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.

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