RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A species of mussel that has not been naturally found in the main stem of the James River in more than 50 years is now getting its chance to live long and prosper.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release the endangered “James spineymussel” into the main stem of the James River in central Virginia.

“From a rare species standpoint, trying to recover the James spinymussel in the James River and maintain its population there is important for maintaining the survival of the species as a whole,” Brian Watson, Department of Wildlife Resources Aquatic Resources Biologist and State Malacologist, said. “We have to get it back into the main stem of James River in order for the species to be healthy across the entire watershed.”

The James spineymussel is a small, brown freshwater mussel, and comes in at less than three inches in length when fully grown. The young mussels start off with a shiny yellow shell, which changes to a dark brown as the mollusk matures. The shelled creature got its name from the short spines that can be found on each valve of the fully mature mussel.

The Department of Wildlife Resources said biologists have been working towards reintroducing the species to the main stem of the river for more than 20 years, and hope this step helps to re-establish the native population in the James.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release the endangered “James spineymussel” into the main stem of the James River in central Virginia. (Photo: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources)

While the current populations of the spineymussel do exist in smaller rivers and streams that are a part of the James, one biologist with the Department of Wildlife Resources, Brian Watson, said, “It’s believed to have been lost over about 90 percent of its historic range, including the main stem of the James River.”

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release the endangered “James spineymussel” into the main stem of the James River in central Virginia. (Photo: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources)

The filter feeders’ preferred habitat is a free-flowing stream with silt-free bottoms and a variety of water flows and depths, according to the Department of Wildlife Resources.