20 Herps Up for Lifesaving Protections: Take Action


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Species Descriptions


Kern Canyon slender salamander (California): These 5-inch-long, brown salamanders with black sides and striking bronze-and-red patches on their backs live only in California's lower Kern River Canyon. Their restricted range, coupled with ongoing threats of habitat destruction and degradation, leaves them extremely vulnerable to extinction. Known to be uncommon across their range and limited to small, isolated populations, these rare salamanders favor north-facing slopes and small, wooded tributary canyons. Those habitats provide periods of moisture and high humidity that allow the salamanders to emerge from their underground hideouts to forage among leaf debris, bark and loose rocks for a range of food that includes spiders, mites, earthworms and snails. Although nearly all their known populations occur on public lands administered by the Sequoia National Forest, they continue to be threatened by habitat destruction and degradation caused by cattle grazing, logging, mining, highway construction, hydroelectric development and firewood collecting. Take action for this species here.

Relictual slender salamander
(California): After road construction wiped out the Lower Kern River Canyon population, these salamanders now have the smallest known range of any slender salamander — only three miles separate populations remaining in the southern Sierra Nevada. Little is known about the biology of relictual slender salamanders, but scientists assume that, like other slender salamanders, these sit-and-wait predators use a projectile tongue to catch small invertebrate prey. Without state or federal protections, their high-elevation pine-fir forest habitats face degradation from timber harvest. Take action for this species here.

Western spadefoot toad. Photo by James Bettaso/USFWS.

Western spadefoot toad (California): This 2-inch-long, stout-looking little toad is known for its purr-like trill, its spade-like adaptation for digging on each hind foot and its unusual ability to accelerate metamorphosis when shallow breeding pools start to dry up. But even with those remarkable adaptations, the western spadefoot has been no match for the march of development and habitat reduction. Since the 1950s the animals have lost more than 80 percent of their preferred grassland and alluvial fan habitats. The toads, which are completely terrestrial except when breeding, depend on the existence of vernal rain pools and slow-moving streams, both of which have declined across their range due to urban development and agricultural practices. Historically known to occur in the lowlands of Southern California, from south of the San Francisco Bay area to northern Baja California, they are now listed as a “species of special concern” in California, a status that recognizes their dramatic decline but fails to afford them any legal protection. Already they have been extirpated from much of their lowland Southern California range. Take action for this species here.



Illinois chorus frog
(Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri): Throughout American history, these inch-and-a-half-long, dark-spotted frogs have been known for their distinctive, high-pitched, bird-like whistles that can be heard from great distances. Often mistaken for toads because of their stout bodies, they have thick forearms used for digging burrows. Tiny frogs that spend most of their time below ground, they were once common along the wide, sandy-soiled grasslands and floodplains of the Mississippi and Illinois river basins. But as a result of unbridled housing development that has eliminated lowland habitat, and agricultural practices that now level fields instead of leaving the water-holding troughs the frogs used for breeding, most of their already small populations are in serious decline. They are now listed as threatened in Illinois, but this status does not protect their habitat. Take action for this species here.



Blanding's turtle
 (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin): This medium-to-large turtle is targeted by the pet trade because of its beautiful yellow chin and throat. It once ranged through much of the Great Lakes region and the northeastern United States, but the only large remaining populations are found in Minnesota and Nebraska. Blanding's turtles have suffered extensive declines from habitat loss, road mortality and intense predation on eggs and hatchlings. Take action for this species here.



Spotted turtle (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, West Virginia): A small, black turtle with yellow spots on its smooth shell, the spotted turtle is an attractive animal that's another unfortunate favorite in the pet trade. It ranges from southern Ontario and Maine southward from the Atlantic coastal plain and piedmont to northern Florida and westward through Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, central Ohio, northern Indiana and Michigan to northeastern Illinois. The turtle has likely suffered a 50 percent overall reduction in population size, with much of this loss irreversible because of habitat loss. Take action for this species here.




Green salamander. Photo courtesy Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Green salamander (Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia): While the range of the green salamander encompasses the entire Appalachian region, it exists only in habitat fragments with remaining populations experiencing extirpations and significant declines. The only member of the “climbing family” of salamanders east of the Rocky Mountains, green salamanders are found on rock outcrops and in arboreal habitats. During the spring and summer, breeding females require cool and moist narrow crevices in which to suspend their eggs, and in fall, the salamanders congregate near deep rock crevices for use during winter hibernation. The salamanders are threatened by logging, road construction, mountaintop-removal mining, impoundments, overcollection for the pet trade, and climate change. Take action for this species here.



Cascades frog
 (California, Oregon, Washington): This medium-sized frog has a slender, brownish body with inky spots, a dark eye mask and honey-yellow legs. It inhabits the Cascade Range, from the very northern edge of California's Sierra Nevada to near the British Columbia border. The frogs are experiencing sharp declines due to introduction of nonnative trout, disease and drift of airborne pesticides from agricultural areas. Declines are particularly severe in the southernmost parts of their range, where scientists estimate that the frogs have lost about 99 percent of their populations. The skin of the Cascades frog secretes high concentrations of anti-infective peptides that may have therapeutic potential. Take action for this species here.

Oregon slender salamander
(Oregon): These fragile salamanders are bejeweled with ruby red and goldish spots on their black backs and delicate white flecks on their bellies. They are lungless and breathe through their skin. They are found in wet forests in western Oregon from the Columbia River Gorge in Multnomah and Hood River counties southward in the Cascade Mountains to southern Lane County. The salamander's decline is largely due to widespread logging of the old-growth forests upon which it depends. Take action for this species here.



Foothill yellow-legged frog (California, Oregon): The range of the foothill yellow-legged frog includes Pacific drainages from the upper reaches of the Willamette River system, Oregon, south to the Upper San Gabriel River, Los Angeles County, California. The frog has disappeared from many portions of its historical range, especially in Southern California, where it has been extirpated from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County, and has not been seen in or south of the Transverse Ranges since 1977 despite repeated searches. Moreover, it is now rare or absent through the entire western half of the Oregon range. The frog is threatened by habitat destruction for dams, livestock grazing, mining, logging and roads, as well as pesticides and nonnative predators like bullfrogs, bass and even feral pigs. The foothill yellow-legged frog is considered “vulnerable” in Oregon and it is a California “species of special concern.” Take action for this species here.



Alligator snapping turtle (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas): With their heavily armored shells, bear-like claws and powerful beaked jaws it's not surprising that these prehistoric-looking turtles have no natural enemies and once thrived throughout the southeastern United States. Early in the 20th century, they were abundant in U.S. river systems draining into the Gulf of Mexico, from the waterways and lakes of the upper Midwest to the swamps and bayous of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. But recent population surveys demonstrate the turtles are now likely extirpated in Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, with declines up to 95 percent over much of their historic range from overharvest and unchecked habitat degradation. These slow-moving, largely sedentary behemoths spend so much of their time sitting on river bottoms waiting for food — they use a wormlike process on their tongue to lure prey — that algae grows thick on their shells. They're easy prey for hunters who still look to feed thriving world markets for the exhibition and consumption of the turtles. A study published earlier this year found that what was known as the alligator snapping turtle is actually three species and therefore more endangered than previously thought. Take action for this species here.

Apalachicola kingsnake
(Florida): These beautiful snakes lack any state or federal protection and can be legally collected throughout the year in any manner without limit. The snake's scientific name (Lampropeltis getula meansi) recognizes the extensive study of the snake by the scientist D. Bruce Means, a longtime Center member and advocate. The Apalachicola kingsnake is found in flatwoods of the Gulf Coastal Lowlands, particularly, the Eastern Apalachicola Lowlands in the Florida panhandle between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers and south of Telogia Creek, in Franklin and Liberty counties, where overcollection and rapid habitat loss due to extensive development threatens its survival. Take action for this species here.

Cedar Key mole skink
(Florida): With such a restricted range — living only on Florida's imperiled coastlands near Cedar Key — these lizards are vulnerable to extinction from disturbance of sparse remaining habitat for beachfront development and other activities. Little is known about this extremely rare animal, but it likely eats mainly marine arthropods, which can be found under tidal wrack and driftwood. Because of the skink's beautiful coloration, herp enthusiasts too often collect them as pets. Another threat is climate change, which is causing loss of habitat through sea-level rise, as well as increasing the frequency of major storm events and storm tides that have already reduced habitat for the skink. Take action for this species here.

Gopher frog
(Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee): Like so many rare wildlife species dependent on the Southeast's vanishing longleaf pine forests, gopher frogs are facing extinction primarily due to habitat loss and degradation from development, agriculture and timber production. The frog shelters in the burrows of the gopher tortoise — hence the name — and also occasionally in the burrows of rodents or crayfish or under logs and stumps. It emerges at night to forage on insects near the mouth of its burrow, creating a distinct resting area called a “platform” where the soil has been cleared of vegetation and smoothed by the frog's constant use. Take action for this species here.

Key ringneck snake
(Florida): These 6-inch-long, nonvenomous residents of the Florida Keys, including Key West and Big Pine Key, could hardly be less of a threat. But the slate-gray snakes with muted neck rings face an ongoing barrage of unmitigated threats to the seaside limestone outcroppings and rockland areas they call home. Largely due to ongoing residential development, the snakes' rockland hammock habitat has been reduced by 98 percent, leaving highly fragmented population pockets. Hurt not only by ongoing development but also by malicious killing by humans and predation by invasive species like fire ants, key ringneck snakes face rapid loss across their range. They also face catastrophic threats from climate change, with a sea rise of as little as three feet endangering much of their remaining population. They are listed as threatened in Florida, a status that makes killing and collection illegal but provides no protection from ongoing habitat destruction, the snakes' greatest threat. Take action for this species here.

Rim Rock crowned snake
(Florida): Primarily found in pine rockland and rockland hammock in the Miami area and Florida Keys, habitat of the Rim Rock crowned snake is being rapidly lost due to urban sprawl. It also faces threats from introduced species, illegal collection and climate change. The snake was first found on a now-vanished vacant lot in Miami made up of oolitic limestone, hence the name Tantilla oolitica. The snake is extremely rare; only 26 specimens are known to exist. Take action for this species here.

Southern hog-nosed snake
(Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina): These snakes spend most their time burrowed into the soil but come out to feed, usually on toads. With their uniquely upturned snouts, they're prized by the pet industry, yet also killed maliciously by people who fear snakes. They occur on the Coastal Plain from eastern North Carolina to southern Florida (Lake Okeechobee), west to southeastern Mississippi. Across the snake's range its habitat is fragmented and threatened with development; it is state-listed as endangered in Mississippi but unprotected elsewhere in its range. Take action for this species here.



Arizona toad
(Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah): These toads occur mainly in Arizona but also in southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah and western New Mexico, where they depend on shallow, flowing, permanent water. Dams and reservoirs have dramatically altered waterways, replacing the flowing water preferred by Arizona toads with still water favored by Woodhouse's toads, which displace and hybridize with Arizona toads. Hybridization and habitat loss are the biggest threats to the toads, which are now absent from more than 75 percent of their historic localities. Enlarged glands on the sides of their necks produce steroids that make Arizona toads unpalatable to some predators, inflaming the mouth and throat and causing nausea, irregular heartbeat, and, in extreme cases, death. Take action for this species here.

Cascade Caverns salamander
(Texas): Perfectly adapted to their wholly aquatic life, these pale, ghost-like salamanders with external gills and recessed eyes spend their entire lives in the darkened worlds of Texas cave springs. Because they breathe through external gills and their skin, these highly unique amphibians require clean, clear-flowing water with a high content of dissolved oxygen. Their health is an important barometer of water quality. More and more pollutants, from pesticides and herbicides to fertilizers and household solvents, are showing up in surface and stormwater runoff that eventually finds its way into the underground springs where these salamanders previously thrived. Take action for this species here.

Rio Grande cooter
(New Mexico, Texas): These beautifully marked turtles live in large, deep stream pools with relatively clear water and sandy or rocky bottoms in the Pecos-lower Rio Grande basin from New Mexico through Texas, as well as in Mexico. Scientists were unable to locate any young turtles in Texas, which is a troubling sign of a dying population struggling due to habitat degradation and overcollection. Intermittent stream flows from water diversions and flood-control practices have made vast stretches of the Rio Grande uninhabitable, while river pollution from natural gas and oilfield runoff likely accounts for the apparent absence of the species over a 100-mile stretch of the lower Pecos. Take action for this species here.


Alligator snapping turtle courtesy Flickr/Melissa Wilkins