Slippershell mussel (Alasmidonta viridis)

Slippershell mussel
Loading more images and videos...

Slippershell mussel fact file

Slippershell mussel description

GenusAlasmidonta (1)

The slippershell mussel (Alasmidonta viridis) is a small freshwater mollusc with a yellow to dark brown outer shell surface (periostracum) and a bluish-white or creamy-beige inner surface (nacreous layer), often appearing a slight iridescent blue at the margins (2). The shell is rhomboid-shaped and somewhat inflated, being thin in young individuals and moderately thick in adults (3) (4). It is relatively uneven on the surface, with numerous coarse, wavy, green rays. The teeth along the hinge of the plates, known as the lateral teeth, are poorly developed, but there is a larger, triangular tooth in the right valve, and two in the left (5).

Like all molluscs, the slippershell mussel has a large, muscular ‘foot’, which enables the mussel to move slowly and bury itself within the bottom substrate of its freshwater habitat (6).


Slippershell mussel biology

Like other mussels of the family Unionidae, the slippershell mussel requires a fish host to complete its unusual life cycle (7). Sperm is released into the water, usually around spring time (2), and is then taken in through the female’s siphon for fertilisation. Eggs develop into larvae within the female, where they are held internally for about a year. The larvae, called ‘glochidea’, are then released into the water and must attach to a suitable fish host to survive. The fish hosts for the slippershell mussel include the johnny darter (Etheostoma nigrum) and the mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdi) (7), which are probably infested from February to April (2). The larvae typically remain on the fish hosts for a couple of weeks to several months, when they transform into the adult form, before dropping from the host fish. This parasitic lifestyle is a unique feature of freshwater mussels, and helps these otherwise sedentary species to disperse (6). The slippershell mussel then spends the remainder of its life in the substrate (7).

Like all freshwater mussels, the slippershell mussel is a filter feeder, obtaining its nutrition by filtering particles, such as algae, zooplankton and debris, from the water column (7).


Slippershell mussel range

A widespread species, the slippershell mussel occurs from southern Ontario south to Alabama, and from South Dakota and Kansas east to New York, Virginia and North Carolina. Its range includes the Upper Mississippi River Basin, the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee River sub-basins and the St. Lawrence River Basin. In the Great Lakes Basin, this species is found in the Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie drainages (2) (7).


Slippershell mussel habitat

Although occurring in a great variety of freshwater habitats, the slippershell mussel is most frequently found in the creeks and headwaters of rivers, on sand or gravel substrate. It may also be found in larger rivers and lakes with slow or fast currents, on cobble or boulders. The slippershell mussel is also often found in and around water willow (Justicia americana) (2) (7).


Slippershell mussel status

The slippershell mussel has not yet been assessed by the IUCN.

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Slippershell mussel threats

As the slippershell mussel requires clear, clean water and substrates for survival, it is vulnerable to decreases in water quality. As such, it is threatened by pollution from agricultural runoff and alteration to waterways, which alters the natural flow of the water and increases siltation. A further threat to the slippershell mussel is the introduced zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). This exotic species, native to Europe and Asia, requires stable, hard substrates to attach to and often grows directly on slippershell mussels, preventing them from feeding and reproducing properly. The continued range expansion of the zebra mussel into slippershell mussel habitat poses a serious threat to the long-term viability of this species (5) (7) (8).


Slippershell mussel conservation

The main conservation priority for the slippershell mussel is maintaining the health of its habitat. As this species requires the presence of its host fish to reproduce, conservation efforts should seek to preserve fish communities, as well as increase water quality. The control and management of exotic species, such as the zebra mussel, will also help protect the slippershell mussel (5) (7).


Find out more

Find out more about the slippershell mussel:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following: a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
Describes an organism that derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism at the host’s expense.
In molluscs, a tube-like structure through which water passes into or out of the mantle cavity.
Tiny aquatic animals that drift with currents or swim weakly in water.


  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2011)
  2. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission - Slippershell mussel (July, 2011)
  3. Terwilliger, K. and Tate, J.R. (1994) A Guide to Endangered and Threatened Species in Virginia. The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Virginia.
  4. Illinois Natural History Survey - Slippershell mussel (July, 2011)
  5. Michigan Natural Features Inventory - Alasmidonta viridis (July, 2011)
  6. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  7. Michigan Natural Features Inventory - Alasmidonta viridis (July, 2011)
  8. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Slippershell mussel (July, 2011)

Image credit

Slippershell mussel  
Slippershell mussel

© Dick Biggins, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Richard Biggins


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Slippershell mussel (Alasmidonta viridis) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is found in Wisconsin's Northwoods and has been profiled with the support of a Wisconsin-based family who care deeply about the area. To learn more visit our eco-region pages.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top