The Tennessee River watershed is home to an amazing diversity of life. The Duck River is a major tributary of the Tennessee River in the western valley and is said to be one of the most biologically diverse streams in North America. Mussels are a very important group of organisms in this system. The stationary Mussel filters the steam water for microscopic food. Because of their abundance, a large part of the river water can be said to pass through the Mussels. There are many species and some that are considered endangered. They play a vital role in the river’s ecosystem and are a priority in river conservation efforts.
Mussels also serve a utilitarian role in our history and culture. Many items for human use can be made out of the shells. Native Americans used them for food and many archeological sites along the streams have evidence of this in the form of shell concentrations. For example, a recreation site on Nickajack Lake is called Shell Mound. In recent times, a hardy group of adventurous people made a living from the harvest of shells. Mussel diving is a dangerous profession and has many tragic stories. Today there is less demand for the shells and water quality is improving which is good news for the Mussels.
Freshwater Mussels, like the saltwater clams, are capable of producing pearls. An innovative pearl farm is located near the mouth of Birdsong Creek on the western side of the river. This is another example of how the river and its living things continue to be important in our lives.