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Eastern massasauga, a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection.

The eastern massasauga is a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection. These small rattlesnakes give birth to their young in late August.

Photo by Dick Dickensen

August 2014


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As its name suggests, threatened Michigan monkey-flower is endemic to the state, growing nowhere else in the world. An aquatic to semi-aquatic plant, it prefers cold, alkaline springs and streams found in the cedar swamps of northern Michigan. It flourishes in tree canopy openings and along forest edges where it flowers abundantly in full sunlight.
Michigan monkey-flower blooms from mid-June to August with bright yellow, snapdragon-like blossoms. However, most plants are sterile, so the flowers do not produce viable seeds. Populations persist by spreading through rhizomes (root-like stems), forming dense mats that sometimes break off and float to new areas to colonize.
Ozark big-eared bats (Corynorhinus townsendii ingens), with ears that are 1/3 the length of their body, are found in the Ozark Highlands and Boston Mountains in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Believed to no longer live in historic range in Missouri, cavers recently reported a potential sighting in a southwest Missouri cave.
Ozark big-eared bats live in caves year-round, but roost in different caves, depending on the season. In October and November, colonies form near caves where they hibernate during winter. These colonies gradually break up during spring and pregnant females congregate in warm maternity caves to give birth and rear their young during summer.
Karner blue butterflies typically have two “flight periods” during the summer. A flight period is the time that adult butterflies emerge and reproduce. In spring, caterpillars hatch from eggs laid the previous summer. Over a five to six week period, they feed and then pupate into adults; so the first flight period is usually in early summer.
Karner blue butterflies that are adults during the first flight of summer lay eggs that eventually produce adults for the second flight of summer, from late July to early August. Eggs laid during this second flight lie dormant over winter and hatch the following spring. During the hot summer of 2012, some caterpillars developed quickly enough to start a third flight! An example of how climate change may alter a species’ life history, affecting its survival.
The Wisconsin Karner Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), the first statewide HCP, provides landscape scale conservation planning and management. The Plan ensures activities like road maintenance and timber harvests throughout Karner range in Wisconsin are done in ways that conserve Karners and their habitat. Fish and Wildlife biologist (retired) Cathy Carnes began working on Karner recovery in 1992, helping develop and carry out the HCP.
As you read the Daily Facts, you may notice that some endangered species have very specific habitat needs. “The rare, highly specialized species are the best indicators of environmental degradation. They are less tolerant of change, and therefore sound the warning sooner when the environment is being degraded in a way that is destructive to plants and animals.” From Dragonflies of Indiana by James R. Curry (2012)
United Nations’ International Day of the World's Indigenous People is August 9 each year. This event recognizes achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve world issues such as environmental protection. Native Americans, including Midwest Tribes, integrate their unique cultural and traditional values with modern biological management techniques to conserve fish and wildlife.
Running buffalo clover, an endangered plant found in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia, has been lost from Arkansas, Illinois, and Kansas. This clover doesn’t look much different than the Eurasian clover that invades suburban lawns, but it coexisted with bison.
Running buffalo clover is a remnant of ecosystems maintained by grazing bison, and in its day served as fodder for these large animals. Bison are thought to have helped maintain open habitat that this clover needs to survive. As European settlers moved westward, there was a swift decline in deer, elk and bison. East of the Mississippi River, bison were hunted so intensely that they were extinct in Kentucky by 1800.
Once widespread in the Midwest, running buffalo clover was thought extinct from 1940 until 1985. Then, two populations were found in West Virginia. Since then, a number of populations have been found in five of the eight states of this species' original distribution.
In 1990, running buffalo clover was re-discovered in Missouri where it was thought extirpated. A Missouri Department of Conservation botanist had topsoil delivered to his house for gardening. Before spreading the soil, seeds germinated, so he let them grow. Surprisingly, several running buffalo clover plants sprang up. These newly discovered plants were propagated and used in Missouri re-introductions.
Interested in helping with scientific research? Check out Citizen Science projects on Scientific American’s site where you can search for projects around the country. Or you can join Journey North's Citizen Science project just for bats. Submit sightings and see a map of reported bats across North America. Journey North also monitors monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, whooping cranes, gray whales and more.
North American streams, rivers and lakes support the richest diversity of freshwater mollusks in the world. Over 650 species of snails and 300 species of freshwater mussels have been described by scientists so far; found in all types of aquatic habitat, with the greatest diversity found in flowing streams.
Freshwater mussels serve vital functions in freshwater ecosystems. These amazing animals are essentially living water filters, moving as much as eight gallons of water per day through their internal filtration systems.
Mussels serve as indicators of ecosystem health because they remain essentially in one place for a long time and require good water quality. They are frequently used as “biological monitors” to indicate past and present water and sediment quality in rivers and lakes.
The Tippecanoe River supports Indiana’s most diverse mussel community with six federally endangered species (clubshell, fanshell, rayed bean, sheepnose, snuffbox, and rabbitsfoot) and additional state-listed mussels. The Midwest’s 2012 drought stressed many mussel communities including in the Tippecanoe where water levels reached historic lows. Mussels became stranded and died as water levels in the river dropped.
Sometimes called sea cows, endangered West Indian manatees are found along the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean. Eating aquatic vegetation, they grow to about 10 feet long and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds.
Manatees often rest just below the water’s surface with only their snout above water, making them vulnerable to boat collisions. Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge offers a safe haven.
Less than a century ago, eastern prairie white-fringed orchids were widespread across the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes states, with outlier populations in Oklahoma, Virginia, New Jersey and Maine. In 1927 Illinois botanist Herman Pepoon called them a “blanket of white on the moist low prairie.” After a range decline of more than 70 percent, this orchid was listed as threatened.
Of the many species of hawk moths, also called sphinx moths, three are known to pollinate eastern prairie fringed orchids. Hawk moths tend to be large; people sometimes mistake the day-flying ones for hummingbirds. Hawk moths pollinate orchids accidently by picking up pollen on their mouth parts when they feed on nectar and deposit some of that pollen as they visit other flowers.
Researchers found that eastern prairie fringed orchids were not producing viable seeds in a quantity to maintain or increase populations. The cause is uncertain, perhaps low numbers of hawk moths or numbers of orchids too low to attract the moths. The eastern prairie fringed orchid recovery group began hand-pollinating orchids in the early 1990s to improve seed production and genetic variability.
A dedicated band of volunteers hand-pollinate eastern prairie fringed orchids in northeastern Illinois. In addition, these 70 volunteers collect seed, count orchids on their site, evaluate habitat, and collect data on the health of the plants. Most volunteers also help improve habitat by clearing brush and removing invasive species, some put up wire cages to protect orchids from deer, and many help burn prairies periodically.
The endangered short-tailed albatross is among the world’s largest, and most imperiled, seabirds. This North Pacific flyer has a wingspan up to 7 ½ feet and can live up to 45 years. Its long, narrow wings are adapted to soaring low over the ocean. They begin breeding at about 7 or 8 years, and mate for life.
During the late 1800s, feather hunters clubbed to death five million short-tailed albatrosses, stopping when the species was nearly extinct. In the 1930s, volcanic eruptions damaged habitat on the only active nesting island in Japan, leaving fewer than 50 birds. Modern threats include drowning on commercial longline gear, entanglement in derelict fishing gear, ingestion of plastic debris and contamination from oil spills.
Millions of short-tailed albatrosses once bred in the western North Pacific on several islands south of the main islands of Japan. Only two breeding colonies remain today. Single nests occasionally occur on other islands, including Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The world population is currently estimated to be about 1200 breeding-age birds.
The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This small rattlesnake lives in shallow wetlands and adjacent uplands in portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. It is listed as state endangered in every state where it is found, except Michigan, where it is a species of special concern.
Massasauga means "great river mouth" in Chippewa, so named because this snake is usually found in river bottom forests and nearby fields. Massasaugas like mesic (i.e., moderately moist) prairies and lowland places, for instance, along rivers, lakes and marshes.
Massasaugas breed in spring and fall. From 8 to 20 young are born in late August. Massasaugas are ovoviviparous, which means that the eggs hatch in the body of the mother and young are born live rather than from an external egg. Newborn snakes are about as thick as a lead pencil and could wrap around a silver dollar.
Massasaugas often give birth under a log, wood pile, or in abandoned mammal burrows. Young stay inside the "nest" for about 4 or 5 days while they shed their skin the first of many times. Maturing into adults within 2 to 3 years, massasaugas can live up to 14 years.
Last updated: July 24, 2014