What animals live in these shells? Mollusks are a group of invertebrates with soft bodies that live in aquatic or damp habitats. The term “mollusk” may not be familiar to you, but you definitely know the animals that make up this group of animals. Oysters, clams, octopi, snails, and mussels are all mollusks! While some of those animals are not found in our area, one of them actually has over 70 species that call Illinois home—mussels! Read on to learn more about these cool aquatic creatures!
P.S. Grab a paper plate and bookmark this activity to make your own mussel or oyster when you’re all done!
What makes up a mussel?
Mussels are bivalves, meaning they have two shell halves that are connected by a hinge. They don’t have a head, but they do have a “foot” that allows them to dig into substrate. They also have gills for breathing and feeding. Unlike oysters, mussels have smooth shells and are found in freshwater (like the bodies of water in Illinois). Click here to check out this video from the Illinois Natural History Survey to learn more about the “livers of the river!”
The freshwater mussel button industry
Some of the mussels in our collection have these circular cut outs in their shells. What caused them? In the late 19th century, mussels were harvested and their shells were used to make buttons. People didn’t realize that mussels were a limited natural resource. Once they were over-harvested, and people began to see how it was impacting mussel populations, button makers began seeking other materials for buttons. Some of the shells that were used for button production are now in our collection.
Guiding Question: What do you notice about these shells? What do you think caused those holes? Humans? Other animals?
Snails, squids, and more!
Believe it or not, snails and mussels have quite a bit in common! They’re both mollusks! Click here to check out a short video about this unique group of animals.
Guiding Question: What similarities do all mollusks have? What differences? What do you notice about the different types of mollusks?
A look into our collections
When we think of pearls, we typically think of oysters… but this freshwater mussel actually grows pearls. This particular specimen was collected from the Illinois River in the early 1900s, and it had a pearl in it! Click here for pictures courtesy of our senior director of collections, Dawn.
More freshwater friends!
Of course, mussels aren’t the only freshwater animals. We actually have a number of freshwater fish who live at the Nature Museum! Check out a video of Marjorie doing a Live Animal Feeding with them here.
Guiding Question: What do you think fish eat? What did you notice about the different types of food the fish get? What did you notice about the way Marjorie fed them? How is what the fish eat the same or different than what you expected?
Behind the scenes!
Marjorie and Rebecca went on a field trip with one of our partners to find freshwater mussels last summer!
Have questions for our scientists? Just reply to this email!