Skip to navigation or main content

SEAS: Student Experiments At Sea

Introduction to mussels


Mussels are members of the Class Bivalvia, the second largest class of the phylum Mollusca.

Deep-sea mussel with shell opened.
The two halves of this
mussel's shell have been
separated. The soft body
parts are now visible.


As the name implies, bivalves have a two part shell (two valves), joined together dorsally by a hinge ligament. Bivalves, like all molluscs, have a mantle that encloses most of the visceral organs, and a muscular foot.

Ecology and physiology


Mussels live in fresh water (e.g., rivers and lakes) and salt water (e.g., intertidal, estuary, deep-sea) habitats.

Feeding mechanisms

Most mussels are filter feeders. But those specialized to live in deep-sea hydrothermal vent environments also obtain nourishment from symbiotic bacteria. A deep-sea vent mussel obtains raw materials (i.e., oxygen, carbon dioxide, and reduced chemicals like hydrogen sulfide) from the environment; it supplies these to chemosynthetic bacteria living in its tissues. Using the chemicals supplied by the mussel, the bacteria create sugars that provide the majority of nutrition for the mussel. Where inside the mussel do you suppose the bacteria live?