When you think “endangered species,” what comes to mind? Majestic bald eagles? Adorable wolf pups? Iconic grizzly bears? If all animals in danger of becoming extinct were as charismatic as these, we would have a much easier time protecting them. A lot of funding and resources go to help the creatures that people find the most beautiful, the most interesting, the most alluring. But many less-talked about species are just as threatened – and sometimes more. So, with Valentine’s Day approaching, let’s share the love a little. Take a minute to learn about some endangered species you may not have heard of before:
There are more than 100 species of springsnails native to North America, many of them unique to specific regions, and several of them are endangered. These creatures are just what their name implies – snails that live in springs or streams. Though most are just a couple millimeters long, these tiny snails can play an important role in ecosystem health by feeding on algae, cycling nutrients and more, which can benefit all of the species that rely on that habitat.
Unfortunately, many species of springsnails are declining because of threats to freshwater quality and quantity. Pollution, groundwater pumping, drought and stream diversion are destroying springsnail habitat. Invasive species also pose a threat, as do grazing livestock, which can trample the snails in shallow streams.
California Red-legged Frog
Though the rest of their bodies can be reddish-brown, olive, gray, or even orange, these frogs get their name from the red coloring on the underside of their hind legs. Once found across much of California, the species is now gone from about 70% of its historic range, and today is only found in a few places. These frogs rely on both aquatic and land habitat, making them very sensitive to impacts to their environment. Agriculture, overgrazing, mining and other forms of development have decimated the California red-legged frog’s habitat, and invasive plants, polluted water and other factors also threaten its survival.
Giant Kangaroo Rat
These animals (which are more like mice than rats) hop along on their back legs, using their front limbs only for digging – and just like the kangaroo, they have long tails that they use for balance. The giant kangaroo rat is the largest of all 20 known species of kangaroo rat, and it is found only in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
In the 20th century, as human activity began to expand in the region, the giant kangaroo rat’s population numbers began to plummet. Today more than 95% of the species’ former range has been lost as agriculture, overgrazing, mining and other threats destroyed its grassland habitat.
Fish are a type of creature that definitely don’t receive the same star treatment as many of their furred and feathered friends, and the Ozark cavefish – listed as threatened in 1988 – is no exception. This underground fish is perfectly adapted to its cave habitat – so well that its presence is considered an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, and its decline means that something is wrong. Groundwater pollution is a major threat to the Ozark cavefish, particularly as the human population in the Ozarks continues to expand over its fragile habitat.
American Burying Beetle
These beetles are part of nature’s cleanup team: scavengers that feed on carrion. It may not be a glamorous job, but somebody’s got to do it – this extremely important process helps recycle nutrients and other materials back into the ecosystem. Think of these beetles as nature’s composters!
Pesticide use and habitat loss are among the major threats that wiped out the American burying beetle from 90% of their historic range. Today, there may be fewer than 1,000 of these beetles left, found in only six states. Thanks to its listing in 1989, conservation programs are working to protect the beetle’s remaining populations and their habitat, as well as reintroduce the beetles where possible.
Eastern indigo snake
The longest snake species native to the U.S. (it can reach nine feet long!) is found in the southeast, mostly in Florida and Georgia. They live in a variety of habitats, usually with some place to take refuge, like a burrow or hollowed log. In the northern part of their range, it’s actually common for these snakes to have an unlikely roommate – they depend on gopher tortoises to create underground burrows, which the two animals then live in together.
Populations of eastern indigo snakes started dropping steeply in the mid-1900s, mostly because of collectors taking them for the pet trade, causing them to be listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. Since then, habitat loss and fragmentation have become the primary threats to the eastern indigo snake, with residential, commercial and agricultural development destroying swaths of suitable habitat.
Delhi sands flower-loving fly
The very first fly to ever be listed under the Endangered Species Act, this species’ unwieldy name actually makes perfect sense: the adults feed on flower nectar, and they lives only in a very specific area of sandy soil along the eastern edge of the Los Angeles basin called Delhi series sands. Literally all the places the Delhi sands flower-loving fly can be found are on private property where development is a constant threat, which means the only thing standing between this species and extinction is the protection granted by its Endangered Species Act listing in 1993.