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For Immediate Release, February 13, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Rare Eastern Mussels Protected as Endangered Species

Decision Will Also Protect Water Quality for People

WASHINGTON— Following an agreement signed last year with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected two colorfully named mussel species, the snuffbox and the rayed bean, under the Endangered Species Act today. The mussels, found in eastern states from Alabama up to Canada, are hurt by water pollution and have been waiting decades for federal protection.

“We’re so excited these mussels now have the protection they need to stave off extinction,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center, which negotiated a far-reaching agreement in 2011 to speed up protection decisions for 757 species across the country, including the snuffbox and rayed bean. “The Endangered Species Act has prevented extinction for 99 percent of the species it protects, so at last the snuffbox and rayed bean have a real chance of survival and recovery.”

Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in North America because they are highly sensitive to water pollution. Their populations’ health reflects the health of rivers: Mussels need clean water to survive and reproduce.

“By protecting these two species, we’re protecting the quality of our own water — the water we use for drinking, fishing and swimming,” said Curry. “It’s really important that the Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat for these mussels, too, because protecting habitat for them protects it for us as well.”

The rayed bean, a small, shiny, bean-shaped greenish mussel with wavy stripes, was once found in 10 states, from Tennessee north into Canada. It has been lost from more than 70 percent of its former range and today is found only in small populations in Tennessee, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. It was first placed on a federal waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection in 1984.

The snuffbox, a medium-sized, yellow mussel with triangular-shaped females and oval-shaped males, has been waiting for protection since 1991. The snuffbox was once common in 18 states, ranging from Alabama to Canada; it has declined by more than 60 percent and has been lost from four states. Surviving populations of both species are in decline, due mainly to poor water quality.

Mussels feed by filtering small particles from the water and thus contribute to water quality by making water clearer. They reproduce by making a lure that looks like a young fish or worm; when larger fish attempt to prey upon the lure, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. Juvenile mussels develop as parasites on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own.

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