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For Immediate Release, January 19, 2011

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Colorful Mussel Species Proposed for Federal Protection

Hundreds of Imperiled Eastern Aquatic Species Still Await Endangered Species Act Listing

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed two colorfully named mussel species, the sheepnose and the spectaclecase, for protection as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Both mussels were once common in rivers throughout the eastern United States but are now found in only a handful of rivers. The sheepnose has declined by nearly 70 percent, and the spectaclecase has declined by nearly 60 percent. Both species have been candidates for federal protection since 2004, and their populations have continued to plummet.

“We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for moving forward with the protection of these two important mussel species,” said Tierra Curry, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which is working to protect the mussels. “We hope the agency will rapidly finalize this listing and proceed to protect all the other candidate species in dire need of protection.”

The health of mussel populations reflects the overall health of rivers because mussels require clean water to survive and reproduce. Both the sheepnose and the spectaclecase are threatened by water pollution, dams and mining.

“The fate of humans is directly tied to the fate of mussels; by protecting these two species, we are protecting water quality for swimming, fishing and drinking,” said Curry. 

Swift action to protect endangered species is particularly needed in southeastern rivers and streams, where the combination of unparalleled diversity and multiple threats is resulting in the worst extinction crisis in North America. In April 2010, the Center submitted a petition to protect 404 southeastern aquatic species under the Endangered Species Act, including the sheepnose and the spectaclecase.

The sheepnose is five inches long with an oval shell that is yellow or brown. In the past, the sheepnose was commercially harvested to make jewelry and buttons. Sheepnose are currently found in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The spectaclecase is seven inches long with a brown, elongate shell and is currently found in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Very few of the surviving populations are known to be reproducing.

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; 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.

These two species are part of a backlog of more than 200 candidate species that are known to qualify for Endangered Species Act protection but for which protection has been continually denied.

Learn more about the Center’s campaigns to stop the Southeast freshwater extinction crisis and earn protection for all the candidate species.

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