Marvelous Mussel Power!

Marvelous Mussel Power!
May 21, 2024 by: Keisha Pendleton

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It’s Mussel May! We’re shell-ebrating these filtering phenoms by highlighting their amazing contributions and our efforts to restore these unsung heroes of the Anacostia River.

Freshwater mussels are nature’s water purifiers, filtering algae, bacteria, and pollutants. An adult mussel can filter up to 20 gallons of water a day! Just look at the picture below to see the dramatic improvement in water clarity thanks to mussel power!


Did you know that mussels have a unique reproductive strategy? They must rely on host fish to complete their life cycle, with tiny mussel larvae called glochidia attaching themselves to fish gills. The baby mussels then become parasites, living inside the fish gills and taking its nutrients. While the specific method of “infecting” a host fish varies among mussel species, we have to admit that it’s a fascinating example of symbiotic relationships in nature! Check out mussel reproduction in action in this video.

SOTR Infographic - 2

Unfortunately, Freshwater mussels face numerous threats to their survival and are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America, with 70% of species listed as vulnerable, threatened, or endangered. Habitat destruction, water pollution, invasive species, and a host of other environmental threats pose significant challenges to the ability of mussels to thrive, and highlight the importance of the restoration and conservation efforts that the Anacostia Watershed Society has undertaken.

In 2015, we started the first comprehensive assessment of mussel species in the Anacostia River with help from experts at the Maryland Department of Natural Resource, and we found that there are at least 8 species of mussels in the Anacostia River - half of the 16 species that occur in Maryland!

AWS has continued to conduct surveys and discovered a mussel hotspot at Buzzard Point, where seven of the eight species identified have been found! We continuously gather data about mussel growth, survival, and suitability of different river sites. With help from partners, volunteers, Master Naturalists, Watershed Stewards Academy students, and public schools through our Mussel Power program, we continue propagating native mussel species in the Anacostia watershed.

Our mussel restoration efforts have been a great success! Since launching our mussel restoration program AWS has restored 36,000 mussels to the Anacostia River. We are excited about the progress we’ve seen in mussel survival rates and growth, but we know there is much more to be done. Public awareness and community involvement remain critical in furthering our progress and improving our waterways so that mussels continue to not only survive but thrive.

To read more about our restoration efforts, read our Mussel Story Map.  

You can support our efforts by volunteering, donating, and learning more about our work through our Discovery Series. And, as part of our Mussel May #musselpower celebration, you can help restore the Anacostia River by adopting a mussel

Keisha Pendleton

Keisha Pendleton

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