gallery
Identification Activity
Harvesting the River

Habitat of Freshwater Mussels
by Robert E. Warren
ISM Associate Curator of Anthropology

Where Do Mussels Live?

Mussels generally live half-buried in gravel, sand, or mud on the bottoms of streams and lakes. Some species prefer to live in large rivers, while others are adapted to small creeks or to ponds or lakes with standing water. Mussels that live in moving water often have shells that are heavy or are sculptured on the outside. Weight and sculpturing help anchor mussels in river beds and prevent them from being washed away. Mussels that live in lakes or ponds tend to have thin, unsculptured shells. Illustration: Bed of spectaclecase mussels (Cumberlandia monodonta) in a Missouri river. (Use the Back button to return here after viewing link)

How Long Do Mussels Live?
Like trees, mussels deposit annual growth rings in their shells. Some species have a life expectancy of about 10 years, but others live to be more than 100 years old.


Illustration: Growth rings on a
sugarspoon mussel (Epioblasma triquetra).

What Do Mussels Do For a Living?
Mussels are filter feeders. They eat tiny animals (protozoa) and plants (algae) that they filter from water passing across their gills. Mussels are good for the environment because their filter feeding helps make water clear. They are also an important food resource for muskrats, raccoons, river otters, and some fish.
Click on the images below see larger images of protozoa and algae.

Do Mussels Move Around?
A mussel can use its foot to move short distances, but once it finds a place it likes it will generally remain there until its environment changes. For example, mussels will attempt to move toward deeper water when water levels drop during droughts. However, mussels don't make long trips—unless they get swept away by flood waters.







Related Activities:
Mussel Diorama (html) (pdf)

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