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West Virginia Wildlife
Mussel 101
Patrick McMurtry Largely Unseen But Vital To River Health

November 28, 2012
Reporter: Patrick McMurtry
Videographer: Brad Rice


These divers are in the Elk River creating a new colony of mussels. While you might be surprised to learn these little guys are responsible for a big part of keeping streams, ponds and lakes clean, you'll really be surprised to learn just how many different types of mussels are in our waters.

Janet Clayton is a biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, she's been studying mussels for a long time. "We have around sixty two species. Their life cycles vary, the general life cycle is the same, the time they are reproductively active is different, their shape is different, their colors are different. The foot, some are flesh colored, some are bright orange. The inside of the shell can vary from white to pink, to bright purple."

Some of these mussels you will find here in the Elk actually come from Pennsylvania, where they have plentiful populations which need to be moved because of bridge projects. They are more than welcome here in West Virginia, in many cases they are helping to re-establish colonies, and once they're here, they'll be here for years.

"Mussels live from four to five years, to over one hundred years. The ones that live shorter periods of time are pond species, whereas some in the Ohio and Elk Rivers can live more than one hundred years. We have a washboard that gets dinner plate size. In the Elk, we have some remnant elephant ear that have lived over one hundred years, but unfortunately, we are losing them and we are seeing the last of these individuals, there's not been any reproduction in several years." says Clayton.

That's the case with several species, and with others, environmental issues have decimated their populations. That's why these types of efforts to re-introduce species, or re-establish colonies, are so important. After all, these mussels are like the coffee filter you use every day, they filter out impurities in the water and make them cleaner and safer for all of us. That's a pretty big job.

LEARN MORE at the W. Va. DNR


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