• Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

    Mississippi

    National River & Recreation Area Minnesota

What's in a Name

Mussels have some of the most colorful common names in the animal kingdom. Where else can you find animals named snuffbox, elktoe, spectacle case or fat mucket? But common names can be confusing because they change from one region of the country to another. For example the common name for Quadrula nodulata can be pimpleback, two-horned pocketbook, winged pimpleback, nodule shell, and winged orb shell.

But in some parts of the country a Quadrula pustulosa is called pimpleback. And in some parts of the country a Quadrula pustulosa is called wartyback or warty pigtoe.

To avoid confusion, experts who study mussels use scientific names to precisely communicate the name of a particular animal. These names reflect a taxonomy or system of classification that scientists use to name all living things. The science of placing an animal within a specific taxonomy is called systematics. The products of systematics is a scientific name that people agree belongs to a specific animal.

A scientific name is the Genus name followed by the species name and when the name is written, it is either underlined or italicized. The genus/species name is the most specific classification of an animal. But according to its taxonomy, it also belongs to other increasingly larger groups of similar animals.

For the mussel, from the most specific goups the genus belongs to and moving up to the most general groups, the taxonomy runs like this:

  • Family: Unionidae
  • Order: Unionida
  • Class: Bivalvia
  • Phylum: Mollusca
  • Kingdom: Animalia

Did You Know?

Canoeists in the Mississippi River Gorge

A canoe trip in the Mississippi River Gorge between Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN feels like you are miles away from civilization even though you are in the center of a large metropolitan area.