Flexes its Mussels
during Mussel Release
(Sept. 11, 2001) - On Sept. 17 the Tennessee Aquarium's research
arm flexes its mussels by replenishing the depleted Conasauga
River with a new slew of imperiled mussels.
are to rivers what canaries once were to coal mines," said
Dr. Paul Johnson, research scientist for the Tennessee Aquarium's
Southeast Aquatic Research Institute (SARI). "These animals
live in the bottom of rivers and gather nutrients from the water
by filter feeding, and when they begin to disappear, they're telling
us that something is wrong."
the last century, more than 72 species of freshwater mollusks
were driven to extinction in the Southeast due to habitat destruction,
and more than 50 percent of the remaining species are considered
imperiled. Freshwater snails and mussels are the most imperiled
group of animals in the United States, Johnson added. The Tennessee
River and Mobile River basins are the center of global distribution
for these creatures.
The Sept. 17 release of more than 500 juvenile finelined pocketbook,
scientific name Lampsilis altilis, mussels is the second in a
series of releases of artificially propagated mussels in the Conasauga
River basin. Earlier this year SARI scientist's released about
50 Alabama moccasinshell's, scientific name Medionidus acutissimus,
into a tributary of the Conasauga River. The Conasauga River begins
on U.S. Forest Service property in both Tennessee and Georgia.
The river turns south and flow past Dalton, Georgia, before joining
with the Coosawattee River at Calhoun to form the Oostanaula River.
The Oostanaula River meets the Etowah River in Rome, Georgia to
form the Coosa River.
the distribution of the finelined pocketbook is restricted to
the Coosa River drainage, the species is currently listed as threatened
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Artificial augmentation
of existing populations of this mussel species and others are
part of a current recovery strategy for several mussel species
in the upper Coosa River basin.
addition to their sensitivity to habitat and water quality changes,
freshwater mussel larvae, must infect a fish in order to complete
their develop. A female mussel attracts a host fish by using a
"lure" or display, and the interested fish is infected
with dozens of tiny mussel larvae released by the adult mussel,
Johnson explained. These tiny larvae, called "glochidia,"
are about half the diameter of a straight pin, and usually attach
and imbed themselves in the gills of the host fish. The glochidia
larvae remain attached for about a month before they transform
into juvenile mussels and fall off of the gill. Many species of
mussels can only infect a particular species, or small suite of
fish species, and attachment to the wrong host fish will mean
death for the larvae.
propagation of freshwater mussels by SARI scientists involves
the collection of a fertile female mussel, harvesting her ripe
larvae and directly infecting an appropriate fish. Several weeks
later, juvenile mussels are harvested as they are released from
the fish. When the host fish has completed shedding the juvenile
mussels, the fish quickly recovers unharmed from the experience.
The finelined pocketbook is one of 10 mussel species targeted
by SARI, USFWS, and The Nature Conservancy for artificial augmentation
efforts in the Conasauga River and other upper Coosa River basin
mussel releases into the Conasauga River are part of a coordinated
watershed restoration project led by the Conasauga River Alliance.
To learn more about this watershed restoration project, contact
the Alliance Coordinator, Rick Guffy in Crandell, Georgia at (706)
to the mussel release:
US 411 drive in Polk County TN .7 miles north of Conasauga, TN
or 1.2 miles south of the TN 313intersection turn east on Ball
Play Road (look for the Texaco gas station on the west side of
411). From Ball Park Road travel 2.3 miles to the intersection
with Willis Springs Road. Turn right on Willis springs Road and
travel 1.24 east miles to Willis Springs (circled). The pavement
ends at Willis Springs (look for the white gate on your left after
crossing a small creek) but the gravel road continues onto the
US Forest Service Cohutta Management area. The release team will
meet here at approximately 11:30 am, and make final arrangements
for the mussel release.
Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is the largest freshwater aquarium
in the world. Built with private contributions, this non-profit
educational organization is dedicated to the understanding, conservation
and celebration of aquatic habitats. Admission is $12.95 per adult
and $6.95 per child, ages 3-12. Advance tickets may be purchased
online at www.tnaqua.org or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. Members
enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. To join or for program
and trip information, call 267-FISH. The Aquarium is open every
day except Thanksgiving and Christmas and is accessible to people