Cape Vulture

Description and biology

The Cape vulture, also called the Cape griffon, is an Old World vulture that belongs to the same family as hawks and eagles. It has a long, bare neck and a specially shaped tongue that allows it to feed inside the carcasses (dead bodies) of sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, and horses. The bird roosts (rests or sleeps) with other vultures in colonies on cliffs.

Unlike most birds of prey, the Cape vulture does not use thermals (rising warm air currents) to fly. Instead, it uses the swift air currents that exist around its roosting sites. The vulture used to eat the carcasses of large migratory mammals. Now, it must depend on dead livestock for food.

Cape vultures begin to build their nests in early March. The nests are made of grass with a rim of feathers and sticks. They are usually built on south–facing cliffs that have ledges. Once constructed, the nests are often used for several years.

A female Cape vulture lays a clutch (eggs produced at one time) of only one egg between April and July. Once the chick hatches, it is fed the meat and, sometimes, bones from animal carcasses. Both eggs and newborn chicks face several natural threats. Clouds that settle on south–facing cliffs can often cause them to freeze to death. They also are preyed upon by black eagles and white–necked ravens.

Habitat and current distribution

The Cape vulture is found only in the southern African countries of South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. It breeds primarily in two areas. An estimated 2,300 breeding pairs are found in Transvaal (northeastern province in South Africa) and in eastern Botswana.

Another group of about 950 breeding pairs are located in the Transkei (self–governing republic in South Africa), Natal (eastern province in South Africa) and Lesotho.

Because Cape vultures generally live and forage for food away from their breeding areas, their range extends almost over all of southern Africa. Biologists (people who study living organisms) have estimated that about 12,000 Cape vultures currently exist. The birds prefer to inhabit open spaces. They forage over grassland, desert, and other areas with sparse vegetation.

History and conservation measures

In the nineteenth century, the Cape vulture was seen in high numbers in southern Africa. It began to decline in the early twentieth century, though, when a disease wiped out many cattle in the region, robbing the bird of its food source. A drop in the number of cattle due to disease and other factors between the years 1950 and 1971 again hurt the Cape vulture population.

Today, the main threat facing the Cape vulture is not food quantity but food quality. Cape vulture chicks require calcium in their diets to prevent osteodystrophy (pronounced os–tee–o–DIS–trow–fee), a disease that causes their bones to become weak and deformed. When large mammals kill and feed upon animals, they often crush their bones in the process.

Vultures then feed on the remaining carcass, and the chicks are fed meat that has bone flakes (calcium) mixed in it. Since the number of large mammals in southern Africa has declined, however, vulture chicks have suffered because they have not been able to eat enough meat mixed with bone flakes.

Cape vultures are also threatened by humans who disturb their breeding grounds and who poison them. Many farmers and ranchers in the bird’s range believe it attacks sheep and then transmits to other animals any disease the sheep might carry. To prevent this, these farmers and ranchers often put out poisoned carcasses for the vultures to feed on, and the birds die as a result.

The belief that Cape vultures normally attack sheep and spread disease is a mistaken one. Conservation groups in southern Africa have tried to stop farmers and ranchers from leaving poisoned carcasses for the birds.

Conservationists (people protecting the natural world) have also set up areas where carcasses with crushed bones have been put out for the vultures. This practice has helped reduce the number of vulture chicks suffering from osteodystrophy. The Cape vulture has full legal protection throughout its range.

Kirtland’s Warbler

Description and biology

The Kirtland’s warbler is a songbird that grows to an average length of 6 inches (15 centimeters). It has a blue–gray head and upper body with black streaks on its back. Its underside is pale yellow speckled with darker streaks. Males have a black spot on their cheeks while females have a gray one.

Both sexes have incomplete white rings around their eyes. The Kirtland’s warbler has a habit of bobbing its tail as it moves along the ground. The bird has been seen feeding on moths, caterpillars, ants, and numerous other insects.

The Kirtland’s warbler nests and breeds in a very specific habitat. It rejects areas that have dense underbrush or forests that are dominated by deciduous (shedding) trees. It chooses only areas at least 80 acres (32 hectares) in size with large stands of young jack pine on relatively level ground. These areas develop naturally only as a result of intense forest fires.

The warbler moves into the area 9 to 13 years after a fire has swept through and the new jack pines are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall. After 6 to 12 years, when the pines have reached 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters) in height, the warbler abandons the area for a new one.

The warbler builds a nest of grass, bark, and fibers on the ground beneath a jack pine. A female Kirtland’s warbler lays 3 to 5 brown–speckled white eggs between mid–May and mid–July. She then incubates (sits on or broods) them for 10 to 14 days until they hatch.

Habitat and current distribution

The Kirtland’s warbler breeds only in a few counties in the area of north–central Michigan’s lower peninsula where extensive stands of young jack pine are found. Beginning in late September, the bird migrates to the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands located at the southeast end of the Bahamas. Its winter habitat consists mainly of pine woods. The warbler returns to its summer habitat in early May.

During the summer, a few Kirtland’s warblers may range to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and even Ontario or Quebec, Canada. However, they do not nest in these areas. Biologists (people who study living organisms) estimate that over 1,400 Kirtland’s warblers currently exist in the world.

History and conservation measures

The Kirtland’s warbler was first discovered in the Bahamas in 1841, but its nesting grounds in Michigan were not discovered until 1903. These were found near the Au Sable River at the border of Oscoda and Crawford Counties. Roughly 90 percent of the warbler’s current nesting grounds are found within a three–county vicinity of these original grounds.

Because of its finicky nesting habits, the Kirtland’s warbler probably never existed in great numbers. At the beginning of the twentieth century, extensive logging in Michigan reduced the bird’s already meager habitat. Then, officials who oversaw the way forests were managed in the state limited the number of forest fires.

As a result, forests grew and developed beyond the specific needs of the warbler. In the 1950s and 1960s, 15,000 acres (6,000 hectares) of suitable warbler nesting habitat existed. Today, only 30 percent, or 4,500 acres (1,800 hectares), exists.

The Kirtland’s warbler has also been threatened by the brown–headed cowbird. This bird normally inhabits farmland and meadowland. As forests have been cleared in Michigan, it has expanded its range into that of the Kirtland’s warbler.

The brown–headed cowbird likes to lay its eggs in the nests of other birds, including the warbler. This behavior is called parasitism (pronounced pair–a–si–TIZ–um). When the cowbird nestlings hatch, they are raised by the new parents.

The parents’ own nestlings often cannot compete with the cowbird nestlings for food, and they starve to death. From the 1930s to the 1970s, as many as 60 percent of warbler nests were believed to be parasitized by the cowbird.

The Kirtland’s warbler made a comeback in the 1990s. Conservationists and public land managers have worked to maintain and develop suitable nesting habitat for the bird in Michigan. They have also tried to control the brown–headed cowbird population within the range of the Kirtland’s warbler.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Description and biology

The ivory–billed woodpecker is the largest North American woodpecker. It measures from 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 centimeters) long. The color of the plumage (covering of feathers) on its body is a shiny blue–black.

Broad white markings appear on its wings and neck. Its strong, straight, heavy bill is pure white. Males of the species have a bright red crest (projecting tuft on top of its head); females have a black one. The bird has short legs and feet that end in large, curved claws.

The ivory–billed woodpecker uses its bill to strip bark from dead or dying trees in search of wood–boring beetle larvae and other insects. Male–female pairs occupy a large territory of up to 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares).

Breeding season lasts from March to June. The woodpecker creates a nest by boring out a hole high up in a tree. The female ivory–billed woodpecker then lays a clutch (eggs produced at one time) of 3 to 5 glossy white eggs in the unlined hole.

Both parents incubate (sit on or brood) the eggs for about 20 days. The nestlings fledge (develop flying feathers) about 35 days after hatching.

Habitat and current distribution

Many biologists (people who study living organisms) consider the ivory–billed woodpecker to be extinct, or almost extinct. Up until the early 1990s, they believed that a few of the woodpeckers still survived in eastern Cuba.

There had been unconfirmed sightings of the bird along the Gulf Coast of North America from the 1950s through the 1970s. These “sightings” led biologists to believe at the time that the bird might still survive in remote forests in Louisiana, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, or Florida.

In the 1990s, biologists had lost hope that the bird existed anywhere, but in April 1999, a student saw what many believe was a couple of ivory–billed woodpeckers on the Pearl River in Louisiana. There were other credible, but unconfirmed, sightings after that.

In the United States, the woodpecker inhabits hardwood swamp forests and, on occasion, pine forests. In Cuba, it occupies mixed pine and hardwood forests.

History and conservation measures

The ivory–billed woodpecker was always considered rare throughout its range in the United States. At the end of the nineteenth century, the logging and clearing of virgin swamp forests in the southern United States decimated the remaining population of these woodpeckers. Hunters and trappers also quickened the bird’s decline. By 1941, the ivory–billed woodpecker population was estimated at 24 birds in five scattered areas.

Just seven years later, the last identified population disappeared. Over the next 30 years, reports were made that the bird had been sighted. However, none of these were ever confirmed. No reports had been made in the 20 years leading up to 1999.

In Cuba, the ivory–billed woodpecker was thought to have existed over much of the island. By 1956, due to the clearing of its natural habitat, the bird’s Cuban population numbered only about 12. These birds disappeared shortly afterward, and the woodpecker was believed to have become extinct on the island.

In 1986, however, Cuban biologists working in eastern Cuba found three woodpeckers in a hilly pine forest called Ojito de Agua. Hopes were raised that the birds could make a comeback, but expeditions to find these birds in 1991 and 1993 proved futile.

In 1996, the ivory–billed woodpecker was declared extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). In 1999, with several new sightings of the bird in southeastern Louisiana, a flurry of research and then extensive searches were conducted in the Pearl River area in 2000 and 2001.

In 2002, Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology (study of birds) in cooperation with Zeiss Sports Optics and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries used high–tech recording equipment to record the sounds at twelve different positions within the remote forest area for a period of three months.

The project turned up no indication of the ivory–billed woodpecker’s presence. The IUCN changed the bird’s status to critically endangered, in the hope that there are a few remaining birds in the wild.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Description and biology

The red–cockaded woodpecker is so–named because the male of the species has tiny red patches or “cockades” on the sides of his head (a cockade is an ornament worn on a hat as a badge). Female red–cockaded woodpeckers lack these patches.

An average red–cockaded woodpecker measures 7 inches (18 centimeters) long and has a wingspan of 15 inches (38 centimeters). The plumage (covering of feathers) on the bird’s upperparts is black with white stripes.

Its chest and belly are white with black–flecked sides. The bird has a black crown and prominent black bands that start at its bill and run down both sides of its neck. On each cheek, between the band and the bird’s crown, is a large white patch.

The red–cockaded woodpecker feeds on insects (ants, beetles, caterpillars, roaches, and spiders) both on and below tree bark. It also eats fruits, berries, and seeds. The bird nests in groups called clans.

These clans consist of a male–female pair, their fledglings (young that have just developed flying feathers), and their young male offspring from previous years called “helpers.” Clans forage or feed over territories of approximately 200 acres (40 to 80 hectares).

This bird is the only woodpecker that bores out a nesting hole with its sharp, chisellike bill in live, mature pine trees (other woodpeckers create holes in dead or dying trees).

A female red–cockaded woodpecker lays a clutch of two to five white eggs in the nesting hole in April or May. The helpers assist their parents in incubating (sitting on or brooding) the eggs for about ten days. They then assist in raising the nestlings.

Habitat and current distribution

The red–cockaded woodpecker is found in the southeastern United States from Texas and from Oklahoma east to the southern Atlantic Coast. The largest concentrations of birds are located in Florida and South Carolina. Biologists (people who study living organisms) estimate the total red–cockaded woodpecker population to be between 10,000 and 14,000 birds.

These woodpeckers prefer to inhabit old–growth pine forests, mainly those with long–needled pines averaging 80 to 120 years old. These types of forests usually have very little underbrush.

History and conservation measures

The red–cockaded woodpecker was once abundant throughout a range that stretched as far north as Missouri, Kentucky, and Virginia. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the bird’s population began to decline and its range began to shrink.

The main reason was habitat loss. Mature pine forests were rapidly cleared to create farmland or cut down to supply the increased demand for timber. If new trees were planted in these areas, they were not the long–needled pines favored by the red–cockaded woodpecker, but faster–growing hardwood trees. Over the last 100 years, 90 percent of the bird’s habitat in the southeast has been cleared.

Most of the remaining forested pine areas suitable for the woodpeckers are on federal lands and are, therefore, protected. In other areas, foresters and wildlife specialists are trying to increase the amount of red–cockaded woodpecker habitat by burning underbrush and small trees, leaving only old pines standing.

In 1993, the Georgia–Pacific Company (a timber company) signed an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help protect the woodpecker on thousands of acres of company land.

Two more timber companies, Hancock Timber Resource Group and Champion International Corporation, have since signed similar agreements to protect the red–cockaded woodpecker on their lands.

Illinois Cave Amphipod

Description and biology

The Illinois cave amphipod is a small freshwater crustacean. It is light blue–gray in color, with small eyes and one long and one shorter antenna. A male Illinois cave amphipod is usually about .8 inch (20 millimeters) long and a female about .5 to .6 inches (12 to 16 millimeters) long.

Illinois cave amphipods live in utter darkness in cave streams. They need very cold water and avoid light. They cannot leave their caves, so they will eat any kind of food matter they can find by means of their keen sense of touch, including dead animals, plants, and bacteria.

Illinois cave amphipods are extremely sensitive to pollutants that are introduced into their water supply. The species is an excellent indicator of the quality of the water in the cave systems it inhabits and the groundwater from the surrounding area.

Because they live underground and away from humans, little is known about the behavior of this species.

Habitat and current distribution

The Illinois cave amphipod lives in karst regions (areas composed of limestone that feature sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns). It is known to occur only in Monroe and St. Clair counties in southwestern Illinois.

History and conservation measures

The Illinois cave amphipod is endemic (native to and occurring only in a particular region) to several cave systems in Monroe and St. Clair counties in southern Illinois.

The species was once known to occur in six cave systems, all within a 10–mile radius of Waterloo, Illinois. In 1995, the species was found in only three of these systems, all in Monroe County. This reduction in its range signals a decline in the population of the species.

Groundwater contamination, usually from pesticides used by farmers, is the principal threat to the species. Contamination from human and animal wastes from sewers and septic systems and livestock feedlots in the area also pose a grave danger. The poor water quality, if not corrected, will probably cause the extinction of the species.

Sinkholes in the karst region inhabited by the amphipods are sometimes used to dump trash and other pollutants. Because there is no natural filter in a sinkhole to stop the pollutants from reaching the underground waters, the risk of contamination is very high.

When amphipods are damaged or killed by the contamination of the streams and groundwater, there is good reason to believe that humans who use the same water sources will be affected as well.

The small range of the Illinois cave amphipod is very close to St. Louis, Missouri, and so the habitat may face further harm from the urban (city; densely populated) environment.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources owns the entrances to two of the three caves known to be Illinois cave amphipod habitats. The entrances to the third cave are privately owned, but have been designated as nature reserves.

There are several recovery plans in progress, which include pursuing a better scientific understanding of the species and its habitat needs. The Illinois cave amphipod is currently protected by the Illinois State Endangered Species Protection Act, which prohibits harming or killing it.

Hell Creek Cave Crayfish

Description and biology

The Hell Creek Cave crayfish is colorless. It has small eyes that lack any pigment (color) and a spined rostrum (snout). An average adult measures 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters) long. Like other crayfish, it feeds on both plants and animals, including algae, snails, insects, worms, and mussels.

Although appearing similar to lobsters (their salt water cousins), crayfish have a different life cycle. They do not pass through any larval stages, but go directly from an egg to a miniature adult form.

Hell Creek Cave crayfish reproduce very slowly. Biologists (people specializing in the study of living organisms) believe they lay eggs once every five years, on average.

As in other crayfish species, the female Hell Creek Cave crayfish shelters her fertilized eggs by carrying them attached to her abdomen. After the eggs hatch, the young crayfish cling to that spot on the mother’s body for several weeks before letting go.

Crayfish are preyed on by bass, sunfish, raccoons, otters, herons, and kingfishers.

Habitat and current distribution

The Hell Creek Cave crayfish is found only in a deep pool in Hell Creek Cave, which is located in the Ozark Mountains in Stone County, Arkansas. Surveys conducted in the mid–1980s recorded less than 50 crayfish at this site and the population has remained near that figure into the 2000s.

Hell Creek Cave is mostly wet and muddy throughout the year. Many of its passages are flooded during the rainy seasons and after storms. A narrow, shallow stream leads to the pool inhabited by the crayfish. The pool is approximately 150 feet (46 meters) away from the cave entrance.

History and conservation measures

There are about 330 known species of crayfish, which are also known as crawfish or crawdads. Although nearly half of those species are endangered or imperiled, only four species have been placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Hell Creek Cave crayfish is one of those four.

This species of crayfish faces a number of threats. A surface stream supplies water to the cave’s pool. This stream can easily become polluted with wastes from nearly industries. Once polluted, the stream will in turn contaminate the pool, destroying the crayfishs’ fragile habitat.

Biologists believe the Hell Creek Cave crayfish reproduces so slowly because it does not get enough nourishment. The cave has a shortage of organic matter for the crayfish to use as energy.

In the past, most of this organic matter came from the guano (feces) of gray bats (Myotis grisescens). However, the gray bat is now an endangered species. It has disappeared from Hell Creek Cave as well as from many other caves.

Finally, the Hell Creek Cave crayfish is threatened by human collectors who venture into the cave to capture specimens. The removal of any adult crayfish, especially reproducing females, can have a dramatic effect on the future population of the species.

A tract of land that includes the entrance to Hell Creek Cave has recently been placed under protection. This act should limit the number of humans entering the cave and disturbing its ecosystem (an ecological system including all of its living things and their environment).

Conservationists (people protecting the natural world) hope it will also allow gray bats to return to the cave, which will greatly benefit the Hell Creek Cave crayfish.

Nashville Crayfish

Description and biology

The Nashville crayfish, also called the Shoup’s crayfish, measures about 2 inches (5 centimeters) long. It has thickened ridges on its rostrum (snout), four pair of walking legs, and two long–fingered chelae (pronounced KEY–lee; claws or pincers).

It consumes plants and animals, including algae, insects, worms, fish eggs, snails, and mussels. Raccoons, fish, and reptiles are among the main predators of this crayfish.

Biologists (people who study living organisms) know very little about the reproductive habits of the Nashville crayfish. Mating can take place from late summer to early spring. Egg laying seems to occur in early spring.

Like females of other crayfish species, the female Nashville crayfish shelters her fertilized eggs by carrying them attached to her abdomen. Upon hatching, the young crayfish are fully formed, miniature versions of the adults. They cling to the mother’s abdomen for several weeks after hatching before venturing out on their own.

Habitat and current distribution

This crayfish is found only in Mill and Sevenmile Creeks, tributaries of the Cumberland River near Nashville, Tennessee. In its streambed habitat, the Nashville crayfish requires adequate cover. Those crayfish in Mill Creek have been found typically in pool areas under flat slabs of limestone and other rocks.

Biologists do not know how many Nashville crayfish currently exist, although they believe the number is quite low.

History and conservation measures

Biologists have classified about 330 species of crayfish, which are also called crawfish or crawdads. Tennessee alone has more than 70 distinct species. Of the total number of crayfish species known, almost half are endangered or imperiled.

Only four crayfish species in the country have been granted federal protection by being placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Nashville crayfish is one of those four listed.

In the past, the Nashville crayfish was found in three additional areas in Tennessee: Big Creek in Giles County, South Harpeth River in Davidson County, and Richland Creek in Davidson County. Biologists are unsure exactly why the crayfish disappeared from these locations, but they do know it cannot tolerate pollution and increased silt (mineral particles).

This is the threat currently facing the Nashville crayfish in its Mill Creek habitat. A constant barrage of pollutants has been flowing into the creek. Industries have built warehouses right up to the edge of the creek’s banks.

Nearby roads and parking lots drain into the creek. Upstream from the crayfish’s habitat, pesticides and fertilizers sprayed on farmland run off into the creek.

To ensure the survival of the Nashville crayfish, conservation efforts must focus on protecting Mill Creek from further contamination.

Madison Cave Isopod

Description and biology

Isopods are tiny, shrimplike crustaceans that have flattened bodies and no carapace (pronounced KAR–a–pace) or shell. The Madison Cave isopod measures 0.47 inch (1.19 centimeters) long and 0.16 inch (0.41 centimeter) wide.

It has no eyes and is colorless. Its diet consists of decaying organic matter such as leaf litter, small twigs, wood particles, and insect remains.

Biologists (people who study living organisms) have been unable to observe the reproductive habits of this isopod.

Habitat and current distribution

The Madison Cave isopod is found only in caves and fissures (long narrow cracks or openings) in the Shenandoah Valley in northwestern Virginia. It inhabits two deep subterranean (underground) pools in Madison Cave and one in nearby Stegers Fissure.

The pools seep into the South River, a tributary of the South Fork Shenandoah River. Biologists recently discovered new populations at four nearby locations, thereby extending the isopod’s range.

Madison Cave isopods prefer to inhabit freshwater pools that have clay banks.

History and conservation measures

Madison Cave has a significant place in American history. Thomas Jefferson mapped the cave, the first instance of cave mapping in the United States. George Washington’s signature also appears on one of the walls in the cave.

The first Madison Cave isopod specimen was not collected until 1958; biologists did not name the species until 1964. It is the only species of its kind found in North America north of Texas.

The Madison Cave isopod currently faces many threats. Because a single groundwater system feeds the caves and connects them to South River, the cave pools can become quickly contaminated with pollution.

Mercury has been discovered in South River. Conservationists (people protecting the natural world) worry that herbicides and pesticides, which run off into the river from nearby farms, could easily reach toxic (poisonous) levels.

Madison Cave has also been damaged by humans. Many people like to explore caves (an activity called spelunking) for recreation. Others have entered the cave to collect bat guano or feces, which is used to produce saltpeter (potassium nitrate), a component of gunpowder.

As people have walked along the banks, they have knocked clay into the pools, destroying the isopod’s habitat by increasing the amount of silt (mineral particles) in the water. Garbage has also accumulated in the cave as more and more humans have come and gone.

In 1981, a gate was put up over the entrance to Madison Cave. Only scientists and educators seeking to study the Madison Cave isopod and other species in its habitat are now allowed access to the cave.

California Freshwater Shrimp

Description and biology

The California freshwater shrimp is similar in appearance to the common marine (ocean) shrimp. It has a greenish–gray body with light blue tail fins. When seen in the water, it looks transparent. An average adult can measure up to 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) long.

After mating, a female California freshwater shrimp carries her eggs on her body throughout the winter. The eggs, which number between 50 and 120, grow very slowly over a nine–month period. Only about half of the eggs hatch.

Habitat and current distribution

This species of shrimp is found in three counties in California. In Napa County, it inhabits the Napa River near Calistoga. In Marin and Sonoma Counties, it inhabits Big Austin, East Austin, Blucher, Green Valley, Huichica, Jonive, Lagunitas, Salmon, Walker, and Yulupa Creeks. Biologists (people who study living organisms) do not know the total number of these shrimp currently in existence.

The California freshwater shrimp prefers to inhabit quiet, clear freshwater streams. These streams are usually tree–lined and have underwater vegetation and exposed tree roots. Water in the streams is fairly slow–moving.

History and conservation measures

The range of the California freshwater shrimp has not changed, but areas within that range where the shrimp is found have decreased. The shrimp has disappeared completely from streams that it formerly inhabited.

The primary threat to this shrimp is the loss or destruction of its habitat. Many streams in its range have been diverted or dammed to help irrigate farms. In some areas, the water quality of the streams has decreased.

Runoff from farms has introduced pesticides and other agricultural chemicals into the water system. The amount of silt (mineral particles) in the water has also increased because of construction along the banks of many streams.

Some dams have been removed in an attempt to restore the California freshwater shrimp’s habitat. To further save this species, the effects of future damming and construction projects will have to be examined.

Kentucky cave Shrimp

Description and biology

The Kentucky cave shrimp is a small freshwater shrimp that grows only to a maximum length of 1.2 inches (3 centimeters). It lacks pigmentation (coloring) and is almost transparent.

Because it lives in dark underground streams, it is blind. This shrimp feeds on organic matter such as decaying plants, bat feces, algae, fungi, and insect remains.

Biologists (people who study living organisms) have very little information regarding the reproductive habits of this species.

Habitat and current distribution

The Kentucky cave shrimp is found in the Mammoth Cave National Park region in south–central Kentucky. In this area, it inhabits freshwater streams and pools located deep in caves.

In the early 1980s, biologists estimated the shrimp’s total population to be about 500. Since then, small populations have been discovered at additional sites in the area. Currently, Kentucky cave shrimp populations are found at five locations in the Mammoth Cave system.

History and conservation measures

Pollution is the main threat to the Kentucky cave shrimp. The food supply on which it depends is washed into the caves by a complex system of sinkholes and streams. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are used on the surface near the caves.

These chemicals run off into the waterways supplying the caves. Once this water becomes contaminated, so does the shrimp’s food and habitat. So far, biologists do not believe outside chemicals have polluted the water inside the caves, but the amount of silt (mineral particles) contained in that water has recently increased.

The small number of Kentucky cave shrimp in existence makes the species vulnerable. If a clean water supply to the caves is not maintained, the shrimp could face extinction.

Australian Ant

Description and biology

Biologists (people who study living organisms) have identified about 9,500 species of ants (the actual number of ant species on Earth may be two or three times that many). The Australian ant, also known as the dinosaur ant, is considered one of the most primitive ants alive.

Workers measure approximately 0.4 inch (1 centimeter) long and are golden yellow. They have long jaws and a single waist node (narrow area where the abdomen attaches to the thorax or chest).

Their stings are very strong and effective. The ants have a sound–producing organ on their abdomens that they use to create a barely audible chirp. In related ant species, this organ is located on the back.

Australian ants emerge from their nests shortly after nightfall to forage for insects. They do not return to their nests until just before dawn. Biologists believe most ant species use scent markers to navigate.

As they travel above ground, ants lay down a chemical from a gland located at the tip of their abdomen. After they have collected enough food, the ants return to their nests by following these odor trails.

An ant colony is an all–female society. Queens are winged females who produce young. Workers, soldiers, and other specialized members of a colony are all wingless, infertile females (these are the ones normally seen traveling above ground).

The only function of winged males is to impregnate or fertilize virgin queens. Once they have done so, these males die. Once a queen has mated with numerous males, she stores the sperm and returns to the nest. She then lays her eggs.

Those eggs that are fertilized with the sperm develop into females. Unfertilized eggs develop into males. Females become queens or workers depending on the type of food they are fed during their larval (immature) stage.

In Australian ant colonies, virgin queens and males are produced in late spring and early autumn. Although biologists have not witnessed mating activity, they believe the queens and the males leave their colonies in late summer to mate in flight.

Habitat and current distribution

Australian ants are found only in the Australian state of South Australia. They occupy several sites in an area measuring less than 0.4 square mile (1 square kilometer). Their total population number is unknown.

These ants prefer to inhabit woodlands dominated by tall eucalyptus trees. The ground in these areas is covered with a thin layer of leaf debris. Few herbs or grasses grow there. Nests are located underground and have concealed entrances.

History and conservation measures

Biologists originally believed this ant species had inhabited only Western Australia. Specimens had been collected there in 1934. In the years following, the ant could not be found.

In 1977, a site was discovered in South Australia, but it was destroyed shortly afterward when workers laid an underground telephone line in the area. Since then, three other sites have been discovered nearby.

Habitat destruction is the major threat to this ant. Human populations are increasing in the Australian ant’s limited range. Fire is also a concern. Bush fires at night could kill large numbers of foraging workers, thus wiping out a colony.

American burying Beetle

Description and biology

The American burying beetle, also known as the giant carrion beetle, is the largest of the North American carrion beetles (those that feed on carrion, or the decaying flesh of dead animals).

This shiny black beetle reaches an average length of 1 to 1.4 inches (2.5 to 3.5 centimeters). It has bright orange or red spots on the plate covering its head, on the plate immediately behind, and on the plates covering its forewings.

These beetles often fight over carrion. Males fight males, and females fight females. When one male and one female remain, they form a couple. Working together, they dig out the soil beneath the carcass (dead body) until it is completely buried about 8 inches (20 centimeters) deep.

In the underground chamber, the beetles coat the carcass with secretions from their mouths and anuses. These secretions strip away the carcass’s fur or feathers while preserving what remains.

In a passageway near the carcass, the female lays her eggs, and they hatch in a few days. The parents then feed the larvae (young) from the decomposing carcass for about 50 days, until the larvae develop into adults.

This complex parental teamwork—both in preparing the carcass and in raising the young—makes the American burying beetle unique among beetle species.

Habitat and current distribution

The American burying beetle is currently found in only four locations: on Block Island in Rhode Island, in a 14–county area of Oklahoma and Arkansas, in two counties in Nebraska, and on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. The combined populations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island number less than 1,000. Total populations in the other areas are unknown.

These beetles inhabit grasslands, pastures, shrub thickets, and oak–hickory forests.

History and conservation measures

The American burying beetle had a range that once extended throughout the eastern and midwestern United States and eastern Canada. Since the 1960s, however, its numbers have been rapidly declining. The beetle has disappeared from 99 percent of its former range.

Scientists are unable to explain exactly why the beetle is vanishing. They believe it might be due to changes in its habitat and food supply. Small animals the beetle uses for food and reproduction, such as mice, are fewer in number.

Meanwhile, competitors such as foxes, skunks, and raccoons have increased in number. Pesticides and insecticides, used primarily on farmland, may have also played a role in the decline of the American burying beetle, but no one is sure exactly how.

Scientists are currently studying the ecology and reproductive habits of the American burying beetle. Efforts to reintroduce the beetle into suitable habitat have begun. The population of American burying beetles on Nantucket Island is a reintroduced one.

Bay Checkerspot Butterfly

Description and biology

The bay checkerspot butterfly is a medium–sized butterfly with a maximum wingspan of 2.25 inches (5.72 centimeters). Females are slightly larger than males. The butterfly’s black upper surface is checkered with bright red and yellow markings. Its yellow underside has sharp black and red patterns.

The life cycle of a bay checkerspot butterfly takes about a year to complete. The insect undergoes four stages: egg, larva, pupa (cocoon), and adult. This four–stage cycle is referred to as a complete metamorphosis (pronounced met–a–MORE–fa–sis) or change.

After mating in early spring, females lay eggs on host plants in batches of 20 to 95. Some females may lay as many as 1,200 eggs in a season, but the normal maximum is 600 to 700.

The eggs soon hatch and the larvae or caterpillars begin feeding on their host plants. By late summer, if the larvae have developed enough or if the plants have begun to dry up from the summer heat, the larvae enter a dormant or resting stage.

When winter rains revive the dry plants, the larvae become active again. In late winter, they enter the pupal, or cocoon, stage, transforming in two weeks into adult bay checkerspot butterflies. The adults feed on the nectar of several plants.

Habitat and current distribution

Bay checkerspot butterflies are known to exist only in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in California. Because the number of butterflies alive each year changes dramatically, the total population size has never been estimated.

This butterfly inhabits grasslands where species of plantain and owl’s clover—the butterfly’s host plants—grow in high numbers.

History and conservation measures

Bay checkerspot butterflies once inhabited numerous areas around the San Francisco Bay, including the San Francisco peninsula, the mountains near San Jose, the Oakland hills, and several spots in Alameda County.

All of these habitat areas were lost as urban development exploded in the region in the twentieth century. The butterflies are currently threatened with the loss of their host plants to animal grazing, brush fires, and introduced grassland plants.

In Santa Clara County, much of the remaining butterfly habitat is on property owned by a landfill corporation. An agreement between the corporation, the San Jose city government, and conservationists (people protecting the natural world) established a butterfly preserve on the property. Other habitat areas are currently being managed to provide protection for the bay checkerspot butterfly.

Corsican swallowtail Butterfly

Description and biology

The Corsican swallowtail butterfly has an average wingspan of just under 3 inches (7.6 centimeters). Its coloring is primarily black and yellow. Its hind wings are each marked by a small red “eye spot” located near the back of the wings. A row of small blue spots highlights the edges of these wings. The butterfly’s tails are small and tapered.

The caterpillar or larval stage of this butterfly eats various plants of a plant family that includes fennel, giant fennel, and wild carrots.

It is often preyed on by wasps. The caterpillar enters the pupal, or cocoon, stage in late spring to transform into an adult butterfly. It emerges from the pupa between May and June and remains active until early August.

Habitat and current distribution

Corsican swallowtail butterflies are found only on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. Corsica, belonging to France, lies about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of the southern coast of France. Sardinia, belonging to Italy, lies just south of Corsica.

These butterflies inhabit open mountainous country at altitudes between 2,000 and 4,900 feet (610 and 1,494 meters).

History and conservation measures

The chief threats to the Corsican swallowtail butterfly are the loss of its food source and its habitat. The plants eaten by the butterfly when it is in its caterpillar stage are burned by shepherds on the islands.

The shepherds claim these plants are poisonous to their sheep. Human development on these islands, such as the building of ski resorts, has also destroyed much butterfly habitat.

Like many other butterfly species, the Corsican swallowtail butterfly is further threatened by amateur and commercial butterfly collectors. Although protected under international treaty, this butterfly is still illegally captured. It is then sold for large sums of money to collectors around the world.

The French government has passed laws protecting this butterfly on the island of Corsica, but the laws are not well enforced and the butterfly has continued to suffer. The Italian government has yet to pass any laws guarding the Corsican swallowtail butterfly on the island of Sardinia.

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing Butterfly

Description and biology

Many biologists (people who study living organisms) believe the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly is the world’s largest butterfly. It has an average head and body length of 3 inches (7.6 centimeters). Females of the species have wingspans measuring more than 10 inches (25.4 centimeters).

Males, which are smaller, have wingspans of about 7 inches (17.8 centimeters). Females and males also differ in color. In females, the upper surfaces of the wings have cream markings on a dark, chocolate–brown background.

In males, the upper surfaces have iridescent yellow, pale blue, and pale green markings on a black background. In both sexes, the abdomen is yellow and the lower surface of the wings where they attach to the butterfly’s body are bright red.

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly has a seven month life span. Females lay large eggs, which measure about 0.16 inch (0.41 centimeter) in diameter, on the leaves of a particular vine. The eggs hatch quickly, and the larvae or caterpillars emerge to begin feeding on these leaves.

The caterpillars exist for four months before entering the pupal, or cocoon, stage to transform into an adult butterfly. After it has metamorphosed (pronounced met–a–MORE–fozed) or changed into an adult, the butterfly may live for another three months.

The adult butterfly has few predators, but its eggs are often eaten by ants. Caterpillars are preyed on by snakes, lizards, toads, and birds such as cuckoos and crow pheasants.

Habitat and current distribution

This butterfly species is found in a few sites in Papua New Guinea, but mainly on the Popondetta Plain in the northern part of the island. Because the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly flies high and is rarely seen, biologists have been unable to determine any population totals.

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterflies inhabit primary and secondary lowland rain forests at elevations up to 1,300 feet (396 meters). Biologists have reported seeing male butterflies swarm around large Kwila trees when they are bearing flowers. Those males that do not visit these flowers are not accepted by females to mate. Biologists cannot explain the reason for this.

History and conservation measures

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly was identified in 1906, when a female specimen was first collected. During the twentieth century, the butterfly’s habitat was broken up by logging operations and farming.

In 1951, the Mt. Lamington volcano erupted, destroying about 100 square miles (259 square kilometers) of prime butterfly habitat.

Large tracts of butterfly habitat in the Popondetta region have been converted into cocoa and rubber plantations. Currently, the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly is threatened by the area’s expanding oil palm industry. Growing human populations in the region pose a further threat as forests are cleared to create urban areas.

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly is protected by international treaties, but illegal capture remains a threat. Collectors around the world will pay large amounts of money to own a specimen of the world’s largest butterfly.

The Papua New Guinea government has passed legislation safeguarding this and other butterfly species on the island. These laws are strictly enforced.

A Wildlife Management Area, covering approximately 27,000 acres (10,800 hectares) of grassland and forest, has been established north of the Popondetta region. Plans to establish more reserves for the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly are in progress.

Hine’s emerald Dragonfly

Description and biology

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly, also known as the Ohio emerald dragonfly, is a fairly large dragonfly. It has a yellow labrum (pronounced LAY–brum; upper part of the mouth), metallic green frons (front of the head capsule), and black leg segments.

On its dark thorax (body segment between the head and abdomen) are two yellow stripes. The second of these stripes is slightly wider and shorter than the first.

Biologists (people who study living organisms) have very little information about this insect’s feeding and breeding habits.

Habitat and current distribution

In 1997, the Hine’s emerald dragonfly was discovered in three separate locations in Mackinac County in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Prior to this discovery, the dragonfly had been sighted at two sites in Illinois and six sites in Wisconsin.

This dragonfly prefers to inhabit bogs, which are areas of wet spongy ground composed chiefly of peat (soil made up mainly of decaying plant matter). In Michigan, this dragonfly was found inhabiting fen meadows, low–lying grassy areas covered wholly or partially with water.

History and conservation measures

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly was originally discovered in Ohio, where it inhabited Logan, Lucas, and Williams counties in the northwestern part of the state. It was also known to inhabit northwest Indiana’s Lake County.

Biologists have not collected specimens from any of these areas since 1953, and they now believe the dragonfly has disappeared completely from this former range.

Habitat destruction is the primary cause for the decline of this species. Wetlands throughout the dragonfly’s former range were drained to create urban and commercial areas. The draining of wetlands remains a major threat to the Hine’s emerald dragonfly.

Saint Helena Giant Earwig

Description and biology

Of the 900 classified species of earwigs in the world, the Saint Helena giant earwig is the largest, with an average body length of 1.4 to 2.1 inches (3.6 to 5.3 centimeters). Males are larger than females. The horny, forceplike pincers extending from the rear of the body measure between 0.6 and 0.9 inch (1.5 and 2.3 centimeters).

Males use their pincers to battle each other over the right to mate with a female. The pincers in females are shorter but more serrated. Both males and females have black bodies and reddish legs. This earwig species is wingless.

The largest Saint Helena giant earwig ever collected is housed in a Belgium museum. It is a male with a total body and pincher length of more than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters). Mating between males and females seems to take place between December and February.

Habitat and current distribution

The Saint Helena giant earwig is found only on the island of Saint Helena, a British dependency (territory) located in the southern Atlantic Ocean about 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) off the southwest coast of Africa. On Saint Helena, the earwig is restricted to Horse Point Plain in the extreme northeast portion of the island.

Horse Point Plain is dry and barren. Small bushes and tufts of grass are the main types of vegetation in the area.

The earwig prefers to live under stones or in the soil near burrows that it uses as escape routes. During the summer rainy season, the insect is active. When the dry season begins, the earwig seeks shelter underground.

History and conservation measures

The Saint Helena giant earwig was discovered on Saint Helena in 1789. Until 1965, the insect was considered quite common on the island.

However, recent searches on Saint Helena have failed to find a single earwig. The reason is that much of its habitat has been altered or destroyed. Soil erosion is widespread because native plants have been cleared from large areas.

Surface rocks in these areas have been removed for use in building human dwellings. As a result, the earwig has been left with an open, barren habitat that affords little protection.

In addition to the loss of its habitat, the Saint Helena giant earwig is further threatened by a number of introduced predators, particularly mice and centipedes.

Unless conservation measures are taken soon, the critically endangered Saint Helena giant earwig faces the real possibility of extinction.

Delhi Sands Flower-loving Fly

Description and biology

The Delhi Sands flower–loving fly is a very large fly, about 1 inch (3.9 centimeters) long. It is orange and brown with bands or dark brown spots on its abdomen. The fly has a long tubular–shaped proboscis (a long, flexible snout). Unlike common houseflies, the Delhi Sands flower–loving fly extracts nectar from flowers.

In this way it has a pollinating function (transferring pollen from one flower’s male parts to another flower’s female parts), like a hummingbird or a honeybee. It is also like the hummingbird in its strong flying, whether it is soaring rapidly up into the air or hovering over a flower while feeding.

The Delhi Sands flower–loving fly goes through a complete metamorphosis (pronounced met–uh–MORE–fuh–sis) in its life cycle, which means it undergoes four stages: egg, larva, pupa (cocoon), and adult.

It exists as an adult fly for only a few weeks in August and September, during which it feeds, mates, lays eggs, and then dies. Before her death, the mother will lay as many as 40 eggs an inch or two beneath the soil in a shady area.

The eggs hatch in about twelve days. The offspring will then spend the majority of their life under the surface of the sand in the larval and pupa stages. It is not known what the larva eats. The life span of the species is about two years.

Habitat and current distribution

The Delhi Sands flower–loving fly is currently found only in tiny areas in San Bernardino and River-side counties, California. The habitat is characterized by fine sandy soil, known as Delhi series sands. There are 11 or 12 known populations of the flies in these sand dunes.

History and conservation measures

Before southern California became so densely populated, the Colton Sand Dune system encompassed about 40 square miles (104 square kilometers) in the Delhi Sands region. It was the largest inland sand dune system in southern California, and the Delhi Sands flower–loving fly probably occurred throughout the system.

In the nineteenth century, citrus and grape farming was introduced to the area, and large areas were cleared of their native plants. In the twentieth century, urban sprawl (the spreading of houses, shopping centers, and other city facilities through previously undeveloped land) reached out to the area.

After widespread construction, the Colton Sand Dune ecosystem had virtually been eliminated. At most, about 1,200 acres (485 hectares) of the original habitat remain; about 98 percent of the ecosystem is gone.

All of the 11 or 12 populations of the Delhi Sands flower–loving fly live in tiny, fragmented pieces of their former habitat, and most of their native plant foods are gone. Estimates of the existing population are in the low hundreds.

In 1993, the Delhi Sands flower–loving fly became the first fly (and the seventeenth insect) to be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed establishing three recovery units within the remaining ecosystem to protect eight of the existing populations. But the fly’s habitat is within privately owned lands, and the pressures from developing communities in the area, which want to clear more land for development, have remained very strong.

The federal courts, working under ESA, have stopped some urban development, notably an emergency route for a medical center, in order to protect the fly’s remaining habitat, but more construction is expected. There has been some political uproar over the idea that a fly’s fate should be placed above the pursuits of humans.

Conservationists, however, have argued that the loss of the Delhi Sands flower–loving fly is not all that is at stake: the loss of this species, should it come to pass, would signal the loss of an entire unique ecosystem, with all its biodiversity (variety of life forms).

Zayante Band-winged Grasshopper

Description and biology

The Zayante band–winged grasshopper is a small brownish-gray grasshopper with blue hind legs. It has dark bands on its front wings, pale yellow hind wings, and bands around its eyes.

Males have an average body length of about half an inch (13.7 to 17.2 millimeters). Females are larger than males, with body lengths of .75 to .85 inch (19.7 to 21.6 millimeters).

Adult Zayante band–winged grasshoppers are active between May and October. When this grasshopper is flushed out of a thicket, it has been observed to fly three to seven feet into the air.

It then lands on bare ground. It is particularly noticeable when it flies because its hind wings are yellow and produce a buzzing sound. Little is known about the life cycle of the species.

Habitat and current distribution

The Zayante band–winged grasshopper is found in Santa Cruz County, California, in the Zayante sand hills habitat, which is a sand parkland comprised of a combination of chaparral (low thickets of shrubs and small trees) and ponderosa pine forests. Within the Zayante sand hills habitat, the grasshopper is concentrated on ridges and hills in areas where plant life is sparse and much of the ground is made up of the loose sand called Zayante soils.

History and conservation measures

The Zayante sand hills ecosystem (the ecological community made up of plants, animals, and microorganisms within their environment) has been severely reduced by human activities such as sand mining, construction of homes and commercial properties, and recreation.

While there was once about 500 to 600 acres (200 to 240 hectares) of the sand parkland, now only about 250 acres (40 hectares), an estimated 40 percent of the former habitat, remains intact.

Another threat to the species is the introduction of nonnative plants to the area, particularly because forest fires, which formerly stopped alien plants from invading, are no longer allowed to occur in the area.

Apparently the shade from new species of trees reduces the usable space for the grasshoppers, while other invading plants move into the space the grasshoppers would otherwise inhabit. Pesticides (chemicals used to kill pests) have also damaged the habitat.

Since the Zayante band–winged grasshopper was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), restrictions have been placed upon sand miners in the area, and the construction of homes and businesses has been minimized.

Research is underway to learn more about the habitat needs of the Zayante band–winged grasshopper. In 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 10,560 acres of land in Santa Cruz County, California, as critical habitat for the endangered Zayante band–winged grasshopper.

Critical habitat is an area that the Fish and Wildlife Service deems essential to the physical and biological needs of the species, providing the appropriate space for population growth and normal behavior.

The designation does not mean that the land will become a reserve or be managed by the government, but the owners will receive education on the conservation of the Zayante band–winged grasshopper.

Blackburn’s Sphinx Moth

Description and biology

The Blackburn’s sphinx moth, called pulelehua in Hawaiian (meaning “flying lehua flower that lasts a short time”), is the largest insect in Hawaii. Its wingspan is 5 inches (12 centimeters).

It is grayish brown and has black bands across the top of its rear wings and orange spots along its abdomen. The forewings are long and narrow and the body is like a rounded stick with tapered ends.

Because the Blackburn’s sphinx moth is very rare, little is known about its habits. However, it is a member of the sphinx moth family and shares many traits with better–known members of this family.

These moths are often called “hummingbird” or “hawk” moths because they are so bird–like in looks and behavior. Like hummingbirds, they are strong fliers notable for the rapid movements of their wings. They feed like hummingbirds by hovering over a flower to sip the nectar.

Sphinx moths usually mate quickly after reaching adulthood. The female sphinx moth may lay as many as 1,000 eggs, usually on the surface of an ’aiea, a native Hawaiian plant that is its preferred host plant. A few days later, the eggs hatch. The male and female die after reproducing.

In its larval (caterpillar) stage, the Blackburn’s sphinx moth is a 3.5– to 4–inch (9– to 10–centimeter) caterpillar, almost the size of a hot dog. The caterpillars can be either bright green or gray with white spots or lines. They are usually called “hornworms” because they have a red or black horn on their abdomen.

The caterpillars feed on plants from the nightshade family, particularly the ’aiea plant, from which they eat the leaves, stems, and flowers. However, this plant is becoming rare—two of the four ’aiea species are listed as endangered.

Blackburn’s sphinx moths also eat plants that have been introduced to Hawaii, such as a variety of tobacco plants, as well as eggplant and tomato. After the larval stage, the insect goes through the pupal (cocoon) stage, for which it goes underground. In this stage, it transforms, to eventually rise up to the surface as an adult moth.

Habitat and current distribution

The Blackburn’s sphinx moth occurs from sea level to 2,500 feet (763 meters) in dry coastal forests. No one knows the number of adult or larval Blackburn’s sphinx moths, but it is believed that there are currently four populations on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui, Kaho’olawe, and Hawaii.

The main population is in Maui at Kanaio, a natural reserve. This population resides in an area that is both publicly and privately owned. Part of the public area is a natural reserve, while another part of the public area is training ground for the Hawaiian National Guard.

History and conservation measures

At one time the Blackburn’s sphinx moth occurred throughout the Hawaiian Islands on Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii. It was most common in Maui. After the 1940s, very few of the species were observed.

In the 1970s, after an extensive search for the species failed to turn up any specimens, it was thought to be extinct. Then, in 1984, a population of Blackburn’s sphinx moth was discovered at Kanaio. Since then, three other populations have been discovered.

The primary threat to the Blackburn’s sphinx moth is the destruction of its habitat by deer and by feral animals (animals that were once domesticated but have become wild), particularly goats.

The animals eat the native plants and trample their roots and seedlings. The native ’aiea plant, which is important to the moth’s survival, is being destroyed rapidly. Because these moths have become so rare, they have become valuable in the international market for insect specimens.

Humans hunt them for trade. Military maneuvers by the National Guard within the moth’s core habitat pose a threat, as do accidental fires in the arid region. Ants and parasitic wasps prey on the eggs and caterpillars.

The Blackburn’s sphinx moth was the first Hawaiian insect to be placed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list. In the early 2000s, research into captive breeding and conservation of the sphinx moth is ongoing.

Work is being done to restore the dry forests that are home to the remaining populations. The ’aiea is being planted in the Kanaio habitat. The military groups that use the training grounds within the habitat are being educated about the moth and its preservation.


Description and biology

Wetas are nocturnal (active at night) grasshoppers with extremely long antennae. The giant wetas are among the largest insects in the world, and the wetapunga is the heaviest of the eleven giant weta species.

It can weigh up to 2.5 ounces (70.9 grams), making it the heaviest insect in the world. The body of an adult female wetapunga may measure 4 inches (10 centimeters) long. With its armored, spiny legs spread out, the insect may reach 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) in length. Males are smaller in size.

Wetapungas have rounded bodies that are various shades of brown in color. They lack wings. Behind their head lies a broad protective shield. This anatomical detail, which was present in some dinosaur species, indicates how primitive these insects are.

Like other weta species, the life cycle of a wetapunga lasts a little over two years. Wetapungas mate and lay eggs during all but the winter months. Mating and egg–laying are usually repeated many times over a period of several days. The male dies soon after the final mating.

After laying all of her eggs, sometimes up to 400 in total, the female also dies. The eggs are approximately 0.27 inch (0.69 centimeter) long and 0.08 inch (0.2 centimeter) wide. They are laid at a depth of up to 0.78 inch (1.98 centimeters) beneath the soil surface. During midsummer, some eggs hatch within three weeks.

Most eggs remain undisturbed in the ground through the winter, hatching after nine or ten months. The newly hatched wetapungas, called nymphs, are pale, mottled miniature versions of the adults. During the two years it takes them to reach adulthood, nymphs molt (shed) their skins about 10 times.

Wetapungas are primarily vegetarian. They venture out at dusk to feed on the leaves of a variety of trees, shrubs, herbs, and grasses. They are preyed on by many animals, including cats, rats, pigs, hedgehogs, birds, tuataras, and lizards.

Habitat and current distribution

Wetapungas once inhabited the main New Zealand islands. Now, they are found only on Little Barrier Island, a small island lying off the northeast coast of North Island (of the main New Zealand islands). They are arboreal (treedwellers). They spend most of their time in kauri, pohutukawa, kanuka, and other broadleaf trees, seldom coming down to the ground.

History and conservation measures

Before humans began settling on New Zealand islands, bats were the only warm–blooded mammals in the New Zealand ecosystem. All species of wetas thrived in safety.

Sometime between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago, native people from Polynesian islands (Maoris) first traveled to the New Zealand islands. They brought with them the kiore, or Polynesian rat. It quickly became a predator of wetas.

When European settlers began arriving in the eighteenth century, they brought to the islands an enormous array of other animals. They cut down the forests for timber and to create farmland, and the whole shape of the New Zealand landscape changed.

Those lands that were not cleared were quickly overrun with rodents, deer, goats, pigs, and opossums. In the 200 years since the arrival of European settlers, over 80 percent of New Zealand’s natural vegetation has disappeared.

All eleven weta species are protected by New Zealand law and their limited habitats have been designated as reserves. However, predators remain in these habitats. Although domestic cats that had been living in the wild on Little Barrier Island have been exterminated, the wetapunga is still threatened by the kiore.

Queen Conch

Description and biology

The queen conch (pronounced KONGK), also called the pink conch, has a heavy, solid, spiral shell with a broad, flaring lip. At maturity, the conch can weight up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) and its shell can reach a length of 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30.5 centimeters). The shell’s exterior is light pink to white in color.

The inside is a glossy pink, yellow, or peach. A row of blunt spines line the upper portion of the shell below the apex (top). Queen conchs are “right–handed”; that is, the shell coils to the right when one looks down on the apex of the shell.

When just a young mollusk, the conch has no bone structure, just a soft body. This body consists of a long and narrow foot, a head with yellow eyes on the end of two protruding stalks, and a snout–like mouth between them. A pair of slender tentacles also appear on the head. A fleshy covering of yellow or orange skin, called the mantle, encloses the foot and head.

At the end of the conch’s foot is a sickle–shaped claw called an operculum (pronounced o–PER–cue–lum). The conch uses its operculum to dig into the sea floor to pull its body forward in short hops and to right itself when turned over.

The shell of a young conch does not have the flaring lip of an adult. It is very delicate. The spines are pointed and not yet blunted. The shell is composed mainly of calcium carbonate.

The mantle of the conch excretes this material as a fluid, which quickly hardens to a crystal form. As the conch ages, it continues to build its shell, increasing the thickness. The shell can grow as much as 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) per year. The lip begins to develop after two to three years.

Queen conchs are primarily nocturnal, emerging at night to feed on a variety of algae species and sea grasses. Young conchs are preyed on by crabs, sharks, loggerhead turtles, groupers, snappers, and octopi. Adult conchs are preyed on mainly by humans.

Female queen conchs breed during the summer months in shallow waters in sandy areas behind reefs. After mating with a male, the female stores the sperm for several weeks until she is ready to release her eggs.

A female can lay eight or more egg masses each season. An egg mass consists of a single continuous sticky tube that contains between 400,000 and 750,000 eggs. The tube folds back on itself, producing a slightly curved mass.

Once the eggs are laid, the female releases the stored sperm to fertilize them. The eggs hatch after three to five days, and the shelled larvae emerge to begin their period of development. Queen conchs have an estimated life span of six to ten years. Some may live longer.

Habitat and current distribution

The queen conch is found in Bermuda, southeast Florida, and the West Indies. Actual population numbers are currently unknown. The queen conch has declined near areas inhabited by humans, but it may still be common in more remote areas.

The species inhabits sandflats, gravel, and coral rubble in shallow warm water near islands and coral reefs where sea grass is abundant. As they mature, the conchs move from shallow, inshore sands to deeper offshore sites.

Although they have been found in water at depths up to 400 feet (122 meters), it is rare for conchs to inhabit water deeper than 70 feet (21 meters).

History and conservation measures

The queen conch has always served as an important food source for people in the Caribbean. The protein–rich meat of the conch makes a nutritious meal. But rising human populations throughout the Caribbean have brought increased pressures on the conch.

Not only is it eaten, it is also sought out by fishermen for use as bait. And its shell is highly prized by tourists from around the world. The queen conch is now rare in areas where it formerly was common, such as the Florida Keys.

Captive–breeding programs have so far proved useless. Although the conch is easy to raise in captivity, it does not fare well when placed back in its ocean habitat. Predators quickly eat captive–bred young conchs.

The queen conch is protected by international treaties. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources placed the species in a commercially threatened status in the 1990s, but later removed it. Greater enforcement of these restrictions is necessary to ensure the survival of the species.


Description and biology

A medium–sized freshwater mussel, the fanshell measures about 3.2 inches (8.1 centimeters) long. Its shell is yellowish–green with fine green lines across the surface. The inside of the shell is gray–white. It feeds on plant material it removes from the water through a tube called a siphon. Muskrats are known predators of this mussel.

The reproductive cycle of the fanshell is complex. In the spring, a male releases sperm that is carried away by stream currents. A female takes in this sperm as she is feeding, and the eggs stored in her gills are fertilized. When the eggs hatch, the glochidia (pronounced glow–KID–ee–a; larval forms of the mussel) develop in the female’s gills.

After a while, the glochidia are released from the gills into the stream and they attach themselves to the gills of a passing fish (those glochidia that do not attach themselves to a host fish sink to the bottom of the stream and die).

The glochidia remain attached to the fish until they begin to develop a shell and are large enough to survive on their own. They detach from the fish and fall to the stream bottom, burying themselves until only their shell margins (edges) and feeding siphons are exposed.

Habitat and current distribution

Populations of breeding fanshells are found in only three locations: in Clinch River in Tennessee and Virginia, in Green River in Kentucky, and in Licking River in Kentucky. Additional populations are scattered throughout eight other rivers, but these fanshells are older and are no longer reproducing.

Like other North American freshwater mussels, fanshells need clean, undisturbed stream habitats. Any silt (mineral particles) or sediment (sand and stones) in the water can pose a serious threat. It can clog their siphons and ultimately kill them.

History and conservation measures

The fanshell was once found in 26 rivers running through 7 states. It has declined in number because of major, harmful changes to its habitat. The construction of dams on rivers and the mining of sand and gravel from river bottoms have combined to destroy much of the fanshell’s habitat.

Pollution has become another serious threat. In Clinch River, coal mining operations and toxic spills from a power plant have killed a considerable number of fish and mussels.

The fanshell will survive only if its remaining habitat is protected.