Remembering 21 Species Lost in 2023
On October 16, 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule removing 21 species from the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act because of extinction.
The extinct species include eight of Hawaiʻi’s precious honeycreeper birds, the bridled white-eye and little Mariana fruit bat of Guam, a Texas fish, nine southeastern mussels, and the Bachman’s warbler. They join the list of 650 U.S. species that have likely been lost to extinction.
In a single bright spot, the agency retained protection for one Hawaiian plant species because it may still survive. It also delayed removal of the ivory-billed woodpecker based on scientific disagreement over its extinction.
Scientists from around the world warn that the planet could lose more than a million species in the coming decades if swift action isn’t taken to protect more of the natural world, stop exploitation of species, address climate change, reduce pollution, and stop the spread of alien invasive species.
The Hawaiian birds declared extinct in 2023 are a case in point. Their forest habitats were razed by development and agriculture. The introduction to the islands of mosquitoes — nonnative insects that can carry both avian pox and avian malaria — provided the nail in the coffin. Now several other native
Hawaiian birds are on the brink, including the ʻakikiki, which is down to as few as five pairs in the wild because climate change is allowing mosquitoes to reach further up into their mountain habitat.
Species are crucial for human survival: All people’s food and most medicines come directly from plants and animals. Species also form the building blocks of ecosystems, which purify air and water, pollinate crops, cycle nutrients, moderate climate and more. Every lost species threatens to unravel ecosystems and in the process reduce the services they provide.
Freshwater mollusks are the most endangered group of organisms in the United States, with 36 mussels and more than 70 freshwater snails already lost.
The eight mussels declared extinct in 2023 are the flat pigtoe, green-blossom pearly mussel, southern acornshell, stirrupshell, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel, turgid-blossom pearly mussel, upland combshell and yellow-blossom pearly mussel.
Nine Hawaiian Species
Kauaʻi ʻakialoa: The Kauaʻi ʻakialoa was a Hawaiian honeycreeper that lived only on the island of Kauaʻi. It was last seen in 1965. Its body was about 7.5 inches long, and the bird had a very long downcurved bill that spanned one third its body length. The ʻakialoa became extinct because of introduced avian diseases from mosquitos and habitat loss.
Kauaʻi nukupuʻu: This stout, short-tailed, medium-sized honeycreeper had a long, decurved bill, with the upper mandible about twice as long as the lower. The male was mostly bright-yellow with olive upperparts, white undertail coverts and a strongly defined black mask and bill. Females were mostly olive-gray above and whitish below, with yellowish highlights in the face, wings, and tail. It was lost to habitat destruction and invasive species.
Kauaʻi ʻōʻō: This small black-and-yellow songbird’s distinctive bell-like call was last heard in 1987. It went extinct because of habitat destruction and the introduction of rats, pigs and mosquitoes. It was the last surviving member of the Mohoidae family and represents the only complete extinction of an entire avian family in modern times.
Kāmaʻo: Also known as the Large Kauaʻi thrush, the kāmaʻo was 8 inches in length with a brownish olive body and gray belly. Its bill and legs were dark, and it fed primarily on fruit and insects. Once considered the most common bird on Kauaʻi, the kāmaʻo was last seen in 1987.
Maui ākepa: The Maui ākepa was a small, 4-inch-long, dusty-green songbird with a small cross bill. Its beautiful call was a quivering whistle ending with a long trill. Maui ‘ākepa were last seen in 1988 and heard in 1995.
Maui nukupuʻu: This small, 5-inch-long bird was found in high-elevation mesic and wet forests of ʻōhiʻa lehua and koa trees. Its inch-long bill was used to peck for insects in the bark of these native trees. The last confirmed sighting was in 1896.
Kākāwahie: Also known as the Molokaʻi creeper, the kākāwahie was 5 inches in length and described as either bright red or bright orange with dark wings and tail feathers said to resemble the appearance of flames. Its call sounding like someone chipping or cutting wood. Hawaiians traditionally used the kākāwahie’s red feathers for the capes and leis of aliʻi (royalty). It was last sighted in montane wet forest at ʻŌhiʻalele Plateau in 1963.
Poʻouli: Also known as the black-faced honeycreeper, poʻouli were once thought to exist in the hundreds on Maui. It inhabited only the very wet, easternmost side of Maui, where it rapidly decreased in numbers because of habitat loss, mosquito-borne diseases, predation by invasive species and a decline in the native tree snails that the bird relied on for food. With extinction threatening, efforts were made to capture birds to enable them to breed in captivity. In 2004 the last three poʻouli died in captivity. The poʻouli might be alive today if conservation efforts had received proper funding.
Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis: This species of flowering plant in the mint family was endemic to Hawaiʻi. It had red-tinged or red vein green leaves and white flowers that were occasionally tinged with purple. It was last seen on the island of Lānaʻi in 1914.
Bachman’s warbler: Bachman’s warbler was a small yellow and black songbird that once bred in swampy thickets in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee and overwintered in Cuba, where it was seen for the last time in 1962. It was lost to habitat destruction and collection.
Bridled white-eye: A green, yellow and white tropical lowland forest bird from Guam that was 4 inches long, with a prominent ring around its eye. It became extinct because of predation from the invasive brown tree snake.
Little Mariana fruit bat: Also known as a flying fox, the little Mariana fruit bat lived on Guam and foraged on tropical fruits. It was last seen in 1968 and went extinct because of habitat loss from agriculture and military activity, brown tree snake predation, and overharvesting for use as food. It had a 2-foot wingspan, gold on the sides of its neck and yellowish-brown fur on the top of its head.
San Marcos gambusia: The San Marcos gambusia was a 1-inch-long fish that ate small invertebrates and gave birth to live young instead of laying eggs like many species of fish. It lived in clear spring water from the headwaters of the San Marcos River in Texas. Last seen in 1983, the fish went extinct because of water overuse that depleted groundwater and spring flow.
Scioto madtom: The Scioto madtom was a small catfish found only in Big Darby Creek in Ohio. It was listed as endangered in 1975 but was last seen in 1957. It was lost because of silt accumulation from dams and runoff.
21 Extinctions by State or Territory
Alabama: Bachman’s warbler, southern acornshell, stirrupshell, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel, turgid-blossom pearly mussel, upland combshell, yellow-blossom pearly mussel
Arkansas: turgid blossom pearly mussel
Florida: Bachman’s warbler
Georgia: Bachman’s warbler, southern acornshell, upland combshell
Guam: bridled white-eye, little Mariana fruit bat
Illinois: tubercled-blossom pearly mussel
Hawaiʻi: Eight birds and one flower (learn more)
Indiana: tubercled-blossom pearly mussel
Kentucky: ivory-billed woodpecker, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel
Mississippi: flat pigtoe
North Carolina: Bachman’s warbler
Ohio: Scioto madtom
South Carolina: Bachman’s warbler
Tennessee: Bachman’s warbler, green-blossom pearly mussel, southern acornshell, tubercled-blossom pearly mussel, turgid-blossom pearly mussel, upland combshell, yellow-blossom pearly mussel
Texas: San Marcos gambusia
Virginia: green-blossom pearly mussel
West Virginia: tubercled-blossom pearly mussel