Community News: Join the Iowa Mussel Corps

A group of volunteers is forming called the Iowa Volunteer Mussel Corps to assist the Iowa Department of Natural Resources find and catalog species of mussels found in Iowa’s rivers.

What is it?  It’s a chance to help DNR scientists more quickly develop solid base-line data on mussel populations throughout Iowa.  Iowa still has at least 35 species of mussels that reproduce in our waters…and maybe more if we could find them. (Historic data is very sparse with only partial surveys in 1984 and 1999.)  Iowa needs this information to protect mussel populations and as indicators of water quality.  Adjacent states have as much as 10 times the mussel data as Iowa.

Plus, it’s tremendous fun and you’ll learn a lot.  You’ll come to recognize the Threehorn Wartyback and the exquisite Pistolgrip among many other mussel species.  You’ll learn how mussels have evolved amazing ways to lure hosts for their larvae (glochidia) such as waving little minnow-like appendages to attract passing fish who will host the glochidia on their gills until the juveniles later drop off in suitable habitat.

Who is eligible to join the volunteer mussel corps?  Anyone 18+ years old willing to spend ~8 hours/day with a DNR team looking for mussels in Iowa rivers and streams.  You won’t necessarily be swimming to look for mussels but swimming ability is essential for safety’s sake.  A wetsuit is very helpful in staying warm during a long day in the river and you need physical agility.  You don’t need to be strong — just able to bend over or snorkel to see or feel for mussels in the shallows and along a shallow bottom, or submerge a little to reach a mussel.

How do I get involved?  

1.  Sign up with Jennifer Kurth of DNR,, or email volunteer Linda Appelgate,, with contact information so you can be notified via email of training and subsequent volunteer opportunities.

2.  Attend a 2-hour training workshop led by Jennifer Kurth, DNR biologist and malecologist (mussel expert), whose specialty is freshwater mussels.  Workshops will be held in Des Moines and either Cedar Rapids or Iowa City, depending on interest.  The training will include mussel biology, identification, collection techniques, ethics, personal safety, and hands-on learning.

3.  After training, Jen or another DNR staff member will inform you of volunteering opportunities to go out with DNR biologists and survey mussels this summer and fall.  You could go out once a season or many times.

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