Freshwater Molluscan Shells / African unionaceans

Africa has species from several unionacean families, including four European species (Margaritifera auricularia, Psilunio littoralis, Anodonta cygnaea, and A. anatina) in small areas of northern Africa. Pan-African species diversity is reflected in the following table for unionacean mollusca in northern Africa, the Congo basin, and southern Africa.

Genus northern Africa
Van Damme, 1984)
species ;
additional subspecies
Congo basin
(Pilsbry and Bequaert,
1927) species ;
additional subspecies
southern Africa
(Appleton, 1996)
species ;
additional subspecies
Unio 1 ; 2   1
Parreysia   9  
Grandidiera   11 ; 4  
Caelatura 2 19 2
Pseudarcula   1  
Psilunio 1    
Anodonta 2    
Aspatheria 3 19 ; 3 1
Spathiopsis 3 ; 3 31 ; 9 2
Mutela 3 29 ; 11 1
Iridina   12 ; 1  
Pseudospatha   3 ; 1  
Etheria 1 1 1
Totals 16 ; 5 135 ; 29 8

The species counts are imprecise. All three authors was aware that some earlier workers tended to be "splitters"--naming new species for every population encountered. Several species existed in more than one region; for example, all three authors identified Etheria elliptica in the regions they covered. On the other hand, species living in isolated or inaccessible habitats can be overlooked, and although Pilsbry and Bequaert did cover areas outside the Congo basin, it is likely some river systems were not included.

Family Mutelidae

This family is present only in Africa, but is probably related to the South American Mycetopodidae (Banarescu, 1990). Genera include the following;


Spathopsis and

Unknown Spathopsis species, West Africa. Hinge teeth are lacking in these bivalves.


Mutela hargeri hargeri (E. A. Smith, 1908)
African lakes.


Iridina (Cameronia) spekei
(S. Woodward, 1858), and
hinge teeth; LakeTanganyika.

The black and white images below are from Pilsbry and Bequaert, (1927), courtesy American Museum of Natural History.

Pseudospatha tanganyicensis
(E. A. Smith, 1880)
Mutela dubia (Gmelin, 1757)


Mutela (chelidinopsis) hirundo
(E. v. Martens, 1881)


family Unionidae

Genera of the family Unionidae present in Africa include

Anodonta, including species anatina and cygnaea, and

Pilsbry and Bequaert (1927) provisionally included

Caelatura aegyptiaca Cailliaud, (1827), Ouagadougou, Africa. x3.


Grandidieria burtoni (Woodward, 1859)
Lake Tanganyika
Parreysia bakeri
(H. Adams, 1866)
Lake Albert


Etheriidae "River oysters" live attached to rocks in deep and rapidly moving water. One variable African species.

Etheria eliptica
Lamark, 1807 form tubifera. Throughout Congo
Basin, but only in rapids. Widely used by native peoples for food, and
as a source of lime by early Belgian settlers (Pilsbry and Bequaert, 1927).
Extremely variable in shape and ornamentation.

Other African freshwater bivalves

family Donacidae
Images from Pilsbry and Bequaert, (1927) courtesy American Museum of Natural History.

Iphigenia rostrata Roemer,
1869. 60 mm.
Egeria tenuicula langi

Pilsbry and Bequaert,
1927. 45 mm
Egeria Congica
(Boettger, 1818) Large
heavy triangular clams may
grow to over 120 mm in size.
Synonym Galatea.

World Unionaceans
[Africa] [Asia] [Australia] [Europe] [South America]

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