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What Is a Mussel? Difference Between Mussels, Oysters & Clams

Sep.22.2021 62 view review
What Is a Mussel?

Our planet is full of weird and wonderful things, from the biggest of mammals to the tiniest insects and fungi. The truth is that no matter the size of the species they each play a very important and specific role in the function of our ecosystems.

Sea mussels are a great example of this, and although they are commonly known as a luxury seafood dish, there is more to the species than most of us could even imagine. In order to fully understand the nature of freshwater mussels and what it does for our planet, we need to also understand what it is, where it comes from, and why we need it more than we think.

What Are Mussels?

So what is a mussel? Before we can truly understand the nature of mussel and the important role it plays within the multiple marine ecosystems, we first need to understand exactly what it is. Mussels are essentially freshwater clams, they can be found on beaches and are often hidden amongst algae and rocks. They are invertebrates and are alive, living, and breathing animals. They are one of the longest living creatures of the ocean, with some lifespans extending well over 100 years. There are also many species of mussels, all with unique patterned rings around their shell.

Where Do Mussels Come From?

Freshwater mussels are closely related to snails, oysters, clams, and squids and are mostly found living in the sand and grovel of rivers, streams, lakes, and seabeds. They require good water quality and channels of flowing water to survive. They are found n many parts of the world, but the majority amongst coastal regions.

Oysters vs Clams vs Mussels

Oysters vs Clams vs Mussels

Many people often confuse oysters, mussels, and clams due to their fairly similar appearance, however, there are many differences between the three.

Mussels vs Oysters

So what is the difference between mussels and oysters? Firstly on the physical side mussels have a very dark blue or black outer shell that is an oblong shape and have a shiny look to them. Oysters, however, have shells that are much rougher in texture and can be brown, white, or gray in color. They are also a little more of an irregular shape. Mussels can be found n fresh or saltwater, whereas oysters can only be found in salt or brackish habitats. Both oysters and mussels tend to stay in place and not move around much, however, mussels attach to rocks and oysters attach to other oysters.

The Difference Between Clams and Mussels

So are mussels clams? While both of the species originate in similar mollusk families, there are still many differences between the two creatures. Firstly, clams are only found in freshwater, whereas mussels can be found in both saltwater and freshwater. The shell of a mussel is long and less circular than clams, and comes in dark colors such as blue-black and brown.

The inside of their shell is silver or gray, and they enjoy being attached to the surface of other rocks. Clams however hide at the bottom of the surface of the water and have two equally sized halves of a shell. Clams also have a heart, digestive system, and circulatory system.

Different Kinds of Mussels

Different Kinds of Mussels

There are many species of mussels that are all slightly different from one another. Some of the most prominent four main types of mussel species include :

Blue Mussels

Blue muscles are the most common type of mussel and are found in places all over the world. They tend to attach themselves to rocks in tidal areas of temperate waters and are lined with blue and purple edges.

Horse Mussel

The horse mussel is one of the largest mussel species and can grow up to 20 centimeters long. They are found very deep in the water and tend to attach themselves to hard surfaces.

Snuffbox Mussel

This is a medium-sized mussel that has a triangular-shaped shell that is very thick and yellow. This is an endangered species of mussels and is often poached and illegally hunted for its rarity.

Zebra Mussels

The zebra mussel is a freshwater mussel that is most commonly found in lakes and rivers. They have a unique striped pattern on their shell, which is what gives them their specific name.

How Do Mussels Attach to Rocks?

How Do Mussels Attach to Rocks?

One of the most interesting things about mussels is the way they attach to rocks within the ocean. Mussels actually have a number of very sticky fine threads attached to their shell, which is what gives them the ability to cling to ricks even in wet conditions. The mussels produce these threads from a gland located in the foot. The Byssal threads they produce are very strong yet flexible and also help the mussel to move around. This stickiness is what allows them to attach to rocks and stay in places even in rough tidal waters.

​​How Do Mussels Move?

Mussels spend most of their life in one small area of the ocean or water. Although they choose not to move around much, they do have the ability to do so. By using their foot, the same one they use to create sticky threads. They do this by inserting their foot into the sand and propelling the rest of their bodies forwards, inching their way across the bottom of the seafloor. They are able to do this and will most normally only do so if they are in search of a preferred habitat or are under any sort of threat.

How Do Mussels Feed?

So what do mussels eat? Unlike most other animals, mussels do not need to travel far in order to find their food. Instead, they allow the food to come to them. Whilst attached to a rock of their choice in a position they find most suitable to their needs, they await tiny plants and animals known as plankton who drift with the current of the water. In order to obtain this food, a mussel will draw water inside of its shell and use its gills to filter out the food from the water. They will then ingest this food and get rid of the water, and so the process repeats. They mostly end to feed on algae, bacteria, and other small organic particles.

What Animal Eats Mussels?

What Animal Eats Mussels?

There are a few marine species that tend to feed on mussels for food. They also have predators that do not live in the ocean as a result of being so close to the shore. Mainly its birds tend to feed on mussels, these include seagulls, ducks, and geese as well as many other aquatic bird species. Starfish also enjoy eating mussels and will extract the meat from the inside of the shell and release the shell back into the ocean. Sea snails to enjoy a mussel and will make a tiny hole to suck out the inner animal.

Mammals such as otters and sea lions will also eat mussels from time to time, however, it’s humans that are mussels’ main predators. Humans tend to eat mussels as a delicacy and enjoy the rich yet bitter taste they offer.

​​How Do Mussels Reproduce?

So how are clams born? The reproductive system of a muscle is actually rather interesting. Male mussels will release their sperm into the open water, which is absorbed by the females through their siphons. The sperm will then fertilize the female’s eggs. Then these fertilized eggs inside the female will develop into microscopic larvae also known as glochidia.

Then the female muscle will find a fish host in which they will infect with glochidia which completes the reproductive process. After this, the mussel will attach to the fins of the fish host and encyst to fluffy complete the process. This is when the process of metamorphosis will take place and the glochidia will turn into microscopic juveniles.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, mussels are extremely amazing creatures that we actually know very little about. Now not only have you learned about what mussels are and how they differ from their close relative oysters and clams, but also a lot about how they feed, reproduce, and live.

Although mussels seem to be in abundance and reproduce on a grand scale, there are still many species that are currently facing endangerment and the risk of extinction. It is also our job to protect and conserve the remainder of these species and bring awareness to others about how important and fascinating they truly are.

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