Aug 30

Beyond the signature kangaroo or koala, did you know that Australia is also home to a wide range of lesser-known and somewhat bizarre-looking species such as the spotted handfish or the southern hairy-nosed wombat?  With astounding habitats including Barrow Island, the Great Barrier Reef, and the outback, we thought we would take the opportunity to highlight just some of the unique species found in this spectacular land!

Weedy wader Leafy seadragon swimming

The leafy seadragon is endemic to Australia, meaning it is found nowhere else on Earth. Living in shallow coastal waters, these slow-moving creatures call underwater seagrass meadows home, blending in perfectly due to their leaf-like appendages.

King croc

Immature saltwater crocodile swimming underwater

The largest of all crocodilians, the saltwater crocodile roams both the land and sea. By using its powerful tail and webbed hind feet, this species is an effective aquatic predator. The saltwater crocodile feasts on large land animals such as wallabies, dingoes, and even humans!

The face of climate change

Found only in northern Australia, the lemuroid ringtail possum may become Australia’s first victim of global climate change. Being unable to withstand temperatures over 86°F (30°C), this species is extremely vulnerable to heatwaves, which are expected to increase in frequency as the climate changes. In fact, a heatwave in 2005 was thought to have wiped out the entire population until a few individuals were finally discovered in 2009.

Misunderstood marsupial

Adult Tasmanian devil

Known for its frightening nocturnal screeches, the Tasmanian devil is the largest of the carnivorous marsupials. Contrary to its savage reputation, the Tasmanian devil is actually quite shy and is only aggressive when feeling threatened or when in competition with other devils.

Snack and swim

Dugong with remoras

Strictly feeding on plants, the dugong is often referred to as the ‘sea cow’, but it is actually more closely related to elephants than cows! Found off the coast of northern Australia, the dugong uses its flexible upper lip to rip whole plants apart, leaving ‘feeding trails’ on the sea floor. What a messy eater!

Water-free wallaby

Black-footed rock wallaby with young on rock

Found throughout Australia, the black-footed wallaby lives its life in groups of 10 to 100 individuals. Found primarily in rock piles and granite outcrops, this wallaby feasts mostly on grasses and fruit, and, interestingly, obtains nearly all of its water through its food.

Burrow builder

Southern hairy-nosed wombat

An expert digger, the southern hairy-nosed wombat is able to construct burrows that support a constant inside temperature of 78°F in the summer and 57.2 °F in the winter. These burrows are often formed as networks of up to thirty meters long that can host five to ten wombats.

Smooth sailing

Sugar glider on branch preparing to leap

The softly furred sugar glider uses the membrane along its body to glide distances of up to 150 feet between trees. This agile possum also has a rather distinctive alarm call, which is said to resemble a yapping dog!

Cultural croaker

Northern corroboree frog

Found only in the northern Australian Alps and the Australian Capital Territory, the northern corroboree frog has a local cultural story attached to its name. ‘Corroboree’ is an aboriginal word used to describe a gathering, where traditionally attendees are adorned with brightly colored yellow markings similar to those of this frog.

Aquatic ambler

Spotted handfish

A fish with ‘hands’ that can walk the ocean floor? It’s true! The spotted handfish, one of the world’s most endangered fish, is able to use its characteristic ‘hand-like’ fins to walk the sea floor, occasionally sucking on prey like shrimp and small fish. Threatened by development, a restricted distribution and a low reproductive rate, the spotted handfish population may be restored in the future through successful re-introduction programs.

If you’re looking to continue your ‘walkabout’ around Australia on ARKive, check out the new Barrow Island topic page or search the 1,200+ Australian species on ARKive today. Feel free to share your favorite Aussie species in the comments below!

Jade Womack, Education & Outreach Intern, Wildscreen USA

Aug 17
Photo of Salvin's mushroomtongue salamander on a leaf

Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander (Bolitoglossa salvinii)

Species: Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander (Bolitoglossa salvinii)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander lives in trees, where it uses its thick, prehensile tail and webbed feet to help it grip onto leaves.

More information:

A strikingly coloured amphibian, Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander belongs to an unusual group of amphibians known as ‘lungless salamanders’. The members of this group lack lungs and instead absorb oxygen through their skin and their mouth lining. Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander actively climbs around in trees in search of invertebrate prey, which it catches using its remarkable projectile tongue, which can be shot out at great speed. Females of this species lay small clutches of eggs in damp places on land, and the eggs hatch directly into miniature versions of the adults, rather than going through a tadpole stage.

Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander originally inhabited forests in southern Guatemala and possibly also in El Salvador. However, much of its habitat has been lost and fragmented, mainly due to clearance for agriculture. Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander is now mostly found in shaded coffee and banana plantations, as well as sugarcane fields, but any clearance of these to create more open, drier habitats would negatively impact upon its populations. As yet, there is no direct evidence that the fungal disease chytridiomycosis is responsible for the declines in this and other Central American salamanders, but it is possible that it has played a role. There are currently no specific conservation measures in place for Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander, but maintaining moist, shaded habitats will be important to its survival. A number of protected areas have been proposed within its range, which could potentially benefit this unusual amphibian in the future.

 

Find out more about amphibian conservation at:

See more images of Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

May 24

Amphibian species in the United States are declining at an alarming rate, according to a new study published this week.

Photo of pickerel frog

Even common amphibians such as the pickerel frog are undergoing declines

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, gives the first estimate of how rapidly frogs, toads and salamanders in the U.S. are disappearing. Carried out by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), under the auspices of the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, the research was undertaken over 9 years and looked at 48 amphibian species.

Worryingly, the results showed that amphibian populations across the country are affected, and even species that were thought to be stable and widespread are showing declines. Even more alarmingly, these declines are also occurring in protected areas such as national parks and wildlife refuges.

Significant concern

On average, the populations of the amphibians studied were disappearing at a rate of 3.7% a year. If this continues, these species would disappear from half of their current habitat in the next 20 years.

Photo of Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog in habitat

The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog is listed as Endangered by the IUCN

Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said Michael Adams, the lead author of the study. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

The outlook is even worse for species already listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, which are vanishing at a rate of 11.6% each year. At this rate, these species could disappear from half the habitats they currently occupy in just six years.

Amphibians have been a constant presence in our planet’s ponds, streams, lakes and rivers for 350 million years or so, surviving countless changes that caused many other groups of animals to go extinct,” said Suzette Kimball, USGS Director. “This is why the findings of this study are so noteworthy; they demonstrate that the pressures amphibians now face exceed the ability of many of these survivors to cope.”

Photo of Flatwoods salamander on sand

The Flatwoods salamander is under threat from the loss and degradation of its habitat

Causes of amphibian declines

The study did not look at the causes of the amphibian declines, but amphibians worldwide are known to be facing a wide range of threats, including habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and disease, particularly the deadly fungal disease chytridiomycosis.

The surprise finding that amphibians are declining even in areas managed for conservation, such as national parks, suggests that the factors affecting these species are widespread.

The declines of amphibians in these protected areas are particularly worrisome because they suggest that some stressors – such as diseases, contaminants and drought – transcend landscapes,” said Michael Adams. “The fact that amphibian declines are occurring in our most protected areas adds weight to the hypothesis that this is a global phenomenon with implications for managers of all kinds of landscapes, even protected ones.”

Photo of Arroyo toad, close up

The Arroyo toad, another Endangered U.S. amphibian

Amphibians are important components of healthy ecosystems, providing food for other animals and helping to control pests. They also provide a source of medicines for humans, and are beautiful and fascinating creatures in their own right.

According to Brian Gratwicke of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, “[These findings are] very bad news for amphibians. Now, more than ever, we need to confront amphibian declines in the U.S. and take actions to conserve our incredible frog and salamander biodiversity.”

 

Read more on this story at the U.S. Geological Survey press release and Scientific American blog.

Find out more about amphibian conservation at ARKive’s amphibian conservation page and at the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative.

View photos and videos of amphibians from the United States on ARKive.

You can also have a go at becoming a conservation superhero and helping save amphibians on ARKive’s online game, Team WILD!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

May 17
With a third of the world’s amphibians, a quarter of all mammals and one in eight birds thought to be endangered, raising the public profile of these species and their plight is essential if we are to succeed in rescuing these species from the brink of extinction.  
 
Endangered Species Day, which was started by the United States Senate back in 2006, gives people the chance to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species through events and activities, and highlights the everyday actions that everybody can take to help protect the natural world. 
 

This year Endangered Species Day is on the 17th of May and here at ARKive to show our support we have decided to showcase some of the less well known endangered species.

Greater bamboo lemur 

Once widespread throughout Madagascar, the greater bamboo lemur is now restricted to just 1-4% of its historic range. The largest of the bamboo lemurs, this species was believed to be extinct for almost 50 years until it was rediscovered in 1972. The main threats to the greater bamboo lemur is habitat destruction by slash and burn agriculture, mining and illegal logging.  

Spoon-billed sandpiper

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a small, attractive bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill. As this species has very particular habitat requirements, only breeding in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation within six kilometres of the sea, habitat loss and alteration have greatly impacted upon it. Recent population surveys have shown that numbers of this species are declining rapidly. However, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust are taking action to save this species by setting up a conservation breeding programme to buy some time while the major problems are tackled.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey 

Presumed to be extinct before its rediscovery in 1989, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is an unusual and distinctive-looking monkey. With its broad, flattened face, pale blue rings around the eyes and thick, pink lips, it almost has a comical appearance. The range of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey has been greatly reduced by massive deforestation and intensive hunting. The total population of this monkey may number only around 200 to 250 individuals, and these are fragmented into small subpopulations which are unable to interbreed.

Vaquita

The vaquita is a small and slender porpoise species endemic to Mexico. In 2007 it was estimated that only about 150 vaquitas remained in the world. The main threat to this species is drowning after becoming entangled in gill nets and trawl nets, which is estimated to be claiming the lives of 39 to 84 vaquitas each year.

Chinese giant salamander

 Growing up to 1.8 metres in length, the Chinese giant salamander holds the record for being the largest salamander in the world. This fully aquatic amphibian is well adapted to its lifestyle in the mountain streams of China. As a result of habitat alteration, stream pollution and over-collection for its flesh, which is considered a delicacy in Asia, populations of the Chinese giant salamander have dropped by more than 80% since the 1960s. 
 

 

Ploughshare tortoise 

Endemic to Madagascar, the ploughshare tortoise is one of the rarest land tortoises in the world. Classified as Critically Endangered, this tortoise faces several threats, including habitat loss from bush fires and predation of eggs and young by the introduced bush pig. The primary threat to the ploughshare tortoise is illegal collection for the international pet trade, which has escalated in recent years. This situation is made worse due to this species’ slow growth rate and low breeding potential, which reduces the ability of populations to recover.
 

Coco-de-mer

A giant of the plant world, the coco-de-mer is a palm species which produces the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world. Endemic to the Seychelles, the Endangered coco-de-mer has already been lost from three of the Seychelles islands in its former range. The main threat to this plant species is the collection of its seeds, which has almost stopped all natural regeneration of population’s.

Saola

The saola is an unusual, long-horned bovid which was discovered as recently as 1992. The entire range of the saola is found in a narrow area of forest on the border between Vietnam and Laos. Classified as Critically Endangered, the saola is increasingly threatened as a result of hunting, as well as habitat loss and habitat fragmentation due to the development of infrastructure within its small range.   

Titicaca water frog

Endemic to Lake Titicaca, the Titicaca water frog is the largest truly aquatic frog and can weigh up to 1 kg. While its extremely loose skin gives it a bizarre appearance, the skin is very rich in capillaries, enabling the frog to remain underwater without having to surface for air. Unfortunately, the Titicaca water frog is under great threat as a result of over-collection for human consumption.

Estuarine pipefish

Believed to be extinct in the early 1990s until being rediscovered in 1995, the estuarine pipefish is still at risk of extinction. The loss of this pipefish from the majority of its former range is thought to be due to construction of upstream dams. These developments restrict the supply of fresh water which brings with it essential nutrients required by the phytoplankton upon which the food chain depends.

 These are just a few of the species which need our help – find out more about endangered species by visiting our Endangered Species topic page.

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

Apr 27
Photo of golden frog on leaf

Golden frog (Mantella aurantiaca)

Species: Golden frog (Mantella aurantiaca)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The toxins in the golden frog’s skin are obtained from its diet, and are lacking in captive-bred individuals that are fed on non-toxic prey.

The golden frog is a small, poisonous frog found only in a very small part of central-eastern Madagascar. As its name suggests, its skin is usually bright yellow, orange or red, and contrasts with its black eyes. The tips of its digits have adhesive pads. This tiny frog only grows to just over two centimetres in length, with females being slightly larger than males. It lives in damp, swampy areas of forest and breeds after the first heavy rains of the year. The golden frog lays its eggs in leaf litter, moss or under bark, and after the tadpoles hatch they either wriggle to water or are washed into pools by rain.

Its bright colouration makes the golden frog popular in the pet trade, and over-collection still occurs in some areas, although it is not yet known whether this is affecting the frog’s population. The golden frog is listed on Appendix II of CITES, which should regulate international trade in this species, and import of wild-caught individuals to the EU has been banned since 2006. A potentially more serious threat is the severe fragmentation of this species’ remaining habitat. This colourful frog is bred in captivity in a number of zoos and other institutions around the world, but it will also be vital to protect its remaining habitat if it is to survive in the wild.

Find out more about amphibian conservation at ARKive’s amphibian conservation page, Amphibian Ark and the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group.

See images of the golden frog on ARKive.

Is the golden frog your favourite species? Vote for it now in our World’s Favourite Species campaign!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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