Nature's Amazing Water Filters

Freshwater mussels live quietly at the bottom of Illinois rivers — but they’re hiding a superpower! Mussels have an amazing ability to filter out chemicals and toxins. They’re also sensitive to water conditions. That makes them a good measure of a river’s health.

LCF’s work to improve river water quality will help restore nature’s own water filter system — the mighty mussel.

Each year, LCF conducts mussel surveys in the Sangamon River. Our local results go into a statewide database, helping track the health of mussels and rivers across Illinois.

MUSSEL SURVEYS

Strengthening Mussels

As many as 80 mussel species once lived in our state’s rivers, supporting a major pearl-button industry.

 

But populations have dwindled. Today, mussels may be the most endangered group of animals in North America. 

On a hopeful note, parts of the Sangamon River are on the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory due to their great variety of aquatic life, especially freshwater mussels.

At LCF’s Sangamon River Corridor Reserve, recent surveys have found 17 mussel species, including the deertoe, fawnsfoot, mapleleaf, pimpleback, pistolgrip, threehorn wartyback, and Wabash pigtoe. 

LCF's Mussel and Fish Host Poster

 

Freshwater mussel larvae (called glochidia) hitchhike on the gills or fins of fish while they change into young mussels. To attract the right fish, some mussels even grow their own fishing lures!

 

LCF's colorful mussel-host poster shows the host and hitchhiker pairings found in the Upper Sangamon River. Contact us to obtain full-sized copies (26 x 38.5 inches), or print a small PDF.

LCF Freshwater mussel fish host poster