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Finding Endangered Mussels -- You Gotta Get Your Feet Wet
Midwest Region, June 13, 2011
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A sample of the 22 species found during a mussel survey on the Bourbeuse River.
A sample of the 22 species found during a mussel survey on the Bourbeuse River. - Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
Snuffbox found in Bourbeuse River.
Snuffbox found in Bourbeuse River. - Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
Heather Calkins with a Federally endgangered winged mapleleaf from the Bourbeuse River.
Heather Calkins with a Federally endgangered winged mapleleaf from the Bourbeuse River. - Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

About 6 years ago an interesting string of events led the Missouri Department of Conservation’s malacologist (mussel guy), Stephen McMurray, and crew to one of the many horseshoe bends in the winding Bourbeuse River. This site was on the Bailey Farm just south of the small town of Beaufort and owned by Clarence Calkins, my very own granddad.

The Bourbeuse is an extremely crooked river having several long stretches with minimal access, so when I offered the crew an opportunity of easy entry to sample the river habitat at Bailey’s (what we call it) they were eager to see what naiads this place had to offer. The first trip landed them a winged mapleleaf, a species that is federally endangered and had never before been seen in Missouri with only 4 other known populations in the U.S. The MDC crew has returned to this site at least once every year since and it continues to prove itself producing at least one, and up to four winged mapleleaf mussels per trip. Found at Bailey’s last year was the scaleshell, another federally endangered species. The sheepnose and snuffbox, both proposed to be added to the endangered species list, have also been observed here. An impressive 28 species of mussels have been found at this bed over the years, making it one of the most diverse beds known in the entire state.

In early June I was thrilled with the opportunity to get my feet wet and tag along on the Bailey Farm mussel survey. Steve was joined by the usual suspects, Scott Faiman and Josh Hundley(both of MDC) and a couple newbies to the site, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists Andy Roberts and Bryan Simmons. Everyone bared great patience with me as they showed me the ropes searching for some of our longest lived invertebrate friends. We found 22 different species that day by way of snorkeling and tactual examination of the river bed. Our find included two winged mapleleaf, several sheepnose, a snuffbox and a cylindrical papershell which hadn’t been found in the state in 30 years! The trip was a blast and I gained an array of mussel knowledge. It bewilders me that there is such a diverse population of unionids right under our noses that my family and I never even knew about. It’s interesting how a mention of my grandad’s river property during some small talk in the lab has turned into such a valuable site for state and federal mussel efforts.

The MDC and FWS malacologists are no strangers; these agencies along with other states and universities have been collaborating for years. A shortage of biologists in this field makes it hard to undertake their goals unless they team up. This group strives to reduce and reverse the habitat degradation and decline in water quality that has contributed to much of the decline. They also have been joining forces to propagate those species of most concern.  This cooperative effort will greatly contribute to the recovery of imperiled Missouri mussels.


Contact Info: Heather Calkins, 573-445-5001 ext 29, heather_calkins@fws.gov



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