WV Wildlife: Mussel Restoration

These small mussels were bred at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife lab in White Sulphur Springs. They will be used for stocking and propagation purposes across our region. (WCHS/WVAH)

At first glance, you may not even notice them.

Their life may even be a little boring, too--but mussels play a huge role in keeping some of our streams in good shape.

Unfortunately, they aren't.

Tyler Hern, a Fisheries Biologist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, says they need a lot of help.

"Mussels are the most endangered group of animals in the world", said Hern.

A staggering statement for sure! That's why fisheries biologists at the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery, along with our West Virginia DNR, are trying to do something about it.

"Mussels are sedentary filter feeders. So, what they do is basically-they live in the bottom of the stream and they filter water", said Hern.

It's a win-win, too...mussels appreciate our streams and our streams definitely appreciate the mussels. Hern explains in more detail.

"They are kind of like the kidneys of the stream. They actually remove particulates and lots of sediment out of the water column--and basically make the water clearer, make it cleaner".

As fascinating as that is, their life cycle may be even more so.

"Their larval stage--they are a parasite on a fish. So, in order to transform into an adult, a larval mussel actually has to attach to a fish that's swimming around in the water--and they have developed some interesting strategies for fish coming in close contact to them, so that the larvae can grab onto a fish and ride around".

Pretty clever! A lot of species of mussels are native to west virginia, but their numbers have declined here, too. That's why raising these little guys in the lab is so important for their future.

"It's kind of a low percentage game in nature, so what we do in the lab is more controlled--we have higher success than what would occur in nature. We work really closely with the DNR in West Virginia for mussel restoration. We have a really good relationship with them, and we coordinate with them on different projects. Specifically like, what needs to be done? What species are most important in our state right now? Where do they need to go? So, we're kind of giving them a head start on coming back", said Hern.

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