Greenspace: Speaker aims to describe power of mussels

The round pigtoe mussel, a threatened species in Minnesota, is found in the Zumbro River watershed.

Mussels might be the unsung heroes of fresh water in Minnesota. That's a big part of the story you'll hear at the Cascade Meadow Speaker Series talk on Tuesday at Cascade Meadow.

Jeff Weiss, fisheries management specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said he hopes to share some of the unique aspects of mussels, their life cycles and how they impact our environment.

"I want to open people's eyes to mussels and their unique life history," Weiss said.

For mussels, life starts with a host fish species. For each mussel species there is a set of fish species that act as hosts during the incubation of the microscopic larval stage.

"I want to emphasize how mussels and fish are tied together," Weiss said. "If something happens to the abundance of host fish, this could lead to the mussels not being able to reproduce, and eventually they could disappear from a water body."


While some mussels rely on just two or three fish species to help, most are not quite as picky.

"Mussels such as the three-ridge and giant floater can use 20-plus fish species as hosts," Weiss said.

A healthy mussel population can help clean the waters. "Mussels are filter feeders," Weiss said. "They basically strain the water to obtain food."

Zebra mussels, he said, where abundant are known to increase water clarity. "This has been seen on Lake Zumbro," he said.

In addition to the work they do filtering the water, mussels are also a good indicator of environmental health. "Mussels are sensitive organisms, and the presence of a healthy, diverse mussel population is a good sign that environmental conditions are also good," Weiss said.

They also help other animals, providing a food source for raccoons and muskrats, among others.

"The freshwater drum is a fish that will feed on mussels, including zebra mussels," Weiss said.

While no particular mussel species is more important than others, Weiss said the species to watch are any that are struggling with low population.


"We are working towards the conservation of these species before we potentially lose them," he said. "There are quite a few mussels that are now extinct from North America. We want to work towards not adding any more species to this list."

Cascade Meadow Speaker Series – Freshwater Mussels: Darwin’s Exception or Evolutionary Brilliance?

Jeff Weiss, fisheries management specialist, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Tuesday, March 22, 7-8:30 p.m.

The event is free of charge. For more information, log onto or call (507) 252-8133.

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