Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America

James spinymussel (Pleurobema collina)

James spinymussel

James spinymussel

Federal Status: Endangered, Listed July 22, 1988

Description: The James spinymussel is a small freshwater mussel slightly less than three inches in length. Adults have a dark brown shell with prominent growth rings and occasionally, short spines on each valve. Young mussels have a shiny yellow shell with or without one to three short spines. Like other freshwater mussels, this species is a filter feeder. It feeds on plankton collected from water that is passed over its gills. Reproduction occurs sexually. Females carry eggs in their gills. During spawning, the male releases sperm into the water column and the sperm is taken into the female through the gills. The resulting larvae (known as glochidia) are released from the female into the water column and must attach to a fish host to survive. While attached to the fish host, development of the glochidia continues. Once metamorphosis is complete, the juvenile mussel drops off the fish host and continues to develop on the stream bottom. Known fish hosts for this species include the bluehead chub (Nocomis leptocephalus), rosyside dace (Clinostomus funduloides), blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus), mountain redbelly dace (Phoxinus oreas), rosefin shiner (Lythrurus ardens), satinfin shiner (Cyprinella analostana), central stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum), and swallowtail shiner (Notropis procne).

Habitat: Suitable habitat for this species includes free-flowing streams with a variety of flow regimes. The James spinymussel is found in a variety of substrates that are free from silt.

Map of James spinymussel distribution in North Carolina.

Map of James spinymussel distribution in North Carolina.

Distribution: This freshwater mussel is found in the upper James and Dan River basins. The species has declined rapidly during the past two decades and now exists only in small, headwater tributaries of the upper James River basin in Virginia and West Virginia. In 2000, it was discovered in the Dan River basin in North Carolina and Virginia.

Threats: The primary reason for its decline is habitat loss and modification. Threats to this species include siltation, invasion of the non-native Asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea), impoundment of waterways, water pollution, stream channelization, sewage discharge, agricultural runoff including pesticides and fertilizers, poor logging and road/bridge construction practices, and discharge of chlorine.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Environmental Conservation Online System

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1990. James Spinymussel (Pleurobema collina) Recovery Plan. Newton Corner, MA. 38 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2003. James Spinymussel fact sheet. Gloucester, VA.

Species Contact:

John Fridell, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 828-258-3939 ext. 225

Species profile revised on October 4, 2011.

Last Updated: August 6, 2015