Eastern elliptio

Elliptio complanata

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Eastern elliptio lives in freshwater streams and lakes. They are almost always found in streams where the American eel, one of their host species, is also found. They tend to prefer a water depth of three to five feet. The eastern elliptio needs relatively clean water to survive, so its presence is a good indicator of environmental health.

  • Range

    Can be found year-round in lakes and rivers throughout the Chesapeake region.

  • Diet

    Filter feeder

  • Lifespan

    Decades

  • Status

    Stable

The eastern elliptio is a freshwater mussel that can be found throughout the Chesapeake watershed.

Appearance

The eastern elliptio is typically oval or trapezoidal with a brown or dark green shell. These mussels grow to four to five inches in length.

Feeding

Mussels like the eastern elliptio are filter feeders. They take in water, trap any particles in a lining of mucus, then sort food particles and direct them toward the mouth. Food includes algae, bacteria and various plankton.

Predators

Mammals, like raccoons, otters, muskrats and minks, and some bird species prey on this mussel. Juveniles may also fall prey to certain fish.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Eastern elliptio mussels reproduce through open fertilization, in which the males release sperm into the water around them and the females take it in as they take in water. The eggs become fertilized and are brooded in the mussel’s water tubes, or marsupia, for up to a month while they develop into glochidia, the larval stage. The glochidia are released into the water, where they find a host fish and attach to their gills. Host fish species include American eel, yellow perch, brook trout, lake trout, mottled sculpin and slimy sculpin. Within a couple hours, the larvae are encapsulated by the host fish’s body. In the following days or weeks, the glochidia metamorphose into juvenile mussels, about the size of a grain of sand, at which point they fall of the host and attach to the substrate. Established eastern elliptio mussels can live for decades. 

Did You Know?

  • An adult mussel can filter and clean about 10 gallons of water each day.
  • Mussel restoration projects are underway in various areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to reestablish populations and take advantage of their water-cleaning abilities.
  • The eastern elliptio is the most common of Maryland’s 16 native mussel species, though its populations are much lower than they once were.
  • The name elliptio refers to the elliptical shape of the mussel’s shell.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Eastern elliptio lives in freshwater streams and lakes. They are almost always found in streams where the American eel, one of their host species, is also found. They tend to prefer a water depth of three to five feet. The eastern elliptio needs relatively clean water to survive, so its presence is a good indicator of environmental health.

  • Range

    Can be found year-round in lakes and rivers throughout the Chesapeake region.

  • Diet

    Filter feeder

  • Lifespan

    Decades

  • Status

    Stable