Photograph of Ebonyshell freshwater mussel shell exterior view
Species of Conservation Concern
Scientific Name
Fusconaia ebena
Unionidae (freshwater mussels) in the phylum Mollusca

Shell solid, heavy, rounded or oval, and inflated. Anterior end rounded, posterior end rounded or bluntly pointed. Dorsal margin slightly rounded, ventral margin curved, occasionally straight. Umbos low, inflated, about even with hinge line and curved downward. Beak sculpture consists of a few very weak ridges, apparent only in extremely small shells. Shell smooth with slightly elevated ridges indicating periods of growth. Periostracum rayless, light brown in young shells, becoming dark brown to black in older individuals.

Pseudocardinal teeth very heavy and well developed; two in the left valve, two in the right. Lateral teeth serrated and curved; two in the left valve, one in the right. Beak cavity very deep. Nacre pearly white, iridescent posteriorly.

Similar species: pigtoes (Fusconaia and Pleurobema)


Adult length: up to 4 inches.

Where To Find
Ebonyshell Distribution Map

Has been found in the Mississippi, Meramec, Osage, and Little Black rivers.

Usually found in rivers with swift current and a substrate of fine gravel to cobble.

Algae and fine particles of decaying organic matter; extracts nutrients and oxygen from water drawn into body cavity through a specialized gill called the incurrent siphon; sediment and undigested waste are expelled through the excurrent siphon.

A species of conservation concern: endangered in Missouri; candidate for federal endangered status.

Life Cycle

Males release sperm directly into water. Females downstream siphon sperm into the gill chamber, where eggs are fertilized. Eggs mature into larvae (called glochidia), which discharge into the water and attach to host fish--this species uses skipjack, green sunfish, largemouth bass, and more. The tiny mussel eventually breaks away and floats to the bottom of the stream, and the cycle repeats.

Mussels are excellent biological indicators of water quality because they are long-lived and relatively immobile, accumulating contaminants in water that can be scientifically analyzed. The ebonyshell was one of the most valuable to the commercial button industry.

Mussels act as nature's “vacuum cleaners,” filtering and cleansing polluted waters. They are also an important food source for other species in the aquatic environment.

Media Gallery
Similar Species
About Aquatic Invertebrates in Missouri
Missouri's streams, lakes, and other aquatic habitats hold thousands of kinds of invertebrates — worms, freshwater mussels, snails, crayfish, insects, and other animals without backbones. These creatures are vital links in the aquatic food chain, and their presence and numbers tell us a lot about water quality.