A new report released last week by the Center of Biological Diversity identified, "…the nation’s top 10 amphibians and reptiles in need of immediate federal protection to stave off extinction."
A new report released last week by the Center of Biological Diversity identified, "…the nation’s top 10 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 the region.
"These increasingly rare frogs, salamanders and turtles are on the fast track toward extinction if we don’t step up and rescue them," said 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."
On 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.
Hellbenders are North America’s largest amphibian and 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.
Like many things in the Ozarks, hellbenders are known by a number of colorful names such as, alligator of the mountains, devil dog, mud devil, walking catfish, and snot otter. 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 regional species on this short list of 10 is Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). Due to its beautiful, bright yellow chin and throat this turtle is often targeted by the pet trade. “Turtle Derbies” are another threat, where wild turtles are caught and raced as part of small-town summer celebrations. These races risk unnecessary exposure to disease which can spread to wild populations when turtles are then 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 when water systems are drained, 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?
Lynn Youngblood is a Kansas City-based naturalist.