Greensboro Science Center

Diving into Freshwater Mussel Surveys

Each year, the Greensboro Science Center (GSC) aids the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commision in freshwater mussel surveys. This fall, researchers from the GSC’s Conservation and Research Lab went to five different sites that included streams in Julian, North Carolina where three different species of freshwater mussels were found, tagged, and released over the span of two days. Native freshwater mussels are a great indicator species of a healthy environment. Just one single mussel can filter up to fifteen gallons of water a day!


Searching for mussels isn’t easy! In many cases, mussels were exactly where you least expected them to be. Many were practically embedded into the banks of the streams and had to be dug out, where others were in thick, silty mud. To try to find every mussel that they possibly could, the researchers crawled on their knees, feeling around on the sides and bottom of the stream and would continuously dig their fingers into the substrate, hoping that they would bump into a mussel. Once a mussel was found, it was placed into a mesh bag attached to a researcher’s wrist so that they could continue to look. Roughly an hour was spent at each site searching for the mussels. After time was up, the mussels that had been collected were brought to the shore to be identified, counted, and tagged. Less common species for the area such as the Eastern Creekshell received a glued on  tag number so that the specific individual could be identified in future surveys whereas more common species such as the Eastern Elliptio were each marked with hot pink nail polish. In total, 1,014 individuals were collected, which was a major increase from previous years!


Lead Conservation and Research Technician Hannah searches for mussels.


Eastern Elliptios that have been marked hot pink nail polish to identify them.


An Eastern Creekshell with a tag number attached.

For the GSC researchers, it was very exciting to find Eastern Creekshell individuals as this is the species that they propagate and raise in the Freshwater Mussel Propagation  Lab on site. Currently, the lab is home to eleven individuals that are being raised there. In the coming months, another round of propagation using Redbreast Sunfish will bring more Eastern Creekshell individuals to the GSC so we can release them into the wild once they have grown into adults.

To learn more about the GSC’s conservation efforts for freshwater mussels, check out the Freshwater Mussel Lab in the Shearer Animal Hospital and Conservation Center!

Authored and photos taken by Lead Conservation and Research Technician Hannah.

Bekah Robinson
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