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Rediscoveries, Recovery and Other Good News for Endangered Species

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Every few months, I try to point out that the news about endangered species isn’t all doom and gloom. Oh sure, most of the stories I cover are pretty depressing, but then I come across the success stories that make it all worthwhile.


First up, we have this week’s announcement that the Lake Erie water snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) no longer needs to be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because it has recovered from its previously threatened state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are now about 11,980 of the snakes in their key habitats, double the number needed under the ESA to declare the species recovered.

The water snake is the 23rd species to be removed from the endangered species list due to recovery. It was listed as an endangered species in 1999 after years of habitat loss and humans needlessly killing the non-venomous snakes. A public awareness campaign helped inform people that the species was not dangerous. They also benefited from a new food source: invasive round gobies (Neogobius melanstomus), which crowded out many native fish and amphibians but now represents 90 percent of the Lake Erie water snake’s diet.


Several species of other animals have been rediscovered recently, decades after they were last seen or were believed to have gone extinct.

A freshwater mussel known as the false spike (Quadrula mitchelli) was rediscovered in San Saba River in Texas, the first real evidence of the species’s existence in 30 years. This isn’t exactly great news for the mussel, as they didn’t discover a live specimen, just a shell with some tissue inside, but it’s a start.

It’s also been about three decades since the Silurian moth (Eriopygodes imbecilla) was last seen in Britain, but it has now been observed for the first time in 1976. Moth expert Dave Grundy told the BBC that “the moth behaved very oddly in the trap, running round in circles. We wondered whether this was the reason for its scientific name…which roughly translates as ‘idiot.’”

A lichen species called Caloplaca haematites—not seen in more than 120 years—was found once again at Goodworth Clatford in the U.K. According to the BBC, conservationists had feared the lichen was driven into extinction in Britain by air pollution and a decline in traditional orchards, which, as we previously covered here in Extinction Countdown, were replaced by industrialized farming.

Also unseen for more than a century was Salvia peyronii boiss, a plant only observed once in Lebanon in the 19th century. But two French botanists spent the last 10 years looking for it and finally rediscovered it this year in the Jabal Moussa nature reserve. The exact location of the plant is not being disclosed to protect it from people who might accidentally or purposefully damage it.


Finally, a rare feline is slightly less rare today as a sand cat (Felis margarita) has given birth to a kitten at Israel’s Zoological Center of Tel Aviv–Ramat Gan. Sand cats live throughout the Sahara and Arabian deserts, but they are extinct in Israel. Of course, because the endangered kitten is extremely cute, the story was covered by dozens of media outlets.

Photo: Lake Erie water snake, courtesy of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Lou Jost 6:53 pm 08/17/2011

    Here is a rediscovery story that does not end well: in 1857 the great Scottish botanist discovered a remarkable liverwort, Myriocolea irrorata, on the margins of the Rio Topo. It was so odd he put it in its own genus, and even gave it its own subfamily. Then it was lost for a century and a half. In 2002 Rob Gradstein, Noelle Noske, and I rediscovered it on same stretch of the Topo. The news of this discovery coincided with the news that a hydroelectric project would be built on the Topo. We fought this for many years, winning and losing court battles, etc. The people of Topo blockaded the access road for the last few months to keep the construction from beginning, but two weeks ago the government sent in 200-300 police against the 70 residents of Topo, and dragged the road-sitters (mostly women) off. The project will be built, and the newly rediscovered plant will probably become extinct.

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  2. 2. Lou Jost 6:55 pm 08/17/2011

    P.S. This was in Ecuador.

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  3. 3. da bahstid 8:52 pm 08/17/2011

    That’s awful to hear Lou. But it’s completely unsurprising.

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