Obovaria olivaria    (Rafinesque, 1820)


MN Status:
Federal Status:


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Obovaria olivaria

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Map Interpretation

Map Interpretation


  Basis for Former Listing

The hickorynut was historically found in the Minnesota and St. Croix rivers and the Mississippi River below St. Anthony Falls (van der Schalie and van der Schalie 1950), but it is now absent from the Minnesota River (Bright et al. 1990), rare in the St. Croix River (Doolittle 1988; Hornbach et al. 1995), and uncommon and scattered in the Mississippi River (Heath 1989). The range and abundance of this species and its host fish species have been reduced. For these reasons, the hickorynut was listed as a special concern species in Minnesota in 1996.

  Basis for Delisting

The Minnesota DNR initiated a 10 year statewide mussel survey in 1999 which resulted in a better understanding of the current status and distribution of the hickorynut in Minnesota. Obovaria olivaria is common and widespread within the St. Croix River drainage. The Mississippi River from St. Anthony Falls down to Lake Pepin also supports a healthy population of hickorynut, which is attributed to improvements in water quality (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2012). The hickorynut could potentially be successfully reintroduced to the Minnesota River drainage if the habitat conditions and water quality improve. Because of the status of the current populations and the expansion of the distribution of the hickorynut, special concern status is no longer be necessary. The hickorynut was delisted in 2013.


The shell of the hickorynut is round or oval, thick, usually inflated, and up to 10 cm (4 in.) long. The beak is turned forward, and the beak sculpture consists of a few very fine, double-looped lines that are only visible on young mussels. The outside of the shell is greenish, tan, or brown, often with fine green rays. The pseudocardinal and lateral teeth are well developed. The left valve (shell) has 2 heavy, triangular-shaped pseudocardinal teeth, while the right valve has only 1 (Parmalee and Bogan 1998). The inside of the shell is white with a shallow beak cavity. Some individual hickorynuts may be confused with male Higgins eye (Lampsilis higginsii) specimens, but can be differentiated by the shape and alignment of the pseudocardinal teeth.


The hickorynut most often inhabits large rivers and is rarely found in smaller streams (Cummings and Mayer 1992). It is most often found in sand and gravel substrates in water depths that generally exceed 1.5-1.8 m (5-6 ft.) (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).

Mussels are primarily sedentary, but they can move around with the use of their "foot", which is a hatchet shaped muscle that can be extended out between the valves (shells). A mussel will burrow its foot into the sediment and then contract it to pull itself slowly along the bottom of its aquatic habitat (Sietman 2003).

Mussels eat by filtering bacteria, protozoans, algae, and other organic matter out of the water. They draw water into their body through their incurrent siphon, remove food and oxygen with their gills, and then expel the filtered water through their excurrent siphon. Food particles are carried to the mussel's mouth by tiny hairlike cilia located on the gills. Waste is expelled through the excurrent siphon (Sietman 2003).

Mussels have a complex and distinctive reproductive cycle. Males release sperm into the water, which are drawn in by females through their incurrent siphon. Fertilized eggs are brooded in the female's gills, where they develop into tiny larvae called glochidia. The hickorynut is bradytictic, with females brooding their young long-term, from August through June, before they are released as glochidia (Baker 1928). Once the glochidia are expelled from the female's gills, they attach to fish gills or fins by clamping onto them with their valves. The glochidia live as parasites on the host fish until they develop into juvenile mussels, at which point they detach from the fish and fall to the streambed as free-living mussels. The shovelnose sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus) is a known fish host for the hickorynut's glochidia (Watters 1994).

  Conservation / Management

The hickorynut in Minnesota is vulnerable to further declines from the hydrologic alteration of streams and their watersheds; the continuing decline in habitat conditions on the Mississippi River associated with its management as a navigation canal; 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 hickorynut 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 hickorynut's ecology and current status in Minnesota. Additionally, 148 hickorynuts were collected from zebra mussel infested habitats in the Mississippi River in 2000 and translocated into areas of the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities, where habitats were devoid of zebra mussels.


Baker, F. C. 1928. The fresh water mollusca of Wisconsin: part II: Pelecypoda. Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey Bulletin No. 70, Part II. University of Wisconsin, Madison. 495 pp.

Bright, R. C., C. Gatenby, D. Olson, and E. Plummer. 1990. A survey of the mussels of the Minnesota River, 1989. Final report submitted to the Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 106 pp.

Cummings, K. S., and C. A. Mayer. 1992. Field guide to freshwater mussels of the Midwest. Illinois Natural History Survey Manual No. 5. 194 pp.

Doolittle, T. C. J. 1988. Distribution and relative abundance of freshwater mussels in the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. Final report submitted to the Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, Minnesota Department of Natural Resouces. Unpaged.

Heath, D. J. 1989. A survey of freshwater mussels at the proposed west channel bridge site (U.S. Highways 14, 16, 61) in Houston County, MN and LaCrosse County, WI. Report submitted to Kapur and Associates, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 6 pp.

Helms and Associates, and Marine Engineering Associates, Inc. 1990. Results of mussel survey conducted at the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge near Winona, Minnesota. Final report submitted to Johnson Brothers Corporation, Litchfield, Minnesota. 15 pp.

Hornbach, D. J., P. Baker, and T. Deneka. 1995. Abundance and distribution of the endangered mussel Lampsilis higginsi in the lower St. Croix River, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Final report submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 68 pp.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2012. Statement of need and reasonableness. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Division of Ecological and Water Resources. St. Paul, Minnesota. 337 pp.

Parmalee, P. W., and A. E. Bogan. 1998. The freshwater mussels of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee. 328 pp.

Sietman, B. E. 2003. Field guide to the freshwater mussels of Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota. 144 pp.

van der Schalie, H., and A. van der Schalie. 1950. The mussels of the Mississippi River. American Midland Naturalist 44:448-464.

Watters, G. T. 1994. An annotated bibliography of the reproduction and propagation of the Unionoidea (Primarily of North America). Ohio Biological Survey Miscellaneous Contributions No. 1, Columbus, Ohio. 158 pp.