*Welcome Home, Winged Mapleleaf Mussel*
An endangered mussel came home to a Tennessee River last week, a monumental
reintroduction effort seven years in the making.
On Wednesday, federal and state biologists placed 103 winged mapleleaf
mussels in the middle portion of the Duck River. The last time the species
was seen in the river was more than two decades ago, when empty shells were
collected in 1990 and 1991.
The freshwater mussel’s historical range, dating from the 1800s, is the
Mississippi River and its tributaries from Minnesota to Arkansas. By the
time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the winged mapleleaf as
endangered in 1991, its only known population was in the St. Croix River
between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Since then, four additional populations
were found in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
Partners in the reintroduction effort with the Service are the Tennessee
Wildlife Resources Agency, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Missouri
State University, and the Kansas City Zoo.
Service biologist Chris Davidson, the Southeast Regional lead for the
winged mapleleaf mussel, said reintroducing the species to rivers within
its historical range (such as the Duck River) is one of the recovery goals
for the species.
“It took seven years to identify suitable fish hosts in the southern
portion of the species’ range,” said Davidson. “Then we had to work out
some kinks with propagation and ‘grow out’ techniques.”
One effort was an attempt to “grow out” the juvenile mussels in the Saline
River (southern Arkansas), rather than a hatchery or zoo facility.
The young mussels – all about two and a half years old – have traveled more
than some people. They were produced from fertilized females found in
Arkansas’ Saline River, which were then brought to Missouri State
University. At the university’s mussel propagation center, the female
mussels expelled their larvae onto a channel catfish. The larvae have a
parasitic stage where they must attach to catfish gills until they mature
into tiny, juvenile mussels and drop off the host fish. Channel catfish
and blue catfish are the only suitable fish hosts for winged mapleleaf.
The juvenile mussels remained at the university for about six months. They
then were transferred to the Kansas City Zoo where they continued growing
for another two years.
Davidson said the probability of survival is good because the mussels are
more than two years old.
Future winged mapleleaf mussels for reintroduction in the Duck River will
be grown at the Service’s Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana.
The Duck River was selected in part because it’s close to the Saline and
Ouachita rivers in Arkansas, where two of the five populations of winged
mapleleaf are found. The Duck River has high mussel density and diversity,
plenty of channel and blue catfish, and no invasive zebra mussels, which
have out-competed native species in other rivers.
One more good reason to pick the Duck River: Tennessee has long-term
monitoring sites there, and will be able to track the mussels’ progress.
Biologists tagged, or laser engraved, unique numbers to these mussels,
which will help identify the mussels when they are later recaptured in the
For more information about the winged mapleleaf mussel species, visit:
1) Don Hubbs with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Sarah
Sorenson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepare to return the
federally endangered winged mapleleaf mussel to the Duck River in
Tennessee. Credit: Chris Davidson/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
2) Sarah Sorenson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, places a
winged mapleleaf mussel in Tennessee's Duck River. Credit: Chris Davidson/
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
3) A brooding female winged mapleleaf mussel is displaying her lure for
catfish, the host fish for her larvae. Catfish like to eat dead things and
the mussel mimics a dead mussel to attract the host fish. The lure
resembles rotting flesh and the female is gaping similar to a recently
deceased mussel. Credit: Chris Barnhart/Missouri State University.
4) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Chris Davidson holds three
winged mapleleaf mussels, which are tagged with identification numbers for
monitoring purposes. Credit: Sarah Sorenson/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to
conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats
for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on
our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov/southeast.
Connect with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our
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# # #
*Tom R. MacKenzie*
Media Relations Specialist and Native American Liaison
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Southeast Region
1875 Century Blvd Ste 410
Atlanta, GA 30345-3319
404-679-7291 Fax:404-679-7286 Cell: 678-296-6400