MDC: Meet monkey face, pig toe, and heel splitter at Mussel Mania event

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Monkey face, pig toe, and heel splitter sound like silly names, but those who attend Mussel Mania with the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center will find they're actual names of some of Missouri's native mussels. Pistol grip, three ridge, warty back, and pimple back are other types of mussels that can be found here.

"This is one of our most fun events because it's one of our dirtiest," said Sara Turner, manager of the Cape Nature Center. "We'll get totally wet and possibly muddy as we search through a local stream to identify freshwater mussels."

Mussel Mania is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 8, from 3 to 8 p.m. The event will showcase how mussels are different from clams and how they clean impurities from the water.

Members of the phylum mollusca, mussels are invertebrate animals with a soft body that is enclosed by a mantel and shell. Squid, octopuses, oysters, scallops and other shellfish are ocean-dwelling mollusks. There are nearly 300 species of freshwater mussels in North America, with most of these species in the eastern and Midwestern United States.

There are 65 mussel species that can be found in Missouri and their presence is vitally important for healthy rivers, streams and ponds. Mussels filter small particles out of the water through their gills. Although this is helpful in keeping water clean, it also makes mussels vulnerable to water pollution. Most of Missouri's mussels are classified as species of concern. Pollution from herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, mining waste and residential and livestock sewage kill mussels and other aquatic life.

"We're all about discovering nature and mussels are fun to discover because most people don't know much about them – they're mysterious," Turner said.

At Mussel Mania, participants will learn how to identify mussels, get an up close look at how interesting they are and learn how they can help protect local mussel species.

This free event is designed for ages 12 and up. Participants under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Registration begins July 15 by calling (573) 290-5218.