Fresh water mussels

Freshwater mussels are considered the most imperiled group of animals in North America, with more than 70% of nearly 300 species either threatened or endangered or already extinct.

The Museum & Aquarium, in cooperation with the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, has been raising freshwater mussels for recovery projects since 2004. The mussels, which require the use of a fish to serve as a host for their parasitic larvae, are raised in floating culture cages placed in our nearby Ice Harbor in the spring and removed in the fall.

At the hatchery, mussel larvae are placed on their appropriate host fish and then transported to the Museum & Aquarium for placement in the cages floating in the Ice Harbor.  Each cage is stocked with 20 to 30 host fish. The cages allow the mussels to develop and then drop off, concentrating them in that specific area for future recovery. The cage also acts to keep predators away from the growing juvenile mussels. The fish are released from the cages after about six weeks, in plenty of time for all the mussels to drop off. The cages are harvested in October, and the resulting sub-adult mussels are stocked in the Mississippi River and its tributaries ranging from the Quad Cities all the way up to the Twin Cities.

From 2010-2017, 60,000+ juvenile mussels were recovered from the culture cases in the Ice Harbor and released in local waters by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

*SUPSY (Submersible, Upwelling, System) is an air-driven upwelling system made by nesting two small plastic buckets together with screened bottoms to allow water flow. Gentle aeration from an air pump creates flow through the system, bringing the mussels oxygen and food. This is a tool used in raising juvenile freshwater mussels to a size large enough that they can be tagged and released back into the wild as part of varying species restoration projects.

Where to see on campus: In the Wetlab on the first floor of the Mississippi River Center

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How You Can Help

This is a tool used in raising juvenile freshwater mussels to a size large enough that they can be tagged and released back into the wild as part of varying species restoration projects.

North America has the highest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world, but most people are largely unaware of this problem and unaware of mussels' importance as natural water filters, nutrient cyclers, and a keystone of our freshwater habitats.

This is where we come in: the River Museum works to inspire stewardship, and hope by engaging our community in real, authentic, conservation. We engage high school and college students in formal mussel programming and internships, museum visitors who wander onto our dock, and people walking the stream bank on the Bee Branch Creek. We flex our conservation "mussels" by engaging others in and connecting people to the restoration of these imperiled species.

Become a river steward by joining us in our work or serve as a citizen scientist and contribute to a valuable data set through the Wisconsin Mussel Monitoring Program linked below.

becoming a volunteer. Wisconsin Mussel Monitoring Program

Invasive Species Research (Zebra Mussels)

In 2019, the River Museum hosted a collaborative research study focused on controlling invasive species. This study was led by the U.S. Geological Survey's Center for Environmental Sciences, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Reclamation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, University of Wisconsin Platteville Engineering Department, and the University of Dubuque Environmental Sciences Department.

The USGS-led study hypothesized that carbon dioxide infusion would reduce the settlement of zebra mussel larvae in a closed water system (i.e. water treatment facilities, hydroelectric dams).

Study objectives included:

  • Comparing the efficacy of CO2 infusion at two levels for preventing settlement and inducing mortality of zebra mussel larva in a flow-through system.
  • Evaluating the effects of CO2 infusion on growth and survival of juvenile native mussels.
  • Measuring the effects of CO2 infusion on water quality (D.O. and pH), and chlorophyll concentration.
  • Determining the percentage of carbon recapture (CO2 used and plant biomass produced) for the test system.

After a successful 2019 season, the study was replicated on western reservoirs in 2020. We hope to welcome the USGS back to our campus again soon.