Mussels are often out-of-sight and out-of-mind.  But native mussels are important for healthy rivers and lakes. Sadly, freshwater mussels are the most at-risk group of animals in the United States.  Five species native to Minnesota are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The Minnesota Zoo is working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help mussel populations by rearing mussels for release into the wild.

Why are mussels important?

These tough little filter-feeding animals are critical to a healthy ecosystem.  Mussel beds help to filter the water and stabilize riverbeds, much like a freshwater coral reef.  This improves water quality and fish habitat.

Individually tagged winged mapleleaf mussels ready for reintroduction to the St.Croix River. Part of a reintroduction program with the Minnesota DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service

Learn more about mussels here.

Make a donation to support mussel conservation

Why are they endangered?

In Minnesota, 25 of our 48 remaining native mussel species are listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern by the Minnesota DNR.  Physical changes to rivers, such dredging, channelization and the construction of dams can alter water flow and quality, and negatively impact mussels. Runoff from chemicals and silt also threatens mussel populations.

More recently, mussels have been threatened by the introduction of zebra mussels, an invasive mussel species that was introduced from another part of the world.  The invasive zebra mussels colonize the shells of native mussels, intercept food, and take over their habitat – eventually killing them.

Zebra mussels also cover individual mussels; this fat mucket (Lampsilis siliquoidea) was removed from the bottom sediment by divers. All exposed areas were covered by zebra mussels.

What is the Minnesota Zoo doing to help?

The Minnesota Zoo is joining the Minnesota DNR’s efforts to restore native mussel populations in Minnesota. In our main lake and in the neighboring cabin, we’re rearing mussel species including fat muckets, muckets (a state-threatened species), and the Higgins’ eye pearly mussel (a federally endangered species). The plan is to rear juvenile mussels on-site at the Zoo for eventual release into Minnesota rivers and streams.

Find the Zoo’s mussel project along the bridge over our main lake.

What can you do to help?

Invasive zebra mussels that harm our native mussels attach to boat docks and boat hulls.  If you use a boat, you can help prevent the spread of zebra mussels by removing all aquatic plants from the boat and trailer, draining all of the water from your boat and bait bucket, never dipping a bucket into a lake if the bucket contains water from another lake, and allowing your boat and trailer to dry in the sun for at least five days before using them in other waters. .

You can also help our native mussels by preventing pollution from getting into our rivers and streams.  Pollutants are picked up and carried into our waterways by stormwater that runs off our buildings, yards, driveways, and roads.  You can help by planting a rain garden, installing a rain barrel, redirecting gutters away from hard surfaces, and limiting chemical use in your yard.  Also, be sure to properly dispose of all hazardous chemicals and medications.

Use Best Practices:

 – Boating & Fishing, Clean in Clean Out
Invasive zebra mussels that harm our native mussels attach to boat docks and boat hulls.  If you use a boat, you can help prevent the spread of zebra mussels by removing all aquatic plants from the boat and trailer, draining all of the water from your boat and bait bucket, never dipping a bucket into a lake if the bucket contains water from another lake, and allowing your boat and trailer to dry in the sun for at least five days before using them in other waters.

– Pet Waste
Pet waste that washes off lawns and parks during rain and snow melt events contribute to harmful bacteria and nutrient contamination of our river water. Impaired water can become so bad that swimming is not recommended within 48 hours of a rainstorm. Help prevent this by always carrying bags to pick up pet waste and disposing of them in the trash or flush it down the toilet without the bag.

-Fertilizer
Avoid applying fertilizer before it rains and make sure to sweep off any excess fertilizer from the pavement to minimize the amount being washed away into our local waterways.

 -Yard Maintenance  
You can also help our native mussels by preventing pollution from getting into our rivers and streams via stormwater runoff from our buildings, yards, driveways, and roads. You can help by planting a rain garden, installing a rain barrel, redirecting gutters away from hard surfaces, and limiting chemical use in your yard.

Minnesota Zoo’s Mussel Project in the News:

Minnesota Zoo and the DNR team up to conserve mussels – Star Tribune

Focus on conservation: Zoo partners with DNR to raise mussels – Sun This Week

More Information on the Minnesota Zoo’s Mussel Project:
Mussel Project Takeover – Facebook

Live from the Mussel Cabin– Facebook

Funding and Support:

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