Photo Credit: John Alderman
The most endangered faunal species in South Carolina, the Carolina heelsplitter (Lasmigona decorata) was listed as endangered on June 30, 1993. The Recovery Plan was approved in January, 1997. Critical habitat was designated for the heelsplitter on July 2, 2002 (50 CFR Part 17). The Carolina heelsplitter is endemic only to the slate-belt portion of the piedmont ecoregion of the Carolinas, and is a USFWS Region 4 “Spotlight Species”. It is considered critically endangered, with only 10 known surviving populations. Densities of all known populations are extremely low and highly vulnerable to extirpation from stochastic and chronic events affecting the quality of their habitat. Although there have been discoveries of additional occurrences of the Carolina heelsplitter since the species was listed as endangered, the species continues to have a very fragmented, relict distribution.
Like other freshwater mussels, the Carolina heelsplitter feeds by filtering food particles from the water column. The specific food items of the species are unknown, but other freshwater mussels have been documented to feed on detritus (decaying organic matter), diatoms (various minute algae), phytoplankton (microscopic floating aquatic plants), and zooplankton (microscopic floating aquatic animals). The Carolina heelsplitter’s life span, their specific fish host species, and many other specific aspects of its life history are largely unknown and currently under investigation, but likely are similar to that of other native freshwater mussels. The stability of the stream banks and stream bottom appears to be a habitat feature essential to the species.