This video footage, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Ohio River mussel research team, shows a female freshwater mussel’s lure—an outgrowth of the mussel’s fleshy tissue.
This remarkable adaptation, which mimics a live minnow—complete with false eyespots—attracts hungry or just plain curious fish.
When a fish approaches the “minnow,” the mussel releases a cloud of microscopic larvae, which attach to the fish’s gills and fins. Each larvae resembles a miniature “Pac Man” character.
When the fish moves on, it basically becomes a distribution system for young, developing, hitchhiking mussels, which eventually fall off their swimming host.
Each species of mussel relies on as few as one species of fish as its distributor.
North America holds the world’s greatest diversity of freshwater mussels. Most mussel species are threatened, endangered, or extinct because of freshwater habitat destruction, dam construction, and invasive species such as the zebra mussel.
Biologists at the Ohio River National Wildlife Refuge (West Virginia) and the Genoa National Fish Hatchery (Wisconsin) are working to restore mussel populations and rehabilitate the mollusks’ freshwater river habitats.
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