Everyone is familiar with the image of the "Canary in the Coal Mine". The bird serves as an early warning system for the miners. Trouble with the bird means trouble coming for the humans as well. So it goes with freshwater mussels and the quality of our streams and rivers. 70% of our mussel species are imperil, it's the most endangered group of animals in the nation. Like the canary in the coal mine, it's a signal that we cannot ignore.

Mussels are a vital link in the food chain as food items for many animals including muskrats, raccoons, and otters. Mussels are filter feeders and therefore improve water quality by straining out suspended particles and pollutants from the water. Mussels typically remain in one place for most of their life and require good water quality, sediment types, and physical habitat. Biologists often use mussels as "biological monitors" to indicate past and present water and sediment quality in lakes and streams. Gradual mussel die-offs or sudden mussel kills are signs of water pollution problems and other environmental health concerns. Stable, diverse mussel populations mean clean water and a healthy aquatic system.

Click here to see the life cycle of a mussel

There are nearly 1,000 species of freshwater mussels, of which 41 are found in Ontario. Approximately 66% of these species are of provincial conservation concern.

Freshwater mussels require host fish in order to reproduce. Mussel larvae, called glochidia, are parasitic and need a host fish (or salamander) to attach onto and develop, before falling off as a juvenile mussel. This essential life stage does not harm for the host fish, but is critical for upstream dispersal of mussels. Some mussel species need a specific fish to act as a host, so if that fish species is absent, the mussel cannot reproduce.

The Sydenham River has over 34 different types of mussels, more mussel species than any other body of water in Canada. The Mussels of the Sydenham River come in many different sizes, shapes, textures and colours. They can be as small as your thumbnail or as big as your hand. Their shell can have bumps that look like warts and pimples or they can have smooth ridges. Their colour can range from dandelion yellow to lime green.