Dunn County (WQOW) - It's a small creature that you probably don't even notice during your time on the water, but it can have a big impacts on aquatic life. It is also one of Wisconsin's most endangered species.
It only grows up to four inches long, but the impact of the Higgins eye mussel reaches to far greater lengths.
"Mussels are really important to our water quality," DNR Biologist Lisie Kitchel said. "They are your bio filters. They take out sediment, they take out contaminants from the river. They're a great source of food for the fur bearers and other fish."
But, there's a problem. As chemicals and predators find a way into Wisconsin rivers, the mollusks find themselves on the endangered species list.
"So, my job is to go to the river, find the gravid or pregnant mussel, bring it into the lab with the appropriate host fish and then put them together," Mussel Biologist Nathan Eckert said. That lab is in Genoa WI, just down the Mississippi River from La Crosse, where the mussels are bred by living on bass and walleye, and raised for roughly two years. Then, they are released into the river, like Tuesday's placement of more than 3,000 mussels in the Chippewa River near Meridean.
"This a very good site for mussels," Eckert said. "We have criteria in the recovery plan for this species that lines up with how good a site has to be for us to use it for Higgins eye, and this site meets all of the criteria."
The hope is the species will not only thrive but multiply.
"We are putting out animals that were raised in 2013, 2014 and 2015," Eckert said. "For these mussels on the edge of maturity, we're hoping that this year or next year that the oldest ones will begin reproducing and hopefully can continue to build on the population we are establishing today."
Each one of the mussels are also tagged with unique identification numbers, so biologists can track their growth for years to come. While News 18 was there, the DNR actually found mussels they'd planted in years past.