Alasmidonta marginata Say, 1818
Basis for Listing
The elktoe originally inhabited many rivers in Minnesota, including the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix (Dawley 1947). However, it is now common only in the St. Croix River and some of its tributaries (Heath and Rasmussen 1990; Hornbach et al. 1995), and less so in the upper Root River system. It is still found occasionally in the Mississippi, upper Iowa, and Zumbro rivers of southeastern Minnesota. Bright et al. (1990) considered the elktoe to have been a minor component of the Minnesota River fauna historically, and it is currently on the verge of extirpation in the Minnesota, Pomme de Terre (Bright et al. 1990, 1995), and Yellow Medicine rivers. It is likely extirpated from the Cedar, Cottonwood, LeSueur, Wontanwan, and Blue Earth rivers. The elktoe has recently been found inhabiting only a small number of drainages, making it vulnerable to catastrophic events, and it was listed as a threatened species in Minnesota in 1996.
The shell of the elktoe is somewhat triangular in shape, thin to stout, and can be up to 14 cm (5.5 in.) long. The outside of the shell is greenish-yellow, with numerous dark green rays and speckles. The shell has a sharply angled posterior ridge and flat posterior slope with numerous fine ridges. The beak sculpture consists of 3-4 heavy double looped ridges. The pseudocardinal teeth are thin, the lateral teeth are absent, and the inner shell is white. The elktoe resembles the snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra) and the deertoe (Truncilla truncata), both of which lack significant beak sculpture and have well developed teeth.
The elktoe is an inhabitant of medium to large rivers. Suitable habitats include sand and gravel substrates in areas with moderate to fast velocities (Cummings and Mayer 1992; Parmalee and Bogan 1998).
Biology / Life History
Mussels are long-lived animals. Members of many species may live for several decades and in some instances, a century or more. They spend most of their lives buried in the bottom sediments of permanent water bodies, and often live in multi-species communities called mussel beds (Sietman 2003).
Conservation / Management
The continued persistence of the elktoe in Minnesota is threatened by the hydrologic alteration of streams and their watersheds, and non-point and point source water and sediment pollution. Dams, channelization, and dredging increase siltation, physically alter habitat conditions, and block the movement of fish hosts. The elktoe is also being impacted by the infestation of non-native zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Zebra mussels can attach themselves in large numbers to the shells of native mussels, eventually causing death by suffocation.
Conservation Efforts in Minnesota
A 10-year statewide mussel survey initiated by the Minnesota DNR in 1999 resulted in a better understanding of the elktoe's ecology and current status in Minnesota. Ongoing mussel surveys in some of the rivers that make up this species' historical range will further aid in the documentation of the distribution of the elktoe.