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SEE IT: Endangered mussel squirts offspring into the air

"It’s amazing!"

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The endangered freshwater mussel, Unio crassus, squirts out regular water jets that land in the river water up to a meter away. (University of Cambridge via SWNS)

By Ed Cullinane via SWNS

British researchers have filmed endangered mussels squirting their offspring through the air - a never-before-seen tactic believed to increase their lifespan.

Experts at the University of Cambridge filmed female mussels - which don't have a head or brain - moving to the water’s edge and anchoring into the riverbed.

With their back ends raised above the waterline, the freshwater mussel - Unio crassus - squirted jets of water containing viable mussel larvae.

They shot long distances from the banks of the Biała Tarnowska River, in Poland, disturbing the river surface and attracting fish for the mussel larvae to attach to.

Researchers at Cambridge's department of zoology said in a report the "squirting cycles" lasted between three and six hours.

Lead author of the report Professor David Aldridge, said: "Who'd have thought that a mussel, that doesn't even have a head or a brain, knows to move to the river margin and squirt jets of water back into the river during springtime? It’s amazing!"

Unlike other mussel species, Unio crassus has a limited range of suitable host fishes – including minnows and chub.

These species were attracted to the falling water jets, the report said,

The researchers think the mussels squirt water jets to increase the chances of their larvae attaching to the right host fishes.

By being squirted into the air and not the water, the larvae are propelled greater distances from the parent mussel.

This aerial view shows the endangered freshwater mussel, Unio crassus, before (left) and during (right) a water jet squirt. (University of Cambridge via SWNS)

The study was carried out during spring.

Six squirts were collected from each mussel for analysis, and confirmed they contained viable mussel larvae.

Before now, there was only anecdotal evidence of this behavior, and some scientists thought the water jets might be the mussel expelling feces.

This behavior could explain why Unio crassus is an endangered species.

Climbing out of the water to squirt makes it vulnerable to floods, destruction of river margins, and predators like mink.

This research was funded by the Woolf Fisher Trust, and the report was published in the journal Ecology.

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