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A photograph of the outside and inside of a ring pink shell next to a ruler for scale.  Shell is approximately 3 inches wide.
Information icon Ring pink. Photo by Leroy Koch, USFWS.

Ring pink

Obovaria retusa

  • Taxon: Bivalve
  • Range: Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee
  • Status: Endangered. Populations in portions of the French Broad and Holston Rivers in Tennessee are experimental.


The ring pink is a medium size mussel, 2 to 3 inches in length, with a round, moderately inflated, thick shell. The shell does not have rays and is yellow-green to brown in color. Older individuals usually are darker in color. The color inside the shell varies from light pink to dark purple surrounded by a white border.


This species is endemic to the Ohio River basin and is found in gravel and sandy substrates in large rivers.

A small grassy island in the middle of a shallow river surrounded by mature trees.
Ring pink and fanshell mussel habitat in the Green River in Kentucky. Photo by Monte McGregor, Center for Mollusk Conservation, Kentucky DFWR.


Mussels are filter feeders; they mainly eat phytoplankton, zooplankton, and bacteria suspended in the water. By drawing water inside their shells through a siphon, their gills filter out food and take in oxygen.

Historical range

Historically, the ring pink was widely distributed in the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee River systems in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Map depicting ring pick historical range by state including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama
historical range. Map by USFWS.

Current range

It is believed that the species has been extirpated from all but the following five river reaches: the Green River in Kentucky, the Tennessee River downstream of Wilson Dam in Alabama, the Tennessee River downstream of Pickwick Landing Dam in Tennessee, portions of the Cumberland River, and the Tennessee River downstream of Kentucky Dam in Kentucky.

For a detailed description of the ring pink’s current range, please read our latest five-year review (PDF).

Counties where the species is present or believed to occur

  • Alabama: Colbert and Lauderdale counties
  • Kentucky: Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Livingston, Marshall, and Warren counties
  • Tennessee: Anderson, Benton, Blount, Campbell, Carroll, Cheatham, Davidson, Decatur, Dickson, Hardin, Henderson, Houston, Humphreys, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Macon, McNairy, Perry, Roane, Robertson, Sevier, Smith, Stewart, Sumner, Trousdale, Union, Wayne, and Wilson counties

Conservation challenges

Current threats to the ring pink primarily result from its restricted range, small population numbers, and its apparent inability or limited ability to recruit individuals into the population.

In addition, the conversion of sections of large rivers from free-flowing systems to a series of long, linear impoundments has seriously reduced the availability of its preferred riverine gravel and sand habitat, and likely affected the distribution and availability of the ring pink mussel’s fish host.

Recent interest in gas exploration has resulted in new activity, especially in Green, Metcalf, and Hart counties in the Green River drainage, and may represent an increasing threat in the future. Other threats include gravel dredging and channel maintenance in the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

Recovery plan

Download the 1991 Recovery Plan (PDF).

The ultimate goal of the recovery plan is to restore viable populations, defined as a reproducing population that is large enough to maintain sufficient genetic variation to enable it to evolve and respond to natural habitat changes, of the ring pink mussel to a significant portion of its historical range in the Ohio River basin and remove the species from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. The species will be considered for reclassification to threatened status when the likelihood of the species’ becoming extinct in the foreseeable future has been eliminated.

How you can help

Individuals can do a number of things to help protect mussels, such as:

  • Conserving water to allow more water to remain in streams.
  • Using pesticides responsibly, especially around streams and lakes, to prevent runoff into mussel habitats.
  • Controlling soil erosion by planting trees and plants to avoid runoff of sediments into freshwater areas.
  • Supporting practices for construction and maintenance of unpaved, rural dirt and gravel roads that minimize erosion and connectivity to our rivers and lakes.
  • Supporting and follow zebra mussel quarantine, inspection, and decontamination programs to prevent the spread of zebra mussels, an invasive species that competes with native mussels.

Subject matter experts

Designated critical habitat

No critical habitat is designated for this species.

Additional resources

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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