Cover photo credit: Karen Little, Illinois State Museum



“Endangered” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

The Salamander mussel was already assessed as Endangered when the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008.

Read the Assessment Report

What it looks like

The Salamander mussel is a small freshwater mussel with a shell less than five centimetres long.

It can be distinguished from other Ontario mussels by its thin, smooth, elongated, oval-shaped shell. The outer shell is yellow or brown with no markings.

Where it lives

The Salamander mussel prefers waterbodies with a soft bottom and a swift current and is often found burrowed in sand or silt under large rocks in shallow areas, on gravel bars, or in mud.

It is found in streams that support the Mudpuppy, an aquatic salamander.

Salamander mussel larvae are parasitic and use the mudpuppy as a host, where they consume nutrients from the salamander’s body until they transform into juvenile mussels and drop off.

Adult mussels feed by filtering algae and bacteria from the water.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

In Ontario, the Salamander mussel occurs only in the East Sydenham River and at one location in the Thames River.

The species has disappeared from the Detroit River due to Zebra mussel impacts, but it may remain in the small area of the St. Clair River delta in Lake St. Clair.

map of salamander mussel range

View a Larger version of this map (PDF)

What threatens it

The Salamander mussel is threatened by pollution and siltation, which occurs when too much soil washes into the river from nearby agricultural and urban areas.

Siltation can be very harmful because it can smother mussels and destroy the habitat of the mudpuppy host.

The Zebra mussel, an invasive species from Europe, is a serious threat because it attaches to other mussels and can kill them by interfering with breathing, feeding, excretion, and movement.

Action we are taking

Endangered Species and their general habitat are automatically protected.

Recovery strategy

A recovery strategy advises the ministry on ways to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.

Read the executive summary (September 10, 2010)

Read the recovery strategy (September 10, 2010)

Government response statement

A government response statement outlines the actions the government intends to take or support to help recover the species.

Read the government response statement (June 15, 2011)

Five-Year Review of Progress

A five-year review reports on progress made toward protecting and recovering a species, within five years of publishing a species’ government response statement.

Read the report on progress towards the protection and recovery of 27 species at risk, including Salamander Mussel (2016).

Habitat protection

General Habitat Protection - June 30, 2013

What you can do

Report a sighting

Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.


Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

  • private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery; if you find Salamander mussel in a watercourse on or adjacent to your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats
  • invasive species seriously threaten many of Ontario’s species at risk; to learn what you can do to help reduce the threat of invasive species, visit:
  • farmers and land owners can help improve mussel habitat and keep Ontario’s water safe and clean by maintaining natural vegetation next to creeks and rivers, and keeping pollution and soil from washing into Ontario’s streams and rivers; for more information about programs and funding assistance for eligible land owners visit the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association website

Report illegal activity

Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPSMNR (8477667).

Quick facts

  • the larvae of most freshwater mussels must attach to a fish host in order to survive; once attached, the tiny parasitic larvae consume nutrients from the fish until they transform into mussels; the Salamander mussel is unique in that their larvae use the aquatic Mudpuppy salamander as a host, instead of a fish
  • mussels rely on a lot of good luck in order to reproduce; males release sperm into the water, and if there happens to be a female nearby, she will capture the sperm as she filters water in search of food
  • aboriginal people harvested mussels for food and to create jewelry and tools; in the 1800s, massive numbers of mussels were harvested from the Grand River to create buttons; millions were shipped out every year until the 1940s when plastic buttons became more popular