Students Help Mussels Return to the Lake

giant floater mussel

A Giant Floater Mussel

It's good to have friends in time of need.

Just ask the mussels who call Claytor Lake home.

In early November, a group of 22 Radford University students gathered at the lake in Pulaski County to move stranded mussels from the dry shoreline back into the water.

Each November, electric utility company AEP decreases the water level at Claytor Lake by several feet to allow dock owners time to clean up around and repair their structures, said RU Biology Associate Professor Karen Francl, who assisted the students with the mussel-moving efforts.

The lake drawdown, which lasts several days, leaves thousands mussels out of the water and stranded from their natural habitat.

"The mussels are unaccustomed to such a drastic change," Francl said. In addition, "returning the mussels to the water protects them from predation by raccoons and other scavengers."

According to Virginia Department of Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), about 1,000 mussel species exist, and about a third of those are in a single river drainage that includes parts of Virginia and Tennessee, Francl explained.

Last year, the VDGIF and Claytor Lake State Park asked the RU Chapter of The Wildlife Society (RUTWS) to help the native mussels back into the water.

"The members of RUTWS are proud to have been involved with such an effort to rescue these creatures, which are bio-indicators of habitat health," the professor said. "Mussels are one of the few animal species that can assist in improving water quality by filtering out particles in the water."

Last year, RU students helped save more than 2,000 mussels of two native species (paper pondshell and giant floater) following the lake draining. This year's total was "just shy of 2,000" over the course of two days, Francl said.

"Friends of Claytor Lake stepped up efforts and rescued an additional 8,500 around the lake," Francl said. "So our efforts have led to a much bigger project to save mussels around the entire lake's shoreline."

Nov 27, 2012
Chad Osborne
(540) 831-7761