Today was a great day to be in a stream. And I was, in the Big Darby Creek just southwest of Columbus. The Darby Creek system is one of the finest, most biodiverse river systems remaining in the Midwest, and there are scores of interesting critters in the water. I was really fortunate to get to spend time with some of the state's top aquatic ecologists, and not only do they know where to find the goodies and what they are when they see them, they also know lots of natural history.
Our primary targets were fish, darters specifically, and I got lots of good shots of those. I blogged about Darby darters here, here, and here, but today's photos are improved over those earlier efforts. I'll stick some up soon.
But, we saw lots of freshwater mussels, too. These, on the surface, are nowhere nearly as interesting as darters, or nearly any other animal for that matter. But wait! There's more to the story.
Probably no group of animals in Ohio, and much of the Midwest, has been hammered as badly as mussels. Something like 70% of the 80 or so species documented in the state are now listed as endangered, threatened, or special concern. Why? Because they are so sensitive to changes in the delicately balanced underwater world in which they live. Too much siltation enters the stream, and these bottom-dwellers get smothered. Protection of our best remaining rivers like the Darbys is imperative if we are to ensure mussels survive and thrive.
The above is a Kidneyshell, Ptychobranchus fasciolaris, which is still abundant. This one is alive; one of our sharp-eyed scientists spotted it through the clear waters.
This is how most people find mussels. Old, dead shells on gravel bars. They are rocklike and probably last for decades. This shell is actually very fresh, probably less than a year has passed since the critter died. It is a Spike, Elliptio dilatata, another common species. Doesn't look like much from above.
If an inquisitive potential host, such as this Greenside Darter, Etheostoma blennioides, is attracted, it will sidle up to the riffleshell. If it is really smitten by the clam's lure, it'll lunge out and try and take a bite.
I want to thank Mac Albin, Anthony Sasson, Brian Zimmerman, and Tom Watters for sharing their knowledge of Big Darby Creek and its interesting animals today. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service deserves major kudos for working to restore the imperiled Northern Riffleshell to the waters of Big Darby. They have released severl hundred into appropriate habitat, and the early prognosis is that the mussels are doing well.