Species At Risk

Salamander Mussel

(Simpsonaias ambigua)


Salamander Mussel
Salamander Mussel occurrences map


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.


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.


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.


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.


The Salamander Mussel is protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Salamander Mussel

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Salamander Mussel. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • You can help improve mussel habitat and keep Ontario’s water safe and clean by maintaining natural vegetation next to creeks and rivers. The roots of plants reduce erosion and can stop soil from washing into the river. Fence off streamside areas to keep cattle (and their manure) out of the water. There are many other things that you can do to help reduce soil erosion and you might be eligible for funding assistance. For more information, visit the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association: www.ontariosoilcrop.org.
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species at risk 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: ontario.ca/invasivespecies; www.invadingspecies.com; www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca; and, www.invasivespecies.gc.ca.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Did you know?

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.

Did you know?

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.

Did you know?

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.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.