I am a small- to medium-sized freshwater mussel that can reach up to 2.8 inches in length.

My shell is usually yellow or yellowish-green and gets darker as I age.

Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Once found in 210 streams and lakes, I now only exist in 79 streams in 14 states and 1 Canadian province.

I have been on the endangered species list since 2012.

I help improve water quality by filtering out algae, plankton and sometimes unwanted toxins.

What am I?

I’m a snuffbox mussel, of course. And a partnership involving Consumers Energy will ensure I am around for a long time to help keep our local water sources clean. 

When Consumers Energy was asked by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and Central Michigan University to help assist a project aimed at increasing the population of the endangered snuffbox mussels, the answer was a quick yes. “This work aligns well with our hydro operations which produce clean, renewable energy and with our Triple Bottom Line to benefit People, Planet and Prosperity that we use to drive all our decisions,” said Neil Dziedzic, Consumers Energy’s executive director of hydro operations.

In August, Central Michigan University biologists and the MDNR began propagating the snuffbox mussels upstream from where some of their habitat had degraded.

So, how does one “propagate” a snuffbox mussel, you ask?  

At the Webber Dam site, CMU student researchers added microscopic larval mussels called glochidia to water with small fish called common logperch. The tiny mussels then attached to the gills of the logperch which act as host for a short period.

The logperch — which are unharmed by their host duties — with the microscopic snuffbox were transferred to cages in the MDNR’s fish ladder at the dam about 15 days after being exposed to the glochidia. While attached to the logperch, the snuffbox mussels develop hearts, stomachs and other vital organs. After two to four weeks, the mussels drop off the logperch.

Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The project lead, Daelyn Woolnough, associate research professor in CMU’s Biology Department and Institute for Great Lakes Research, said the snuffbox mussels will grow for about 16 months in the cages until they are about half an inch long.

We recently checked in with Woolnough, who noted they are about halfway through the project. The snuffbox are “essentially left alone to grow in the safety of the sediment in the cages until the water temperatures get warmer,” she said.

She added that Matt Smith, a DNR biologist, has been checking on the cages. “CMU and MDNR will be working together late spring/early summer to sift through the sediments to count snuffbox and determine the ultimate success of the project.”

At that time, they will tag and release the mussels back into the Grand River between Webber Dam and the confluence of the Maple River.

“The snuffbox mussel is in a scientific family that is one of the most sensitive to changes in water quality. So, their presence in the Grand River is important and snuffbox conservation allows for them, and the 21 other mussel species around Webber Dam, to filter water of contaminants and help with cleaning the water naturally,” Woolnough said.

Webber Dam

Here in Michigan our lakes, rivers and streams define us. We’re committed to keeping this precious resource thriving for future generations. That’s why we’re working to reduce our water use and regularly monitor water quality in our reservoirs and downstream of our hydroelectric facilities.

While we normally only divert water to the fish ladder twice a year, our hydro operations team is making sure water flows through the fish ladder to support the project. We know helping to grow the snuffbox mussel population will help ensure a healthy aquatic system that will benefit other animals and humans for years to come.

Watch footage of the Michigan Snuffbox Mussel Propagation efforts here.