Mussels being restocked into local stream

Jim FreemanIn The Open

September 14, 2012

Pink heelsplitters and fat muckets.

If those names sound unfamiliar to you, you might be surprised to find they could literally be right beneath your feet. Those are the names of some of the freshwater mussel species recently reintroduced into Leading Creek.

The reintroduction project was carried out by Dr. Tom Watters, who is curator of molluscs at Ohio State University and science director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Freshwater Mollusc Conservation Facility.

The species’ names might be a little unflattering, and mussels aren’t particularly racy or exciting, they don’t make a lot of noise or cause any problems, but while their lives are generally spent entirely out of sight and out of mind, they have a fascinating life process and are valuable indicator species used in determining the health of a stream or body of water.

Dr. Watters (Isn’t that a perfect name for someone who has devoted his life to studying aquatic creatures?) will also be the guest speaker at the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual meeting banquet and election, which will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at Meigs High School .

Dr. Watters is a native of Beavercreek but by his description “at an early age contracted the Jacques Cousteau Syndrome and decided marine mollusks were his calling.” He received his BS at the University of Miami, Fla., his master’s degree at the University of Rhode Island and his Ph.D. at Ohio State University but having returned to Ohio and, as he explained, discovering a severe lack of oceans he turned to freshwater and land mollusks.

He has authored two books, several book chapters and more than 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals. His research interests include the biology of freshwater mussels and zoogeography of Caribbean land snails.

Locally he has been involved in the reintroduction of native mussels into Leading Creek following the 1993 mine dewatering into that stream.

While I won’t disclose exactly where the mussels were released, the stocking process wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. In my mind I had pictured that we would gently and carefully place them into prepared spots in the streambed where they could settle into their new homes, all safe and snug.

The process doesn’t work like that; instead they were just unceremoniously plopped into place where Dr. Watters assured us they would burrow themselves into the substrate.

Mussels are particularly vulnerable to changes in water quality and aquatic habitat; unlike other aquatic or semi-aquatic creatures they can’t swim, run or fly away from pollution or other changes. Many mussel species have gone extinct in the past hundred years or so, but because they are so quiet and unobtrusive, many people don’t care or even realize they are even there.

In addition to hearing Dr. Watters’ entertaining discussion of mussels, attendees at the meeting will elect two board members to the Meigs SWCD Board of Supervisors to serve terms commencing January, 2013. This year’s candidates are Joe Bolin of Rutland, Kim Romine, Pomeroy, and Adam Woirol, Langsville.

Voting will take place that night 6-7 p.m. Residents or landowners, firms and corporations that own land or occupy land in Meigs County and are 18 years of age or older may vote for supervisor. A non-resident landowner, firm or corporation must provide an affidavit of eligibility which includes designation of a voting representative prior to casting a ballot.

There are three ways an eligible voter can cast a ballot: at the annual meeting, at the SWCD office from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 25, or via absentee ballot. Absentee ballots can be requested at the Meigs SWCD office at 33101 Hiland Road, Pomeroy OH and must be received no later than Sept. 25.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Meigs SWCD office at 740-992-4282.

Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. His column generally appears every other Sunday. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at