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Rare Mussel Species Propagated for the First Time in Virginia

The slippershell (Alasmidonta viridis) is a state endangered freshwater mussel species in Virginia. It has experienced severe declines across most of its known range in the Commonwealth but individuals have occasionally been reported over the last 20 years from tributaries of the Clinch and Holston rivers in Russell, Tazewell, Smyth, and Scott counties. Like other freshwater mussels, slippershell requires a host fish in order to complete its unique lifecycle.

Its larvae have hooks which they use like ‘pac-men’ to snap onto the host fish’s underside and fins. This does no harm to the fish and may provide some additional immunity to other parasites. After an attachment period of 1-2 weeks, and after they get a ride to a location away from their mother, the baby mussels let go and find a place to live on the bottom of the streambed where they won’t move for the remainder of their life.

The scarcity of this species in Virginia has hindered propagation and recovery efforts until a small localized population was recently discovered in Tazewell County. Guided by biologists from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission who also work with the species, our staff at the DGIF Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center in Marion have produced 850 juvenile slippershells for the first time in 2017. We hope this will be a key first step towards its recovery. This is the 32nd mussel species successfully produced at the AWCC since its establishment in 1998.

Mussels provide a key environmental service to the ecosystem around them. They filter the water of chemical contaminants, improve water clarity by fixing sediments to the bottom of the stream, and provide food to many fish, mammals, and birds living alongside them. This particular species can live up to 30 years and a single animal is capable of filtering gallons of water per day, purifying the water for the fish species that anglers love to catch and consume.