The Mussels of Nebraska

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14 them. Dead shell are much easier to store as they can be kept in a box or bag. If you do collect some freshwater musselshells, it is important that you record where and when you found them. To a museum, a specimen without collection information is of little or no interest. Identification of Freshwater Mussels Hands down, the best way to learn how to identify freshwater mussels is to accompany someone who knows them. Having the shell in hand while someone points out how to identify them is invaluable. The next best way is to take your collection to an expert and have them help you out. This guide does not include an identification key. Freshwater mussel keys are notoriously error-prone. Species' shells can vary in size, shape, color and thickness which often lead one astray when using a key. Instead, you can compare your shell to the illustrations and the descriptions to make a best guess as to what you have. I also recommend that you obtain books and guides from other states. I have several and use all of them when working with a difficult shell or something that I haven't seen before. Also, these will also have species that are not found in this guide so that, if you have something new, these may help you identify it. There is some terminology that may be useful when reading the descriptions or using a key. Most of these are covered in the Anatomy section but here are two others. "Inflated" and "Compressed". These refer to how "fat" the shell is. A "compressed" shell is fairly flat keeping in mind that there still has to be room inside for the mussel's internal organs. An "inflated" shell is fatter than a "compressed" shell. Imagine putting a straw into the shell and pumping air in like a balloon, causing the shell to "inflate". This is "inflated". Plasticity A complication in identification is that the shape of freshwater mussels can vary with their environment. The changes in shell shape are not willy- nilly but tend to follow a definite pattern that can be observed when moving from small headwater streams downstream into large rivers. This observation led Dr. Arnold Ortmann to develop what is now known as AOrtmann=s Law@. 3, 38 He said:

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