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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Multipurpose organism

The Spike Mussel (Elliptio dilatata) is a rather unique mussel. Besides its odd name of “Lady Finger,” not many species of mussels have a spike on their shell that can grow up to 12.7 centimeters. The shell of the organism is relatively thick as well, one of the hardest of the mussel species. The color tends to be brown or black, and can occasionally have green rays. The main question regarding these organisms at first glance is, “How do they move?” Mussel species have a singular muscular leg that they use to grip the river floor and slowly inch their way forward across the bottom of the river. For this reason, they are known to inhibit areas with swift currents. However, they can be found in reservoirs and lakes, as well. Due to these easily accessible habitats, mussel populations decreased drastically during the 1900s. 

During this time period, it was discovered that mussel shells made great buttons.. This involved puncturing circular holes into the shells. This ultimately would kill  the mussel as well. Around 11.4 million buttons were produced using freshwater mussels in 1904. Around 1914, 21.7 million buttons were sold. The production of buttons reached its highest point a few years later, when 40 million buttons were sold in 1916. (more information can be found at This massive increase in the production of buttons resulted in a great decline in the mussel population. However, mussels can be found quite easily along the banks of the Cannon River. There are  a variety of species present in the Carleton Arboretum.

—Jose Ortega ‘25

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