USRC Mussel Survey on September 8

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.

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.”

The 2018 USRC mussel survey will take place at Izaak Walton Cabin at Lake of the Woods on September 8 at 9 a.m. For more information contact USRC at

Duties: No experience is necessary. Kids are welcome and have had a great time at previous surveys, but they must be accompanied by an adult. Instructions and supplies will be provided. Volunteer duties include searching for mussels in the stream channel; collecting those that we find; sorting, identifying, and counting the mussels that are collected; photographing examples of each species; and returning all live mussels to the stream channel. Additional banker duties are available for those who wish to participate, but do not want to go into the water. These include photographer (camera provided), recording habitat information, and helping with meal preparations.  Hats and personal water bottles are also recommended. We will be serving lunch to volunteers. Lunch will include fried chicken and sides from the Mahomet IGA.

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. Those who wish to participate, but do not want to get soaked, may look for shells along the riverbank. 

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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