The species of freshwater mussels — native to Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina — has been placed on the endangered species list.

On April 3, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the population of Yellow Lance freshwater mussels found in the rivers of the Mid-Atlantic region has dwindled and that, as a result, it has been given threatened species status. The new status will be effective on May 3 of this year and will grant protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The decline in the population of freshwater mussels in the mid-Atlantic is attributed to urban development, logging, agricultural pollution, and climate change, which together have resulted in low water quality in the region’s streams and rivers. When water quality is low and dirty, mussels have a hard time reproducing since they rely on fish being able to see their lures. The lures appear to be worms and crayfish in the fish’s eyes, and when the fish prey upon the lures, the mussels release their eggs into the fish’s gills where the mussels will develop before living on their own.

Mid-Atlantic mussels, or Elliptio lanceolate, are bright yellow, 3.5-inch mussels that mostly inhabit the Rappahannock and James Rivers in Virginia, the Patuxent River in Maryland, and North Carolina’s Tar River. Currently, 36 mussel species have become extinct in recent history while 75 percent of the species nationwide are threatened despite some mussels’ ability to live for 100 years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now partnered with numerous state agencies to work together to improve river conditions that will help the mussels, as well as other wildlife inhabiting the region’s rivers.

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