Researchers at Southwest Missouri State University focused on mussel reproduction and determined which fish species act as hosts of threatened species.
Gradually, a working group of concerned biologists came together. We concluded that it was time to pick up what Lefevre and Curtis had started nearly a century ago. Like them, we recognized the enormous reproductive potential of native mussels. We reasoned that we could increase mussel reproduction by putting glochidia on the proper fish hosts, recovering the transformed juvenile mussels, and then releasing the juveniles into suitable habitat.
For our first attempts at mussel propagation, we chose the Neosho mucket (Lampsilis rafinesqueana). This large and distinctive mussel is found only in the western Ozarks. Surveys showed that the species has declined drastically, particularly along the western edge of its range. It was relatively easy to find Neosho mucket "brood stock" in a few localities, and our hatcheries provided largemouth bass, a suitable fish host for the Neosho mucket.
In July 1999, we placed glochidia collected from the Fall River on several hundred fingerling largemouth bass at the Conservation Department's Chesapeake Fish Hatchery. About a month later, we sent Kansas biologists more than 19,000 juvenile Neosho muckets. Although the number sounds impressive, all would fit comfortably in a teaspoon!
Our first batches of "babies" were released at two sites in the Fall and Verdigris rivers in Kansas in the summers of 1999 and 2000, and later at several sites in the Spring River and Shoal Creek in Missouri. You can imagine our excitement when, in January 2002, several dozen shells of young Neosho muckets were found at our original release sites. Low water that winter had led to a feast for raccoons, which obliged us by leaving the shells of their shellfish dinners. Far from being upset, we were glad to see the species again filling its ecological role in the food chain. Once these new recruits grow large enough to discourage raccoons, they should live more than 30 years, giving us decades to investigate and correct factors that have limited their natural reproduction.
Over the past two years, our mussel propagation efforts have expanded to include several federally listed endangered species, including the pink mucket, fat pocketbook and scaleshell.
An important development is that the new Lost Valley State Fish Hatchery at Warsaw is also propagating endangered species. Last summer, Lost Valley produced two mussel species, snuffbox and black sandshell, as well as an endangered fish, the Topeka shiner. Similar efforts are taking place in several other states.
Artificial propagation is a measure of last resort. We use it to preserve species while researchers are working to reduce the factors that limit their natural reproduction. Our ability to prevent extinctions will depend completely on protecting and restoring the health and condition of our rivers. Public support for conservation and responsible stewardship of private lands are critical if we are to preserve the natural world and its living inhabitants for our children and the generations to come.
Mussel Fishing Tackle
Female mussels attract their host fish with an amazing variety of lures. These include packages of larval mussels resembling worms (fanshell mussel, from left to right)) or aquatic insects. Bass striking the minnow-like mantle flaps of the pocketbook and the crayfish mimicking lure of the rainbow mussel will break the female mussel's gills, releasing larvae that are held within.