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Jeepers, Creepers!

By Rachel Reklau,
Natural Resources 

During a mussel survey in July 2015, Forest Preserve District staff discovered a live creeper (Strophitus undulatus) in the West Branch DuPage River watershed. It was the first time since 1958 that a live specimen of this native mussel was found upstream of the Fawell Dam, which is located within McDowell Grove Forest Preserve in Naperville.

Creepers are common in the Midwest and eastern U.S. and prefer small- to medium-sized streams with sandy or gravel bottoms, where people can easily overlook their plain-looking shells among the rocks. They can grow to 4 inches long and live up to 10 years.

Like most freshwater mussels, female creepers keep fertilized eggs in special chambers in their gills until the eggs develop into microscopic larvae called “glochidia,” which the females then release into the water. The glochidia latch onto the gills of passing fish “hosts,” such as bass, bullhead, crappie, sunfish, shiners and minnows, and remain attached until they’re juveniles and mature enough to survive on their own. They then drop from the fish and into the streambed. Unlike some mussels, however, female creepers can bypass their fish hosts and raise their young from eggs to juveniles entirely in their own gills.

As a family, freshwater mussels are the most endangered organisms in the U.S.

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