The river mussel inhabits water systems from small ditches to large rivers.
It prefers sandy to gravely areas in which adult mussels can burry themselves, only the breathing openings remain visible. The substrate can be overlain by a thin layer of mud, however, the interstitial spaces in the gravel bed must remain open to provide a suitable habitat to young mussels in particular. In large streams or rivers, the mussels prefer shore areas that are not too flat or too steep. Natural shore vegetation with native deciduous trees provides additional microhabitats through its root system. These microhabitats are then available to the river mussels as well as to young host fishes.
The mussel is sensitive to water quality and nutrient content. It is however more tolerant to water temperature, pH, lime content and current velocity than the sensitive freshwater pearl mussel.