From Deep Look.
The California floater mussel does a surprising amount of travel – for a bivalve. First it gets ejected from its parent’s shell into the wide watery wilderness. Then it leads a nomad’s life clamped on the fins or gills of a fish. Once it’s all grown up, the mussel goes to work filtering the water, keeping it clean for all the life that depends on it.
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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.
California floater mussels have evolved an ingenious method of launching their larvae, or glochidia, into the water, where they clamp onto a fish gill or fin. The larvae hitch a ride on the fish for a few weeks, absorbing nutrients from their hosts, until they drop off and begin life as a young mussel on the lake bed.
If they’re lucky, the larvae on the fish will make it to the juvenile stage, and grow up to be hardworking living water filters.
Adult mussels can live ten years. They can filter up to 38 gallons of water each per day.
The mussels have two openings to take in and excrete water. Inside them, water passes through their gills, which are lined with thousands of cilia, tiny arms that filter out the nutrients and particles.
Thousands of mussels in a small lake or waterway can improve overall water health and clarity, according to researchers. Also, their industrious filtration and sensitivity to pollutants makes them reliable indicators of freshwater quality. In 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cut the water quality standard for ammonia content in half, based on research done with freshwater mussels.
Mussels share their watery homes with a world class array of freshwater fish, snails, crayfish, and insects.
— Do all mussels need fish to fully develop?
Many of the 300 or so other North American freshwater mussel species require one specific species of fish to help spread their numbers, some of which have evolved incredibly realistic fish lures, but the California floaters don’t seem to be so picky.
— Are freshwater mussels endangered?
The California floater mussel is just one of about 300 species of native freshwater mussels in North America, approximately three-quarters of which are threatened, endangered or a species of special concern.
— Are these native California floater mussels different from the invasive freshwater mussel species?
Invasive freshwater mussels like the Asian clam, zebra mussels and quagga mussels all attach to surfaces and inside pipes with sticky threads, wreaking havoc on boats, docks, water treatment plants and power plant cooling systems from Lake Tahoe to the Great Lakes.
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Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, the largest science and environment reporting unit in California. KQED Science is supported by The National Science Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Campaign 21 and the members of KQED.
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