Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Animals That Went Extinct in 2014

    It is time for the somber and annual eulogy of the animals that went extinct in the past year (previous versions: 2012 and 2013).

    It bears repeating that it is often impossible to know exactly when the last animal of a given species disappears in the wilderness. In some cases, I have included a species if it was declared extinct in 2014; this declaration may occur years after the species goes biologically extinct. I have also included animals that went extinct in a particular region or country, because this is also an important loss. Please let me know in the Comments if you feel I have omitted something important.

    In January there was a lot of news about how the Axolotl, the large aquatic salamander of Mexico City, had likely gone extinct in the wild. Fortunately, these reports were a bit exaggerated. The Axolotl is still hanging on, although it remains critically endangered.

    The last known Christmas Island Forest Skink (Emoia nativitatis) died alone in a zoo on May 31st, 2014. It is unknown why the species disappeared from its natural habitat of Christmas Island (an Australian territory) but invasive species may have played a key role.

    The St. Helena Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana) is extinct. This species is notable for being fairly large (over three inches) and was found on the island of St. Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

    Plectostoma sciaphilum was a snail that lived entirely on one Malaysian hill. A cement company wiped them all out.

Sloth Bear Photo Courtesy Asiir, Wikimedia Commons
   The Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) once ranged throughout South Asia but habitat loss and overhunting have taken a serious toll on their populations. It is now thought that this species is extinct in Bangladesh.

    Two species of Killifish, Aphanius saourensis of Algeria and Aphanius farsicus of Iran, are both likely extinct in the wild. These two small fish species were done in by agricultural practices that claimed much of their aquatic habitats and also invasive fish that ate their young. Fortunately, these species still exist in captivity.

    Sometimes we do not even know that a species exists before it is gone. By examining fossils and museum specimens, researchers may determine that extinct animals represented a new, yet now gone, species. This year it was decided that the following 13 "new" species all went extinct since 1500: Bermuda Flicker (Colaptes oceanicus), Bermuda Hawk (Bermuteo avivorus), Bermuda Night-heron (Nyctanassa carcinocatactes), Bermuda Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius gradyi), Christmas Sandpiper (Prosobonia cancellata), Finsch's Duck (Chenonetta finschi), Hodgen's Waterhen (Tribonyx hodgenorum), Mauritius Turtle-dove (Nesoenas cicur), North Island Snipe (Coenocorypha barrierensis), Oceanic Parrot (Eclectus infectus), Rodrigues Blue-pigeon (Alectroenas payandeei), South Island Snipe (Coenocorypha iredalie), and the Tristan Moorhen (Gallinula nesiotis).

    Similarly, the International Union for Conservation and Natural Resources annual report includes many species that have just been declared extinct, even though the actual extinction may have happened long ago. Here are some highlights (you can search for their full list here):

    The Madagascan Dwarf Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus guldbergi) is officially extinct. That's right - there was a native Madagascar hippopotamus. It is hard to say when the last one died, but probably somewhere between 1000 AD and "recent times".

    The Rocky Mountain Locust (Melanoplus spretus) was, "one of the most common grasshopper species in North America in the 18th Century" and a swarm of them in 1875 was estimated to be, "1800 miles long and 110 miles wide." The last Rocky Mountain Locust was observed in 1902. It is now officially extinct.

    The Paradise Parrot (Psephotellus pulcherrimus) from eastern Australia was last officially recorded in 1928 (although some observations occurred through 1990). In any case, this bird was likely done in by a combination of drought and overgrazing of its habitats and is officially extinct.

    Clip art appears courtesy of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

    Here's to a shorter list in 2015...But the clock is ticking for too many species.

Vaquita (100 left)
Hainan Gibbon (25 left)
Northern White Rhino (5 left)
Rabb's Fringe-limbed Treefrog (1 left)

    Please suggest your favorite wildlife conservation charity below.

* On 1/3/15 I changed the title from "22" to "the" to reduce any confusion about what this post is about.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Roundup: The Week's Wildlife Links (December 19th, 2014)

Sometimes people ask me what they can do to help make a difference in wildlife conservation. Opportunities are seldom as direct and important as this one: The North Carolina Herpetological Society took out an emergency loan to help the state buy some critical Bog Turtle habitat. It's a small loan and you can make a big difference in helping them pay it back. Please contribute and spread the word!

Maybe you've seen the following video (viewed over three million times!) of one tortoise "helping" another tortoise that was flipped over:

National Geographic talked to me about it and I'm sorry to say I was a bit of a buzzkill with my interpretation.

The National Review commiserates with a Florida homeowner unable to relocate protected Gopher Tortoises because he thinks they will wreck his house.

The carnivores next door. Europe is showing us all how we can share landscapes with big carnivores.

Protecting native wildlife in New Zealand means killing lots and lots of non-native animals.

Harvesting sea snakes in the Gulf of Thailand is big business. No really, 80 tons are harvested each year.

Biologists' clever way to detect animals they can't find...look for their DNA...

All who wander are not lost: big carnivores need room to roam.

New Jersey's six day bear-hunting season just ended and the final tally is: 267 dead Black Bears.

Killing contests like this should not exist. Period. Animals are not just targets.

An adult cougar was spotted in Kentucky for the first time since the Civil War. It was promptly killed. Most reports are overlooking the fact that a kitten was killed on the road in Kentucky in 1997. DNA tests are underway to figure out where the cat came from.

Northern White Rhino in San Diego zoo dies of old age. And that means there are now only five left.

That was a lot of bad news in a are 12 wins for wildlife in 2014.

Arizona's Bighorn Sheep reintroduction is going so well now they're starting to get eaten by cougars.

Did I miss some interesting news? Don't e-mail it to me, include the link below.


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Readers Write In: Can You Help Them Figure Out The Identities of These Snakes?

Here are some recent snake identification requests. Can you help these folks out?


My neighbor's cat brought this into her garage today. She killed it because she was afraid it was going to get her cat. The vet said it was an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. After doing some googling, I found your site and hoax page. We are located about 45 miles north of Little Rock in Greenbrier, Arkansas. So, is the vet wrong or are we the lucky first ones to find one of these in Arkansas? 

I really appreciate your help. Your site is very interesting (even for a snake hater) :)

Thank you very much for your time.

Hope J.
Greenbrier, Arkansas

Good morning ….I came across your blog while looking up some questions concerning rattlesnakes….I’ve included a few shots I took recently of a rattlesnake I startled at about 10am in the morning on a cool sunny morning in the Sonoran Desert recently….Sat., November 8th I believe…..anyway….my leashed dog startled the snake on the edge of a mesa at Arcosanti AZ….this area is rocky, but also rather prairie like and brushy…..this is my first rattlesnake sighting and I am 61….I was excited to see such a wonder of nature and grateful the snake was not aggressive….after its initial alarm it no longer rattled and remained posed for the shots I took…..I wonder if you can identify the type of rattlesnake this is?

Jeff H.
Arcosanti, Arizona


I saw this snake (first picture) in the Florida Panther 
National Wildlife Refuge this week while hiking. Two of us nearly stepped on it and the third hiker with us pointed it out after we passed by it. It was coiled up and stayed still while I took a quick photo of it. Being from Maine I had no idea what type snake it was. Saw this one (second picture) beside the road in the Everglades in 2011. Is it an Eastern Diamondback Rattler? Even from 10 feet he was in a bad mood, but I was in an auto so I felt fairly safe.



Readers: What Are These Snakes?

Snake Identification Post Ground Rules

-Guesses are welcome and encouraged. Don't worry if you're not an expert, wrong guesses allow us to talk about how to distinguish between the various species and that's why I run these posts.

-If you can't explain why you think a snake is a particular species, go ahead and just say what you think it is. But otherwise please do let us all know how you identified the animal. If you're wrong, we can explain why. If you're right, this helps everyone learn how to identify snakes, which is the goal of these posts.

-You can safely assume that I know what kind of snake is in the picture, I run these posts because they are outreach opportunities. Please don't send me private e-mails with your guesses, include them below.

-Remember, the person that sent me the picture is probably reading your comments. Although it is frustrating to know that many of these snakes have been killed, these people do want to learn more about them. More snake knowledge will lead to fewer snakes being killed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Friday Roundup: The Week's Wildlife Links (December 12th, 2014)

Let's get the Eaten Alive by an Anaconda nonsense out of the way. I received a number of interview requests about the show:

Before the show aired, EarthTouch News Network talked to me about five reasons it was unlikely anyone would be eaten by an Anaconda.

And, Slate wrote an article about why trying to get eaten alive by an Anaconda is not educational no matter what happened.

After the show aired, Vox talked with me to recap the show, and they also created the following video, which superimposes my tweets with the pivotal moments of the program (already viewed nearly 600,000 times!)

The Washington Post also talked to me about my impressions of the show.

Several outlets took what I tweeted and featured my thoughts in their articles, like i09, Yahoo TV, and Salon.

A timely article: nature filmmakers need a code of conduct. Hey, remember the Swamp Brothers show on Discovery? One of them is going to prison for smuggling rare snakes.

OK - on to the non-Anaconda related news:

We may be soon facing the next amphibian apocalypse. Here's how to stop it.

Overfishing is wiping out Bluefin Tuna and the USA is cracking down. Meanwhile, Canada is increasing the number of Bluefin Tuna it catches, despite the species likely needing protection as an endangered species. Canada is not done there though, they just opted not to block international trade in 76 endangered species.

Giraffe populations are declining throughout Africa, and it is largely going unnoticed, here and here.

Regarding animals that are even closer to the brink, you can learn more about the Great Indian Bustard (100 left), Vaquita porpoise (97 left), and Hainan Gibbon (25 left).

Here's some good news Europe is making great strides in re-wilding their landscapes.

A scientific paper just came out that showed Electric Eels don't just shock their prey, they use a first shock so that prey items reveal themselves, and then another shock to incapacitate them. Everyone wanted to write about, like here, here, and here.

Are massive squid really the sea monsters of legend?

Is Alabama home to America's Amazon?

Encouraging signs for the world's rarest marsupial: the Potoroo.

And, signs for hope for the world's sea turtles.

Some fascinating salamanders can be found in eastern Georgia.

A baby boom for the world's rarest antelope.

Grizzly bear meanders 2,800 miles through Montana and Idaho. How do we conserve their landscapes?

Lead remains a threat for California Condors.

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge's first ever alligator harvest includes 20 gators.

On the other hand, these 20 Siamese Crocodile babies are soon to be released into the wild.

'Should you be foolish enough to drop trou and answer the call of nature in the wilderness, you’ll find the beast will “enter your body by the most unspeakable means,” said Carl Franklin, a herpetologist at the University of Texas at Arlington. “And it’ll rip your guts, shred them to pieces.” The death is slow, not to mention embarrassing.'

More Florida Panthers have been
 killed on the roads this year than any previous year. And, a record number of farm animals have been killed too. This might mean that there are more big cats...

Humpback Whales are coming back to the waters around New York City.

Three dead, eight injured after vehicle hits and kills bear in Florida.

Rare Central American iguana is endangered because the taste of females with eggs is preferred.

The International Union for Conservation for Nature keeps track of globally imperiled species, including 993 insects listed as threatened. Here's the breakdown.

Missing the Mastodon - how close were we to sharing our landscapes with the giant beast?

Australia's butt-breathing turtle is now critically endangered.

The Red Knot is now Threatened under the Endangered Species Act of the USA.

A tribute to Ian Player, a pioneering conservationist of rhinos.

Worries emerge about the elephants of South Sudan.

Did I miss something interesting? Let me know below.


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