Freshwater Mussels

Ohio River Mussels

Freshwater Mussels of the Ohio River

Have you ever seen a purple wartyback? How about a pyramid pigtoe? Or a monkeyface? These colorful and sometimes comical names belong to our nation’s freshwater mussels. These animals are our rivers’ natural filters, constantly straining the water and removing particles which they consume as food, leaving the water cleaner. They are long-lived (some to 100 years), slow growing, and move very little during their lives, serving as excellent indicators of aquatic health. They are also food for other animals. Over the centuries, people have harvested mussels as food, tools and ornamentation, and more recently, for the manufacture of pearl buttons and cultured pearls.

At the turn of the century, the Ohio River basin was home to 127 of the 297 freshwater mussel species native to North America. Since that time, however, human changes in the environment have taken their toll: 11 mussel species are extinct, and 46 others are classified as endangered or species of concern. Over the past 200 years, we have abused our aquatic ecosystems through pollution, dam construction, stream channelization, dredging, clearing of riparian vegetation and discharge of mining and industrial wastes. Add to this the introduction of exotic species like the zebra mussel, and you have a recipe for extinction.

Support river restoration and our Mussels in the Classroom education program by adopting our mussels! 

Following is a list of the native mussel species known to inhabit the Ohio River, either historically or currently:

Common NameScientific Name
Spectaclecase RCumberlandia monodonta
MucketActinonaias ligamentina
ThreeridgeAmblema plicata plicata
Flat floaterAnodonta suborbiculata
Rock-pocketbookArcidens confragosus
Purple wartybackCyclonaias tuberculata
Fanshell ECyprogenia stegaria
ButterflyEllipsaria lineolata
Elephant-earElliptio crassidens
SpikeElliptio dilatata
Leafshell XEpioblasma flexuosa
Forkshell XEpioblasma lewisii
Purple catspaw E REpioblasma obliquata obliquata
White catspaw E REpioblasma obliquata perobliqua
Round combshell XEpioblasma personata
Tennessee riffleshell XEpioblasma propinqua
Wabash riffleshell XEpioblasma sampsonii
Northern riffleshell E REpioblasma torulosa rangiana
Tubercled blossom E REpioblasma torulosa torulosa
Snuffbox REpioblasma triquetra
EbonyshellFusconaia ebena
Wabash pigtoeFusconaia flava
Long-solidFusconaia subrotunda
Cracking pearlymussel E RHemistena lata
Pink mucket ELampsilis abrupta
Plain pocketbookLampsilis cardium
Wavy-rayed lampmusselLampsilis fasciola
PocketbookLampsilis ovata
FatmucketLampsilis siliquoidea
Yellow sandshellLampsilis teres
White heelsplitterLasmigona complanata complanata
Fluted-shellLasmigona costata
Fragile papershellLeptodea fragilis
Scaleshell E RLeptodea leptodon
Black sandshellLigumia recta
WashboardMegalonaias nervosa
Threehorn wartybackObliquaria reflexa
HickorynutObovaria olivaria
Ring pink E RObovaria retusa
Round hickorynutObovaria subrotunda
White wartyback E RPlethobasus cicatricosus
Orange-foot pimpleback EPlethobasus cooperianus
SheepnosePlethobasus cyphyus
Clubshell EPleurobema clava
Round pigtoePleurobema coccineum
Ohio pigtoePleurobema cordatum
Rough pigtoe E RPleurobema plenum
Pyramid pigtoePleurobema pyramidatum
Pink heelsplitterPotamilus alatus
Fat pocketbook EPotamilus capax
Pink papershellPotamilus ohiensis
KidneyshellPtychobranchus fasciolaris
Giant floaterPyganodon grandis
RabbitsfootQuadrula cylindrica cylindrica
Winged mapleleaf E RQuadrula fragosa
MonkeyfaceQuadrula metanevra
Wartyback Quadrula nodulata
PimplebackQuadrula pustulosa pustulosa
MapleleafQuadrula quadrula
CreeperStrophitus undulatus
LilliputToxolasma parvus
Texas lilliput RToxalasma texasensis
PistolgripTritogonia verrucosa
FawnsfootTruncilla donaciformis
DeertoeTruncilla truncata
PondhornUniomerus tetralasmus
Paper pondshellUtterbackia imbecillis
Rayed bean RVillosa fabalis
RainbowVillosa iris
Little spectaclecase RVillosa lienosa


X = presumably extinct
E = federally endangered
R = extirpated from the Ohio River


Your Donation Makes a Big Impact

  • $25 can provide food for the freshwater mussel “ambassadors” we use in our Mussels in the Classroom program.
  • $100 can buy water quality equipment to enable us to identify pollution problems.
  • $500 can help 50 students be River Explorers for a day of learning in a river or creek.
  • $1,000 can plant 100 native trees to restore critical habitat and help keep our water clean.