Freshwater Mussels in Ontario : Learn How to Protect Them

Freshwater Mussels in Ontario.

Did you know there are 41 species of native freshwater mussels in Ontario?! Freshwater mussels are fascinating little creatures that live in our lakes and rivers. They provide services to the environment such as filtering water and oxygenating the bottom of water bodies. Mussels are filter feeders, and they can filter up to 40 liters of water in a day. They do this while eating the bacteria and algae in the water. To move around their environments, mussels use a little ‘foot’ to burrow along the bottom. By doing this, they are mixing up the sediment and oxygenating the area. This leads to increased productivity of the lake bottom. When lakes are still, you can often see their tracks left behind in the sand. 

Relationship Between Mussels and Fish

Many freshwater mussels in Ontario have a unique relationship with fish species. For example, fish act as a host for a portion of a mussels’ lifecycle. Mussels release tiny larvae that attach to a fish’s gill or fin. The fish then drops the larvae once they reach a certain size. Some mussels even lure fish with a special attraction, and then release their larvae, which attach to the new host.

Unfortunately, 65% of the native mussels in Ontario are endangered. Invasive mussels like the quagga and zebra mussel can outcompete native mussels. This, combined with other factors such as pollution, habitat alteration, and reductions in host fish populations, negatively impact native mussels. If you find a mussel on a busy beach or a boat launch, make sure to move them with a rake to a quieter spot in the same water body. Just be careful to minimize their time spent out of the water. 

In the past, humans have eaten freshwater mussels when other food sources were scarce, but these mussels don’t taste good (unlike their saltwater counterparts). Additionally, pollution build-up in lakes can make them toxic. To learn more about different species of mussels, visit:

Next time you are exploring a lake or river, keep an eye out for these helpful and interesting little creatures! If you’re looking for paddling and hiking trails in Ontario, read this article!

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