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Malacology Lab

Malacology Research Collection

The Paul W. Parmalee Malacological Collection consists of over 140,000 specimens in approximately 11,000 lots of freshwater bivalves, aquatic gastropods, and land gastropods. This includes over 320 species of freshwater mussels from 42 states and 25 countries, making it among the largest in the Southeast.

In 2006, the mollusk collection at the McClung Museum was named in honor of the late Paul W. Parmalee, who began the collection upon his arrival at the University of Tennessee in 1973.

Given that there are approximately 300 species of freshwater mussels in Canada, Mexico, and in 49 of the 50 US states, the Paul W. Parmalee Malacological Collection possesses a significant representation of the entire North America mussel fauna. The collection includes 69 species listed as Federal Threatened, Endangered, or Candidate, and 18 species considered extinct.


There remains in the collection a significant amount of uncatalogued specimens of freshwater mussels, aquatic snails, and land snails. The curatorial staff of the Paul W. Parmalee Malacological Collection has built an electronic database of the freshwater mussel collection, which numerous academic researchers, state and federal agencies, and conservation organizations have accessed for information regarding status and distribution of imperiled and non-imperiled species. With help from several graduate and undergraduate students from UT’s Departments of Geology and Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries, the staff in the collection has begun the process of accessioning the large quantity of aquatic and land snail material, some of which dates to the late 1800s.

The Paul W. Parmalee Malacological Collection functions as a resource for teaching, research, and outreach. Each year, groups of elementary, high school, and college students tour the collection to learn about freshwater mollusks in general and native freshwater mussels in particular. The curatorial staff, using mussel material from the collection, has led several workshops on mussel identification and ecology, and is involved with numerous ongoing research projects.

Ongoing research involving the collection and its staff includes an extensive survey of the freshwater and snail fauna of several major river systems in east and middle Tennessee, including the Harpeth, Duck, Emory, and Barren, and an analysis of the age structure of recent and archaeological mussel specimens from the lower Holston River near Knoxville.

Access to the collections is restricted to researchers. For more information, see Conducting Research at the McClung.