Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 21, 2023


Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Four Freshwater Mussels, One Crayfish Proposed for Endangered Species Protection

Species Found Across 18 Eastern, Midwest States

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— In response to a legal petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect four freshwater mussels and a crayfish under the Endangered Species Act. The Center and its allies petitioned for protection of all five species in 2010.

“Freshwater animals are at the forefront of the extinction crisis in the United States and the Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool we have to make sure they aren’t lost forever,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Protecting these five little-known species will make sure they have a future and will also help keep rivers cleaner for wildlife and for people.”

The four mussels are proposed for endangered species protection, which means they face extinction. The crayfish is proposed for threatened protection, meaning it is likely to become endangered without conservation action. All the species are threatened by water pollution, dams, and changing water temperatures and river flows due to severe droughts and floods.

“The rate that the Service is protecting animals and funding their recovery isn’t keeping up with the accelerating threats wildlife in the United States face,” said Curry. “Our wellbeing is completely dependent on the health of wild communities and we have to prioritize protecting them in the face of this wildlife extinction emergency.”

The Endangered Species Act, which turns 50 this year, has saved 99% of the plants and animals under its care and 90% of the 1,800 listed species are moving toward recovery.

Species Background

Salamander mussel: The salamander mussel is found in 14 states including Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Service is proposing 2,012 river miles in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin as critical habitat for the species. This designation will ensure that any federally funded or permitted activities do not jeopardize the salamander mussel or degrade its habitat.

The salamander mussel is so named because it’s the only mussel that uses a salamander instead of a fish to host its larvae. Pollution threatens the mussel as well as the mudpuppy salamander that it depends on to reproduce. Only 66 of 110 historically known populations still survive. The salamander mussel lives for 10 years and is 2 inches long with a thin, tan shell.

Tennessee clubshell: The Tennessee clubshell is found in the Tennessee River and Cumberland River watersheds in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. It can live to be 50 and uses darters and minnows as hosts for its larvae. It is 4 inches long with a triangular shaped tawny brown shell with green rays.

Tennessee pigtoe: The Tennessee pigtoe lives in the Tennessee River drainage in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. It can live to be 50 years old and reach nearly 4 inches long with an oval shell that is yellowish brown with dark green stripes.

Cumberland moccasinshell: The Cumberland moccasinshell lives in in the Tennessee River and Cumberland River drainages in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. It can live to be 24 and is elliptical in shape attaining 2.5 inches in length. It only uses darters as host fish.

Brawleys Fork crayfish: The Brawleys Fork crayfish prefers areas with riparian cover for shade and places where groundwater enters streams and keeps the water temperature cooler. It’s threatened by runoff and silt from agriculture, plant nurseries, logging, urbanization and gravel dredging. It’s found in 20 streams in five watersheds, none of which are considered very healthy. Two populations are in moderate condition and three are in low condition.

The Service is proposing 87 river miles of critical habitat for the crayfish in Cannon, Rutherford and Warren counties in Tennessee in the Stones River and Collins River watersheds. The Service is still developing a proposal to protect critical habitat for the Tennessee clubshell, Tennessee pigtoe and Cumberland moccasinshell.

Cumberland moccasinshell photo by Tierra Curry. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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