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Happy Clams - Homecoming For A Critically Endangered Invertebrate

Media Alert: Tuesday, August 17, 2010


August 17, 2010

Patty Peters                                                         
Vice President Community Relations

Please meet at the Battelle-Darby Creek Metro Park Cedar Ridge naturalist station parking lot at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 19, 2010 if you would like to view the release of the mussels into the Big Darby Creek.
Powell, OH - Ready for action and sporting individual tracking tags, almost 1,500 northern riffleshell mussels (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana) are scheduled to be released in the Big Darby Creek on Thursday, August 19, 2010 by biologists from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Franklin County Metroparks, Ohio Division of Wildlife, The Ohio State University, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 
This is the second reintroduction of this endangered species in Ohio.  In July 2008, 1,700 northern riffleshell mussels were also released in the Big Darby Creek.  Both groups were relocated from a stable population in Pennsylvania, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, in an effort to re-establish populations in Ohio.
The reintroduced mussels are marked with a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag so they can be tracked and monitored.  Critical information is gathered that will increase understanding of how to conserve this federally endangered species.  The importance of keeping mussels alive cannot be overstated as freshwater mussels are considered premier bio-indicators of good water quality and ecosystem health.
Reintroduction is always complicated, but for mussels it might seem on the surface to be fairly easy and straightforward…1.  Get some clams…2.  Drop them in the creek.  But their simple form belies their complex life history.  Larval mussels attach themselves to fish, enabling them to disperse over a wide range since fish are much more mobile than mussels.  In most cases though, not just any fish will do.  The right fish has to be in the right place at the right time, and identifying and conserving their fish hosts is one of the main hurdles to conserving mussels.  Biologists work from a list of more than 14 criteria to determine suitability of a site for reintroduction.  Success is not guaranteed since there is still so much that is not known about freshwater mussels.
The Unionidae (also known as pearly-mussels, unionids, or clams) are a group of long-lived (some up to 200 years) bi-valve mollusks that inhabit rivers and streams primarily in the northern hemisphere.  They are an ancient group that invaded freshwater from the oceans at least 240 million years ago.  They coexisted with the dinosaurs but outlived them.  They occur on all continents except modern Antarctica but North America is special.  There are more types of mussels in the Little Darby Creek, for example, than in all of Europe and Australia combined.  Ohio alone once had 80 species but two dozen are now extinct and many more threatened or endangered.  The activities of humans including agricultural and construction runoff, dams, introduction of exotic species, harvesting by the millions for freshwater pearls, buttons and inlay material, have reduced their numbers until some populations and then entire species have slipped into quiet extinction; taking their ecosystem services with them.
Mussels are propagated and studied at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s off-site Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research Center in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ohio Division of Wildlife and scientists at The Ohio State University. 
In 2009, the Zoo’s Conservation Grants Program and Partners in Conservation awarded more than $1 million in program support for 70 conservation projects in 35 countries.  Over the past five years, the Zoo has distributed $4 million in support.  This money is raised from restricted donations, conservation fundraisers, and coins donated by Zoo visitors.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is open 363 days of the year.  General admission is $12.99 for adults, $7.99 for children ages 2 to 9 and seniors 60+.  Children under 2 and Columbus Zoo members are free.  The Zoo was named the #1 Zoo in America by USA Travel Guide and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA.)  For more information and to purchase advance Zoo admission tickets, visit
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