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This species was decribed by Isaac Lea in 1834. The Appalachian elktoe has a thin, kidney-shaped shell that reaches a maximum length of 117 mm (J. Fridell pers.comm.). The shell periostracum ranges in color from yellowish brown to dark brown. Dark green rays of varying widths occur on some shells. The shell nacre is white to bluish white, changing to a salmon, pinkish or brownish color in the central and beak cavity portions of the shell. The shell has vestigial lateral teeth and has small and compressed pseudocardinal teeth.
The Appalachian elktoe is endemic to the upper Tennessee River system in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. It once had a fairly wide distribution but has been extirpated from the majority of its historic range including the French Broad River, Swannanoa River; and Talula Creek in the Little Tennessee River Basin. It now occurs in short stretches of the Little Tennessee, Tuckasegee, Pigeon, Nolichucky, Little, Cheoah, North Toe, South Toe, Toe and Cane Rivers. NOTE: All headwater areas that flow into these occupied habitats should receive special management.
The Appalachian elktoe inhabits relatively shallow, medium-sized creeks and rivers with cool, well-oxygenated and moderate-to fast-flowing water. It has been observed in a variety of substrate types including gravel mixed with cobble and boulders; in cracks in bedrock; and occasionally in relatively silt-free, coarse sand.
Gravid Appalachian elktoes were found in the Little Tennessee River in October - January (J. Fridell, pers. comm.) Ortmann reported collecting four gravid females from the Pigeon River on May 14, 1914. Both the banded sculpin and the mottled sculpin have been identified as fish hosts for this mussel. Based on current sculpin taxonomy, it is the mottled sculpin that most likely serves as a host in North Carolina streams.
General Life History For Mussels