Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 10, 2018

Contact:  Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Freshwater Mussel Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection in North Carolina, Virginia

Atlantic Pigtoe Proposal Includes 542 River Miles of Protected Habitat

RALEIGH, N.C.— In response to a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the Atlantic pigtoe freshwater mussel in North Carolina and Virginia.

“Freshwater mussels are the most endangered animals in North America, so it’s great news the Atlantic pigtoe may get protection,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Mussels are indicators of water quality, so protecting their habitat will directly benefit people as well as wildlife that rely on clean rivers. The Endangered Species Act can help save these amazing little animals and safeguard the water we humans need.”

The Center and allies petitioned for protection of the mussel in 2010. It was first identified as needing federal protection in 1991.Today’s proposal to list it as threatened should be finalized one year from today.

Found on the Coastal Plain, the Atlantic pigtoe has been lost from more than 40 percent of its range. Only a few individual mussels survive in most locations because of water pollution from development, agriculture and logging.

Only the population in the Tar River watershed is estimated to be in good condition. The Neuse River population has medium resiliency, and the populations in the James, Chowan, Roanoke, Cape Fear, Yadkin and Pee Dee basins are in poor condition.

The Atlantic pigtoe was once widespread along the southern Atlantic slope, ranging from the Ogeechee River basin in Georgia north to the James River basin in Virginia, but is now wiped out in South Carolina and Georgia.

“Freshwater mussels are fascinating and underappreciated animals that play an important role in the natural history of the Southeast,” Curry said. “We should all pitch in to make sure they survive for future generations.”

The Atlantic pigtoe is 2 inches long, with a yellow and brown streaked shell. It is unique in that its shell is rhomboid in shape and the outer surface has an odd texture like cloth or parchment.

Mussels improve water quality by filtering small particles from the water as they eat. More species of freshwater mussels are found in the Southeast than anywhere else in the world, but 75 percent of the region’s freshwater mussels are now imperiled. Thirty-six species have already been lost to extinction.

Once widely used to make buttons and jewelry, mussel shells, like trees, accumulate growth rings that can be used to determine their age. Their shells are used for habitat by smaller animals including small fish. Mussels play an important role in the food web because they are eaten by otters, turtles, and many other animals. Freshwater mussels can live for a hundred years, making them among the longest-lived invertebrates.

Atlantic pigtoe

Atlantic pigtoe photo courtesy North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission. Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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