I mollusk you a question

Kentucky is a water rich state; full of creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes. We don’t need oceans to have a slice of paradise. Just listen to John Prine’s “Paradise”, where he sings of a paradise on the side of the Green River in Muhlenburg County.

Green River, Mammoth Cave, KY

Flowing freshwater really is the blood of Kentucky. On a given day, you can find a real Kentuckian down on the river, fishing for whatever is in season. I can remember many trips down to Little River to catch stripers and Lake Barkeley to catch catfish.

Fish is what most people think of when they think of Kentucky waterways. But if you look a little deeper, say, all the way at the bottom, you’ll find a remarkable little creature called a mussel.

Mussels are mollusks, AKA soft bodied animals enclosed in two shells connected by a hinge. Once they reach adulthood, they can remain in the same place on the bottom of a stream for 100 years (depending on the species). Kentucky used to be home to 103 species of freshwater mussels. Today, 20 of those are extinct and 36 are considered rare or endangered.

This is an issue for two main reasons; mussels are a huge food source for many aquatic & terrestrial animals and they improve water quality by acting as filter feeders. This means they draw fresh water in, filter out contaminants, sediments, and nutrients, then release the filtered water. Therefore, mussels are incredibly sensitive to toxins in the environment. A healthy mussel population indicates a healthy river.

Our native mussel species are declining, and one reason is that our waterways are becoming more and more polluted. Fortunately, there is a group working on restoring native mussel species in bodies of water across Kentucky. Check out their brochure here: https://fw.ky.gov/Wildlife/Documents/CenterBrochure2013.pdf

Another big reason native mussel populations in Kentucky are declining is because of a zebra-like invasive species. I’ll get to that on another day.

Mussels are an incredibly important species to Kentucky waterways. So what are you going to do to make sure they stick around?