Though a vital part of healthy aquatic ecosystems, freshwater mussels are hardly noticed as they filter and store waste from lakes and rivers while providing nutrients for fish and plants.

Mussels can have impressively long lifespans of more than 100 years. However, habitat loss, overharvesting, pollution and other changes in the ecosystem have caused a steep decline in mussel populations. In addition, dams, which inhibit fish movement, hinder mussel reproduction because juvenile mussels rely on fish to distribute them in new locations.

Mussels generally spend their lives within a small area because of a “foot” that anchors them to a river or lake bottom. Their limited movement makes mussels a valuable indicator of a lake or river’s health because they are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Their anchored nature also helps reduce erosion of riverbeds.

As mussels filter and clean waste, such as E. coli bacteria and toxins, from the water they live in, they store the waste in their shells. This removes the toxins from the food chain because nothing eats mussel shells, and after typically long lives, mussel shells break down extremely slowly. In fact, just like tree rings, the rings on mussel shells can serve as historians of their surroundings.

There are about 50 species of mussels in Minnesota waters, over half of which are endangered or threatened. Lottery proceeds, through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, have helped the Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Zoo propagate mussels in laboratories and lakes, and the DNR reintroduce mussels into Minnesota rivers. These efforts will help improve water quality in Minnesota rivers for future generations.

A portion of every dollar played on lottery games helps make important projects, like restoring mussels that clean our rivers and improving fish habitats, possible. When you play the lottery you help make Minnesota an even better place to live. Learn more about how we are playing our part for Minnesota’s environment.