You Need Mussels to Make Pearls

Washboard Mussel

Washboard Mussel

This is Passport to Texas

Though seemingly obscure, freshwater mussels play a vital role in a multi-million dollar industry.

There are at least 300 species of freshwater mussels in North America; Texas is home to more than 50 of those.
Freshwater mussel species are commercially harvested for their shells. Pieces of which become “seed material” for making cultured pearls.

More than 99% of all pearls sold worldwide are cultured.

Most freshwater mussel shells end up in Japan, Australia and Polynesia for the cultured pearl industry. Such a pearl begins with a polished sphere of North American freshwater mussel shell that’s surgically implanted into a marine oyster. The oyster identifies the object as an irritant, and begins to cover it with layers of iridescent mother-of-pearl. After about a year, it’s made a pearl.

Fifteen mussel species in Texas are listed as threatened at the state level. Six of those 15 species are now candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Learn more about Texas freshwater mussels and get involved in Texas Mussel Watch on the Texas Nature Trackers page of the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

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