Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 30, 2015

Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190,

9 Rare Amphibians and Reptiles in Southeast Move Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. In response to petitions from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that two amphibians and seven reptiles in the Southeast may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. Because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction, the Center first petitioned for the amphibians and reptiles in July 2012.

“The Southeast is a biodiversity hotspot that’s home to dozens of rare species,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “Because habitats across the Southeast are being bulldozed for development or agriculture, the region is losing some of its most unique wildlife species. Protection under the Endangered Species Act for these vulnerable animals will help ensure that essential remaining habitats are saved.”

Today’s announcement launches a full status review for the following amphibians and reptiles: alligator snapping turtle, spotted turtle, green salamander, gopher frog, southern hog-nosed snake, Apalachicola kingsnake, Rim Rock crowned snake, Key ringneck snake and Cedar Key mole skink. Because of unsustainable logging, toxic pesticides, the climate crisis and other human causes, nearly one in four amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say.

“There’s broad scientific consensus that we are facing a profound, human-driven extinction crisis that requires prompt action,” said Lopez. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these guys.”

The Center was joined in its petition for the amphibians and reptiles by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals. The Center is working to save more than 400 vanishing southeastern aquatic species.

Today’s “90-day finding” is the first in a series of required decisions on the petitions and simply required the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petitions presented sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources. The next step is a full status review of the species by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Service also today announced that petitions seeking protection for the wingtail crayfish and four salamanders -- Blue Ridge gray-cheeked salamander, Caddo Mountain salamander, Pigeon Mountain salamander and Weller’s salamander -- did not present substantial information that listing may be warranted.

View an interactive state-by-state map showing where the petitioned amphibians and reptiles live and download photos of them for media use. 

Species Highlights

Alligator snapping turtles (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.  

Key ringneck snakes (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.

Spotted turtles (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.

Green salamanders (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.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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