CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – West Virginia is the home to a whole host of interesting and unique flora and fauna. However, there are some species in the state that are under threat of disappearing.
In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed, allowing organizations and individuals to petition for the listing and categorization of endangered species in the nation. With this, organizations were able to establish protections for plants and animals that were listed as being endangered or threatened.
According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), the mountain state is the “permanent home to 22 federally endangered species (17 animals, four plants) and seven federally threatened species (five animals, two plants).”
Among the species the WVDNR have listed, three are listed as being occasional or accidental visitors, whereas three others, within the permanent resident list, are only found in West Virginia.
So who are these endangered/threatened animals and plants that have chosen to visit/stay in West Virginia?
The full, updated WVDNR list can be found here.
Federally Endangered Species (FES):
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) was listed as a FES in 1967 due to “human disturbance of caves that bats use for winter hibernating.” While the namesake indicates where these bats can be typically found, they can still be spotted in West Virginia, thus allowing them a space on the WVDNR’s endangered species list.
The gray bat (Myotis grisescens) is the largest bat species in the eastern United States and was listed as a FES in 1976 due to human disturbance of their caves. According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, gray bats have very specific requirements when it comes to their preferred cave. As a result, about 95% of the population hibernates in less than 20 caves in the country. They are listed as accidental, meaning they have appeared well away from their usual locations, making them vagrants.
Pink Mucket Pearlymussel
Pink mucket pearlymussel (Lampsilis abrupta) was declared a FES in 1976 due to their streams being dammed, dredged and channelized. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, they tend to live in large streams bedded with gravel and sand where they spend their entire lives buried in the streambed acting as filter feeders.
Virginia Big-eared Bat
The Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus) was added to the FES list in 1979. Its decline can be attributed to human disturbance, which can cause bats to lose stored fat reserves if during hibernation, or cause female bats to drop their young to their deaths if during the maternity season. Such disturbances can ultimately cause the whole colony to move to a less suitable location. The species has also had to deal with the fungal infection known as white-nose syndrome in the past.
Harperella (Ptilimnium nodosum) became part of the FES list in 1988 and is part of the carrot family. “Because harperella does not occur on federal land, it receives no direct protection from federal management,” according to a fact sheet from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The plant has faced threats from water impoundments or diversions, siltation caused by heavy construction, construction and agriculture, stream acidification from mining and drainage of coastal plain ponds.
Shale Barren Rockcress
Shale barren rockcress (Arabis serotina) was entered into the FES list in 1989 and is found in the mustard family. In a recovery plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s established that the plant is “jeopardized by drought, habitat degradation, stochastic events, herbivory, and other biotic factors.” Deer in particular have proven to be a major contributor in the destruction of the plant. It suffers from its small populations that tend to grow in specialized habitats.
Fanshell (Cyprogenia stegaria) was added to the FES in 1990. A fact sheet from the Natural Resources Conservation Service states that on top of the usual interference humans can cause for freshwater mussels, such as the polluting of its habitat, the construction of dams, levies and channels, dredging and more, these creatures are also under threat from invasive zebra mussels, which can quickly out-compete and overwhelm native populations. The sheet also states that “possession of mussels is now illegal in West Virginia, and a permit is required to collect for scientific purposes.”
Purple Cat’s Paw Pearlymussel
Purple cat’s paw pearlymussel (Epioblasma obliquata obliquata) was declared a FES in 1990. A recovery plan described the cause of these dwindling populations to be from mussels losing river sections to impoundments. These impoundments affected the availability of the mussel’s fish host, which are needed for their reproduction cycle. Other potential threats included: gravel dredging, channel maintenance and commercial mussel fishing. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was thought that they were on the verge of extinction until 1994, when surveyors found a reproducing population in Killbuck Creek, Ohio, which was then used to help repopulate other areas.
The northeastern bulrush (Scirpus ancistrochaetus) was declared a FES in 1991 thanks to human related activities such as wetland filling, draining and dredging, among other problems. They are also “particularly vulnerable to loss by stochastic events, such as tree-falls, floods, severe droughts, and insect or disease attack,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Some populations can be so small that inbreeding can become an issue.
Northern riffelshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana) was entered into the FES list in 1993. Like the other endangered mussels the WVDNR has listed, northern riffleshell has earned its spot on the FES list due to human disturbances like damming and dredging, which severely effects the quality of the waters they, and their host fish, stay in. Michigan State University have said that they are also under threat from invasive zebra mussels.
Clubshell (Pleurobema clava) was the second mussel to end up as a FES in 1993. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet, the main threats to the clubshell population are “pollution from agricultural run-off and industrial wastes, and extensive impoundments for navigation.” As with others, zebra mussels have also become a threat to them.
The james spinymussel (Pleurobema collina) was added to the FES list in 1998. While these mussels face the same issues as other endangered mussels, james spinymussel was also once harvested by the St. Marys button industry for their thicker shells. According to a Natural Resources Conservation Service fact sheet, they are still used in some states to culture pearls, though it is illegal to possess mussels in West Virginia without a permit.
Snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra) became a FES in 2012. Zebra mussels, river impoundment, siltation and disturbance are among the threats that these mussels face. Like other mussels, they reproduce by latching their larvae onto the gills of “host fish,” where they will grow until they mature enough to unlatch from the fish.
Rayed bean (Villosa fabalis) was declared a FES in 2012. They are threatened by zebra mussels, pollution, sedimentation and disturbance. A fact sheet from the Natural Resources Conservation Service states, “threats are due to widespread problems on uplands at the highest elevations of watersheds.” Another invasive species, the round goby, has also displaced native host fish species, impeding rayed bean reproduction.
Spectaclecase (Cumberlandia monodonta) became a FES in 2012. Dams and their subsequent effect on surrounding waters have proven to be the biggest threat to these mussels. There have also been the usual issues such as sedimentation, pollution, channelization and invasive species. Their small, sparse populations also leave them vulnerable to catastrophic events which can destroy an entire population in one devastating go.
Sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus), the final mussel entry on the WVDNR list, was added to the FES list in 2012. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet, dams, sedimentation, pollution, channelization and zebra mussels are among their most pressing threats. Their small, isolated populations make it impossible for them to effectively repopulate without human assistance.
Diamond darters (Crystallaria cincotta) entered the FES list in 2013 and are a member of the Perch family. In a document from the Federal Register, the diamond darter is “currently known to occur only within a single reach of the Elk River in West Virginia.” This has been a result of habitat degradation and subsequent reductions in fish populations, involving siltation, water quality degradation and the impoundment of rivers.
Guyandotte River Crayfish
The Guyandotte River crayfish (Cambarus veteranus) became part of the FES list in 2016. In a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they stated that “ongoing erosion, sedimentation, and reduced water quality are the primary causes of the species’ declines.” The release also said that as of March 12, 2022, the Guyandotte River crayfish “persisted along 42 miles of two streams in Wyoming County, West Virginia,” though, there are plans to expand that.
Rusty Patched Bumble Bee
The rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was added to the FES list in 2017. While the exact cause of the species decline is unknown, it is believed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the cause of this decline is a “synergistic interaction” between several “interacting stressors,” including “pathogens, pesticides, habitat loss and degradation, non-native and managed bees, the effects of climate change and small population biology.”
Candy darters (Etheostoma osburni) entered the FES list in 2018 due to habitat impacts from historic land uses and the introduction of non-native fish. These fish are native to the upper Kanawha River basin but their current distribution is restricted to just a few streams to reduce the threat of hybridization with an introduced, closely related darter species, the variegate darter.
Northern Long-eared Bat
The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) was added to the FES list in 2022. While habitat loss, climate change and wind turbines are notable threats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that the largest threat to their species is the ever-looming presence of white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection that has been observed to affect this species in 25 of the 37 states that they inhabit. The Northeast region of the U.S. has seen the species decline by up to 99 percent because of this. It is currently threatened but has been proposed to join the FES list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Federally Threatened Species (FTS):
Flat-spired Three-toothed Land Snail
The flat-spired three-toothed land snail (Triodopsis platysayoides) became a FTS in 1978. As this species is primarily found at the Cheat River Gorge, a popular spot for tourists to visit, it is under threat by the trampling of its native environment as well as the risk of man-made fires. The current recovery plan for this species states that air pollution can also pose a risk due to the effects it may have on lichen, a source of food for these snails.
Madison Cave Isopod
The Madison Cave isopod (Antrolana lira) was added to the FTS list in 1982. These cave crustaceans live in and around deep aquifers such as underground lakes and pools. Human disturbance has had a significant impact on their populations, most notably in the namesake of Madison Cave. Due to the difficulty in tracking these cave aquifers, it has proven a challenge to find and limit pollutants to the Madison Cave isopod’s habitat. A recovery plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that its low reproduction potential also leaves it vulnerable to disturbance.
Small Whorled Pogonia
Also in 1982, the small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides) was placed on the FTS list. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, threats include: Habitat destruction from human development projects, trampling/uprooting by wild pigs, crushing by off-road vehicles and foot traffic, herbivory by deer and slugs, vandalism and collection of plants. Development projects have proven to be especially harmful to the plant.
Cheat Mountain Salamander
Cheat Mountain salamanders (Plethodon nettingi) were entered onto the FTS list back in 1989. The National Wildlife Federation notes that the primary cause of the amphibians decline is the destruction of its habitat, particularly deforestation. “It can’t survive without trees because the forest canopy acts as a shield from the drying effects of the sun.” Climate change is another worry for the salamanders as they live at high elevations and require a narrow temperature range.
Virginia spiraea (Spiraea virginiana) became a FTS in 1990. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service state that the plant is threatened by impoundments, causing a risk of flooding, industrial development as well as competition with introduced alien plants. With plants, disturbance can be tricky as too much disturbance risks destroying the plant while too little means it is unable to spread and reproduce. As such, it struggles to maintain suitable habitat conditions.
Big Sandy Crayfish
Big Sandy crayfish (Cambarus callainus) became part of the FTS list in 2016. The Big Sandy crayfish is actually closely related to the Guyandotte River crayfish. Though its spot on the WVDNR list suggests it is doing better than its cousin, it still faces many threats. In a fact sheet from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is said that the major threats to this species are forestry and coal mining. “Erosion and sedimentation associated with these activities degraded the streams in the region and made most of them unsuitable for the crayfishes.”
Eastern Black Rail
The eastern black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis) was entered into the FTS list in 2020. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, threats include: habitat alteration, altered hydrology, climate change, environmental contaminants, disease, altered food webs, predation and human disturbance. Like the gray bat, they are listed as accidental in the WVDNR’s list, meaning they are vagrants that can appear far away from their usual habitats, which is the case for their appearance in West Virginia.
Rare Species (Proposed for listing):
Round hickorynuts (Obovaria subrotunda) were proposed as threatened back in 2020. Michigan State University states that these mussels face threats such as: “natural flow alterations, siltation, channel disturbance, point and non-point source pollution, and exotic species.” They are also under threat from zebra mussels. Geographically speaking, they are most widely spread across West Virginia.
Just like round hickorynuts, longsolids (Fusconaia subrotunda) were proposed as threatened back in 2020. In fact, they were proposed for the list at the same time. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service state that habitat degradation, genetic isolation and invasive, nonnative species are the primary threats to these mussels. There are 60 known populations that exist today.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service state that “candidate species are plants and animals for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has sufficient information on their biological status and threats to propose them as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but for which development of a proposed listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listing activities.”
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) became a candidate in 2020. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “from 1996 to 2020, the eastern monarch population dropped 88 percent, from an estimated 383 million to just under 45 million.” This is due in part from deforestation, climate change and the loss of vital plants like milkweed, which is needed for their reproduction. Their distinctive look acts as a warning to predators that eating them can be toxic. The World Wildlife Fund state that they also possess one of the world’s longest migrations for an insect, usually within the 4,000 to 5,000 km range.
The WVDNR works to maintain these at risk species through their rare, threatened, and endangered (RTE) program. This WVDNR RTE program “implements conservation actions for all federally listed species in West Virginia, several delisted species, and a number of species of greatest conservation need that are not federally listed.”
The program is responsible for:
- Conducting surveys for RTE species to document their distribution in West Virginia.
- Monitoring the status and trends of populations of RTE species.
- Developing best management and conservation practices for RTE species through the application of sound science.
- Implementing conservation and management programs to recover RTE species.
- Fostering conservation partnerships.
- Providing educational outreach.
- Providing expert input on RTE species conservation and policy at local, regional, and national levels.
To learn more about this program as well as other WVDNR conservation efforts, visit their website here.
Are there any species missing from this list? Let us know.