Lessons from the Lampsilis Mussel


Until yesterday, mussels were something I avoided looking at when passing the frozen deli section of my local supermarket. But when, late last night, I discovered the lampsilis mussel, native to the streams of Missouri, everything changed.

Mohammed Noor, a delightfully geeky professor of biology at Duke University, who is running a free online course on Evolution and Genetics, directed me to a video about the ingenious mollusc.

What I saw left me almost speechless. Not once since the demise of my goldfish Miranda, have I been so intrigued and enamoured by a freshwater creature.

For those of you too lazy to watch the video or in the kind of place where it would be inappropriate, let me tell you about the lampsilis mussel. It will sound like I’m making stuff up, but if you go back to Monday’s post, you’ll realise I’m incapable of that.

Here we go. For some reason, baby lampsilis mussels cannot become adults unless they spend some time inside a large-mouthed bass.

Don’t dwell too long on that. Just trust me that it’s true. Given that mussels cannot swim and are blind, it seems like an almost impossible feat to accomplish.

But the clever lampsilis mussel has found a way to export its young into the mouths of unsuspecting bass. It knows that if there’s one thing a big fat bass fish likes to eat, it’s a smaller, “darter” fish. Now, it’s not exactly going to find some small fish willing to paddle around it all day acting as some kind of bass bait.

So instead, they simply grow a fake one, which is fixed to their shell and exhibits all the characteristics of a small fish. It even darts around when the mussel senses the bass approaching.

When the bass reaches out to gobble up the fake fish, the mussel squirts its young into the bass’s mouth. The mussel babies grab hold of the fish’s gills and feed off its blood before finally dropping off as fully-formed mussels several weeks later. Beyond being deprived of the tasty meal it expected, the bass isn’t harmed in the process.

I’ve been so inspired by the story of the lampsilis mussel, that I’ve drawn up a list of things that humans could learn from them.

1. No matter what the extent of our defects, there is always some inner resource we can employ to solve a problem. It’s our job to find it. It could be anything from the talent to grow a fake fish to the ability to pick ourselves up again after we’ve been knocked.

2. If you can benefit from another’s weakness without harming them in the process, (and even save another fish while doing so) then by all means, go for it.

3. If evolution lends credibility to the highly ridiculous, then so should we.

4. Be patient and persevere. Sometimes you have to wait a while to get what you want. Not every bass is going to swim right into your trap, but chances are if you wait long enough, eventually one will.

5. Non-traditional early childhoods can be very successful.

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7 thoughts on “Lessons from the Lampsilis Mussel

  1. Who beat me to give an excellent score??!!
    I was laughing out loud when I finished reading your entry. Thoroughly amusing and who says you do not have the talent? You got me from beginning to end! If I had watched the lecture myself, I am very sure, I would have clicked onto the cursor and tried to fast forward it-in the process missing out on the essence of it. If I could ask you a favour, could you watch more of such interesting videos and write entries on it? I bet I would pick up(and remember more knowlege than doing the lectures myself;)

    I am totally inspired by your five learnings at the end too. #1 and #3 I am with you. I always feel a little guilty over #2 and I need to build up patience for #4. And what’s the story behind #5?

    • Hehe, glad it made you laugh! πŸ™‚ I was genuinely fascinated by this creature! How amazing to be able to grow a fake fish without ever having even seen one. Evolution really is amazing.

      Sure, I will have a lookout for some more videos. I often post them on my blog Facebook page too, in case you’ve got an account and feel like having a look at the page.

      Number 2 was meant a little tongue in cheek, as I can’t think of any time I’ve done that myself. Number 5 was also a bit of a joke but kind of serious in that the mussel thrives on spite of its odd start in the world, just like children brought up in non-traditional family structures might too!

      Hopes this finds you well πŸ™‚

  2. Holy mackerel, while I normally perch on the sidelines like a fly on the wall, eye would like to muscle my way into this conversation, which appears to be floundering. Most people do not read your blog just for the halibut. When they read it they squ-eel with glee. My sole interest in this blog is fun and the topic of evolution is a complete red herring. Sorry to carp on what must seem to be a bass-ackwards way of doing things. Must go now, time to tuna violin or my wife will pun-ish me.

    • I’d had a whale of a time with this comment, Doug! Glad you enjoyed herring about the lampsilis mussel. Let me take this oppor-tuna-ty to congratulate you on your MAGNIFICENT work on our own lineage. My dad has been carping on about nothing else all holidays and I’m delighted he’s put me in line for my own copy πŸ™‚ Fergusons all over the plaice are delighted with it. So thank you, thank you for writing it! πŸ™‚

  3. Ah biology, so beautiful! I ❀ evolution. Let's collaborate on a science book – no fiction necessary. Scientific facts are better than anything one could fabricate anyway.

  4. Pingback: Why people stop blogging |

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