MolluscIreland - land and freshwater
  • Margaritifera (Margaritifera) margaritifera (Linnaeus 1758) Pearl mussel

Map hosted by the National Biodiversity Data Centre, Waterford
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A massively thick, elongate-oval, somewhat swollen bivalve known for its ability to produce pearls in the mantle. Surface black or dark brown, front end rounded, hind end more produced with slight incurving half way up. Rare and threatened in highland streams in the south-west, west and north-west.

Key characteristics

  • With a massively thick, elongate-oval, bivalve shell
  • Surface black or dark brown but the matt periostracum is often worn away at the umbos
  • Front end rounded, hind end more produced with slight incurving half way up
  • Shell interior with a layer of nacre or mother of pearl
  • Pearls are produced by the deposition of nacre on particles of grit lodged in the mantle


90 - 140 mm.

World Distribution

Found throughout the North Temperate zone. Distribution type: Circumpolar Boreo-temperate (56).

GBIF distribution map [open in new tab]

Irish Distribution

Found virtually throughout highland parts of Ireland, at any rate where clear highland streams with cobble bottoms and native salmonids exist. Still widespread but declining in the south-west, west and north-west. Threatened with extinction because recruitment of juveniles has declined drastically in all areas due to pollution and siltation.


  • Restricted to running water and commonest in streams with large cobbles and sandy substrata
  • Predominantly a soft water species
  • There are populations in one or two limestone streams in the Nore System where peculiar shell forms have developed


The hardwater form durrovensis was accorded subspecific status when red-listed by IUCN, but its exact taxonomic status is unclear. It occurs in the RIver Durrow, a contributory to the River Nore.

Red List status

  • Critically endangered (CR).

Wikipedia link

Wikipedia page for Margaritifera margaritifera

 Anderson, R., (2016). Margaritifera (Margaritifera) margaritifera (Linnaeus 1758). [In] MolluscIreland. Accessed on 2024-03-03.