Although you might not have seen me in the wild, I bet you’ve seen me on a menu! I’m a very popular food item, and am nutritious too: I’m low in sodium and saturated fat, and am a good source of B & C vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids, and minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus and potassium.
In the wild, I fix myself to rocks or other mussels on the ocean floor using my hair-like “beard,” also called byssal threads. These threads are made of chitin and are incredibly strong, which helps me stay safely in place during strong tides and storms. But since we can’t move, we need a backup plan to survive tough times. I can shut my shell tight during low tide so I don’t dry out!
I am a filter feeder, meaning I filter ocean water through my body to grab plankton. I filter massive amounts of water (over 17 gallons a day!), and am therefore vulnerable to what ends up in the ocean. Our numbers can drop if there are increased amounts of runoff or coastal erosion (which is when you would want MORE animals filtering the water, am I right?). We also can collect toxins in our bodies, which can be harmful for humans who eat us.
Did You Know?
I’m not kidding when I say my byssal thread is strong. I can hold onto wood, iron and even steel! Scientists are trying to decode my secrets to develop a mussel-based adhesive to use in eye surgeries.
I’ve had a history with humans for quite a long time. Archaeological evidence suggests people have been cultivating mussels for about 800 years in Europe, and eating mussels for more than 20,000 years!
Unfortunately, I’m particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification, which occurs when carbon emissions are absorbed by the ocean and the water becomes more acidic. This makes it harder for me to build my shell, which is bad for the environment and bad for business! The good news is that states like Washington, Oregon, California, Maine, Florida and Maryland are taking action to tackle acidification.