Great Lakes
This photo from the Minnesota Historical Society's archives shows freshwater mussel fishermen and their 'clam fishing' harvest on the Mississippi River around 1904.Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The unnatural history of Minnesota’s freshwater mussels

Gary Wagenbach has a jar holding his grandmother’s collection of shiny, iridescent buttons. They’re about a century old, the size of a quarter — and striking.

“It’s a beautiful opalescent pearl,” he said. “A gorgeous button.”

From some angles, the buttons look white. But when they catch the sunlight, they burst into a rainbow of color.

These smooth little trinkets are a family heirloom, but for Wagenbach, they’re a little bit more: They were made from the pearly shells of freshwater mussels plucked from streams in the upper Midwest. And Wagenbach, now retired, spent a career studying the creatures as a mussel biologist.

Read the full story here.