Early life history of the sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus) (Mollusca: Bivalvia: Unionoida)

Mark C. Hove, Bernard E. Sietman, Matthew S. Berg, Erika C. Frost, Kiru Wolf, Tony R. Brady, Sarah L. Boyer, Daniel J. Hornbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Managing a rare species can be improved with knowledge of its natural history. The sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus) is a freshwater mussel recently listed by the US as federally endangered. We used standard methods to study P. cyphyus brooding behaviour, host fishes in the laboratory and under natural conditions, and glochidial morphology. We monitored a population of P. cyphyus in the Chippewa River, WI during spring and summer 2007–2009 and 2011 and found brooding animals between mid-May and early August. Gravid individuals ranged between 5 and 27 yr (mean age ± 1 s.d. = 13 ± 4 yr). Plethobasus cyphyus brooded glochidia in outer gills, which varied in colour from red, orange, pink, cream, or white. We observed mature glochidia more commonly in individuals with cream or white gills and these glochidia were released in a clear, adhesive, mucus matrix. In laboratory trials we found several minnow and topminnow species (29 spp.) served as productive suitable native hosts. The mean number of juvenile mussels released per cyprinid per day was significantly higher for trials conducted at 22–25°C compared with those at 18–20°C, and 83% of trials conducted at 18–20°C using suitable host species produced no juveniles. Glochidia had a unique outline and shell morphometrics that distinguished P. cyphyus from seven other Chippewa River mussel species that produce similar sized glochidia. Using morphometrics we determined that mimic shiners (Notropis volucellus) were natural hosts for P. cyphyus, round pigtoe (Pleurobema sintoxia), and Wabash pigtoe (Fusconaia flava). Releasing mucus-bound glochidia has evolved in a variety of mussel species and may be more common than is currently realized. Our data show that P. cyphyus is a cyprinid host specialist, and propagation efforts for this species can be strengthened through improved access to mature glochidia by using females with cream-coloured gills and increased juvenile production through warmer fish holding temperatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-542
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Natural History
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - Mar 11 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources who provided funds through Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act and Minnesota’s State Wildlife Grants Program; and University of Minnesota’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Taylor & Francis.


  • Unionoida
  • brooding behaviour
  • glochidia
  • hosts
  • morphology


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