Each year the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy and local volunteers scoop through a section of the Sangamon River in search of mussels.
The annual mussel survey not only measures the number of mussels, but also the number of species, the sex of the mussels and the variety of age groups. These long-term, repetitive surveys provide vital information to understand the mussel population and trends in Central Illinois.
Volunteers scan the shallow waters in two shifts. A break halfway through the event allows for time to learn about the mussel population.
The mussel species are identified by their shell and inside appearance. Volunteers also learn about the history of mussels in this area.
While some mussels die from physical conditions, many fall to droughts and others are eaten by otters or raccoons.
Raccoons prey on the mussels in shallow water. They can bite through then-shelled mussels, but carry the thick-shelled ones to a nearby tree and put them into a midden pile. They will wait a few days for the mussels to die in the heat. When they open on their own, the raccoons know they can consume them.
Native Americans also stockpiled mussels for the winter months. With a tough, leathery texture, the Native Americans did not like to eat them, but they were much-needed protein.
They made rock corrals to store the mussels in so they did not have to get into the cold river.
Mussels are one of the most endangered groups of invertebrates. A quarter of the 300 species in North America have become extinct. The other half are locally extirpated, species of concern or decline.USRC believes with understanding of the river habitat, more people will care about taking care of the water.
USRC believes with an understanding of the river habitat, more people will care about taking care of the water.
“Part of it is to introduce people to the river so they can learn about the function of it,” Natural History Survey Mussel Researcher Steve Buck said. “As people become more knowledgeable about the river, hopefully, they will see its value and want to protect it. Most people who come are surprised at what they find in the river. It’s part of what’s going on there all the time that they don’t normally see.”
Community members who want to participate in this year’s mussel surveys will take place at the Hazen Bridge on August 12 and at the Riverbend Forest Preserve on September 9. For more information contact USRC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to expect: You will be crawling on your hands and knees in water that can be up to your chin as you feel your way across the river bottom for mussels. You should expect to get wet (soaked), muddy, and to also have fun. We will conduct a 40 minute search, take a break to identify and count mussels, and then we will conduct a second 40 minute search. It is uncommon for participants to get a nick from glass, metal, or other sharp objects in the water, but a first aid kit will be readily available if that should happen. At the Hazen Bridge site we park within a couple hundred feet of the riverbank. Those who wish to participate, but do not want to get soaked, may look for shells along the riverbank. A cookout will immediately follow the mussel survey. The USRC will provide food and drinks. You are welcome to bring a dish to share if you wish, but it is not required.
What you will need: You should wear old clothes: long pants and old tennis shoes. A hat is also recommended. Please do not wear shorts, sandals, or flip-flops. We may encounter poison ivy and nettle and you will want your legs protected. Do not wear rings or other jewelry while in the river. The USRC will provide drinks, but you may want a personal water bottle to bring as well. You will want to bring dry clothing to change into after the survey is completed and maybe a towel.
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