Management and conservation of marine mussels

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The common name mussel is used for members of several families of clams or bivalvia mollusca, from saltwater and freshwater habitats. These groups have in common a shell whose outline is elongated and asymmetrical compared with other edible clams, which are often more or less rounded or oval.

The word “mussel” is most frequently used to mean the edible bivalves of the marine family Mytilidae, most of which live on exposed shores in the intertidal zone, attached by means of their strong byssal threads (“beard”) to a firm substrate. A few species (in the genus Bathymodiolus) have colonized hydrothermal vents associated with deep ocean ridges.

In most marine mussels the shell is longer than it is wide, being wedge-shaped or asymmetrical. The external color of the shell is often dark blue, blackish, or brown, while the interior is silvery and somewhat nacreous.

    Kingdom Animalia — Animal, animals, animaux

    Phylum Mollusca — molluscs, mollusks, mollusques, molusco

    Class BivalviaLinnaeus, 1758 — bivalve, bivalves, bivalves, clams, mexilhão, ostra, palourdes

    Subclass PteriomorphiaBeurlen, 1944

    Order MytiloidaFerussac, 1822

    Family MytilidaeRafinesque, 1815

    Genus MytilusLinnaeus, 1758

    Species Mytilus edulisLinnaeus, 1758 — blue mussel, edible blue mussel

General anatomy

The mussel’s external shell is composed of two hinged halves or “valves”. The valves are joined together on the outside by a ligament, and are closed when necessary by strong internal muscles. Mussel shells carry out a variety of functions, including support for soft tissues, protection from predators and protection against desiccation.

The shell is made of three layers. In the pearly mussels there is an inner iridescent layer of nacre (mother-of-pearl) composed of calcium carbonate, which is continuously secreted by the mantle; the prismatic layer, a middle layer of chalky white crystals of calcium carbonate in a protein matrix; and the periostracum, an outer pigmented layer resembling a skin. The periostracum is composed of a protein called conchin, and its function is to protect the prismatic layer from abrasion and dissolution by acids (especially important in freshwater forms where the decay of leaf materials produces acids).

Like most bivalves, mussels have a large organ called a foot. In marine mussels, the foot is smaller, tongue-like in shape, with a groove on the ventral surface which is continuous with the byssus pit. In this pit, a viscous secretion is exuded, entering the groove and hardening gradually upon contact with sea water. This forms extremely tough, strong, elastic, byssus threads that secure the mussel to its substrate. The byssus thread is also sometimes used by mussels as a defensive measure, to tether predatory molluscs, such as dog whelks, that invade mussel beds, immobilising them and thus starving them to death.

In cooking, the byssus of the mussel is known as the “beard” and is removed before the mussels are prepared.

Description

Identifying features for common mussel

  • Shell solid,

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