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I love this question. While the fuzzy pigtoe sounds adorable and cuddly, it is actually a species of freshwater mussel. Mussels are shellfish, and more specifically, mollusks, putting them in the same class as clams. The fuzzy pigtoe (Pleuroboma strodeanum) is found in rivers and creeks in the southern United States.
In an ecological context, niche refers to the role a species plays in its ecosystem, and mussels have one of the most important roles on the planet - filtering water. Some mussels can live for decades, and they spend their entire lives cleaning particles and dangerous microorganisms from the water they inhabit. They even remove the harmful bacteria known as E. coli from the water they filter, making them an irreplaceable part of our environment.
Despite their value to our planet and to human beings who need clean water to survive, fuzzy pigtoes are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Their habitat in Alabama and Florida is susceptible to pollution on a level that even the mighty fuzzy pigtoe may not be able to handle, and our government wants to protect them. Hopefully these mussels will fill their water filtration niche for a long time to come.
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