A report released last week by the Center for Biological Diversity identified, “the nation’s top ten amphibians and reptiles in need of immediate federal protection to stave off extinction.”
The report, “Dying for Protection: The 10 Most Vulnerable, Least Protected Amphibians and Reptiles in the United States,” includes two species found in Missouri.
“These increasingly rare frogs, salamanders and turtles are on the fast track toward extinction if we don’t step up and rescue them,” said the report’s author, Collette Adkins Giese, a center attorney and biologist who specializes in conserving amphibians and reptiles. “And it’s not just about protecting these irreplaceable amphibians and reptiles; it’s about protecting the health of the priceless environment we share with them.”
Under a landmark settlement agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that speeds protection decisions for 757 species, the center can push forward 10 listing decisions per year.
In this report is the Eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) found in the Ozark streams in Missouri. These odd looking salamanders are ancient animals that have changed very little over time and have uniquely adapted to aquatic life. They have paddle-like tails and flattened bodies and heads that fit in crevices that allow them to cling to river bottoms. Numerous folds of skin on their sides allow increased oxygen absorption from the water.
Hellbenders, North America’s largest amphibian, can grow up to two feet long. They largely rely on vibrations and scents for communication and foraging; they secrete toxic slime to ward off predators but are not poisonous to humans.
The hellbender is threatened with extinction due to water pollution and dams. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, without our help the Eastern hellbender might become extinct within 20 years.
The other Missouri species on this short list of ten is Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). Due to its beautiful, bright yellow chin and throat, this turtle is often targeted for the pet trade. “Turtle Derbies” – turtles are caught and raced as part of small-town summer celebrations – are another threat. These races risk unnecessary exposure to disease which can spread to wild populations when turtles are released.
Blanding’s turtles are semi-aquatic, spending much of its time in shallow water along the edge of marshes or walking about on land. This turtle prefers marshes and river sloughs but also may live in ponds and drainage ditches. Blanding’s have suffered slow declines from habitat loss, road mortality and intense predation on eggs and hatchlings.
Should you care about a salamander and a turtle becoming extinct? If you do not care about losing them as a species, then think about this. It starts with the lowest creatures on life’s pyramid. If you do not begin to sound the alarm bells now with them, then at what point along the way will you begin to care?
Reach Lynn Youngblood at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.