Plants and Animals

Ligumia recta Black sandshell

Key Characteristics

The black sandshell is a large mussel (to 9 inches), with a smooth, elongate shell ranging in color from dark green or brown to black. Green rays are sometimes visible. This species has a low, broad beak, pointed posterior and rounded anterior ends, straight dorsal margin and ventral margin straight to moderately curved. The nacre is whitish-pink to purple.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G4G5 - Rank is uncertain, ranging from apparently secure to secure
State Rank: S1? - Critically imperiled (inexact or uncertain)


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 2 2000
Arenac 1 1932
Barry 1 2010
Bay 4 1944
Benzie 1 2000
Berrien 5 2001
Calhoun 1 2012
Clare 1 1949
Clinton 1 2010
Dickinson 3 1996
Gratiot 1 2020
Houghton 1 2016
Huron 1 1951
Ionia 11 2020
Iosco 5 2005
Isabella 3 2020
Jackson 1 2010
Kent 11 2020
Lenawee 2 1929
Livingston 3 2018
Luce 1 2007
Mackinac 1 1942
Macomb 5 2011
Manistee 1 2003
Mecosta 2 1934
Menominee 8 2011
Midland 4 2020
Monroe 6 2006
Muskegon 4 2018
Newaygo 2 1934
Oakland 3 2004
Osceola 4 1949
Ottawa 2 Historical
Roscommon 1 1934
Saginaw 3 2008
Schoolcraft 1 2019
St. Clair 9 2020
St. Joseph 2 2019
Tuscola 2 1984
Washtenaw 3 2007
Wayne 22 2019

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The black sandshell most commonly occupies rivers with strong currents and lakes with a firm substrate of gravel or sand (Watters et al. 2009).

Natural Community Types

  • Great lake, littoral, benthic
  • Great lake, pelagic, benthic
  • Inland lake, littoral, benthic
  • Inland lake, pelagic, benthic
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), pool
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), riffle
  • River (5th-6th order), pool
  • River (5th-6th order), run
  • River (5th-6th order), riffle

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Maintaining healthy populations of black sandshell's host fish species and open water conditions to facilitate their movement, will benefit this species. As all unionid species are vulnerable to pollutants and heavy metals, reducing point and non-point source water pollution is a priority. Black sandshell in particular has shown extreme sensitivity to copper and cadmium (Pip 1995), which is commonly introduced to aquatic systems through pesticide/herbicide applications, industrial waste, urban runoff, and mine drainage (Grabarkiewicz and Davis 2008). Alteration of habitat through river impoundment, dredging, bridge construction, and dam removal pose a threat to all native mussels, and monitoring and mitigation measures should be planned for prior to such activities taking place. Efforts to control the spread of zebra mussels, such as cleaning boat hulls, trailers, and scuba and fishing gear before traveling between bodies of water, are necessary for the conservation of this species.

Active Period

Gravid from first week of August to fourth week of July

Survey Methods

Visual and tactile search using scuba or glass-bottom buckets. Tactile search (by hand) is especially important where water turbidity and pebbles/rocks make visual detection difficult. After identification, live mussels should be planted back into the substrate anterior end down. Surveys should not take place after heavy rains or during periods of high water as these conditions can make detection much more difficult. Methods of documenting survey effort include: searching a large measured area, e.g. 128m2; taking multiple quadrat samples; and recording search time (person hours). For all methods, at least some excavation of substrate (by hand, 5-10cm down) should be done to detect buried mussels. Searching a large measured area or timed searches are generally better for detecting rare species and generating a species list than quadrat sampling.These two methods allow more types of microhabitats and a larger area to be covered. Quadrat sampling is better suited for documenting changes in density and other statistical analyses at the site level (Strayer and Smith 2003).

Glass-bottom bucket less than waist deep water

Survey Period: From first week of June to first week of October

SCUBA greater than waist deep water

Survey Period: From first week of June to first week of October


Survey References

  • Cummings, K.S. and C.A. Mayer. 1992. Field Guide to Freshwater Mussels of the Midwest. Illinois Natural History Survey Manual 5, Champaign. 194pp.

Technical References

  • Cosgrove, P.J., and L.C. Hastie. 2001. Conservation of threatened freshwater pearl mussel populations: river management, mussel translocation and conflict resolution. Biological Conservation 99:183-190.
  • Grabarkiewicz, J. and W. Davis. 2008. An introduction to freshwater mussels as biological indicators. EPA-260-R-08-015. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Information, Washington, DC.
  • Oesch, R.D. 1984. Missouri Naiades: a Guide to the Mussels of Missouri. Conservation Commision of the State of Missouri, Jefferson City. 270pp.
  • Pip, E. 1995. Cadmium, lead and copper in freshwater mussels from the Assiniboine River, Manitoba, Canada. Journal of Molluscan Studies 61:295-302.
  • Strayer, D.L. and D.R. Smith. 2003. A Guide to Sampling Freshwater Mussel Populations. American Fisheries Society Monograph 8, Bethesda. 103pp.
  • Wang, N., C.G. Ingersoll, I.E. Greer, D.K. Hardesty, C.D. Ivey, J.L. Kunz, W.G. Brumbaugh, F.J. Dwyer, A.D. Robers, T. Augspurger, C.M. Cane, R.J. Neves, and M.C. Barnhart. 2007. Assessing contaminant sensitivity of early life stages of freshwater mussels (Unionidae): Chronic toxicity testing of juvenile mussels with copper and ammonia. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 35pp.
  • Watters, G. Thomas, Michael A. Hoggarth, and David H. Stansbery. 2009. The Freshwater Mussels of Ohio. The Ohio State University Press, Columbus. 421 pp.