Threatened Reptiles Of The United States
Flattened musk turtle and hawksbill sea turtles are among the most threatened reptilian species in the US. Most of these sea turtles have had their population reduced by more than 70%. In fact according to the Union for Conservation of Nature, more than 93 reptiles and amphibian species face extinction. Some species of sea turtles are critically endangered, and the Atlantic ridley sea is on the verge of extinction. With reptiles being one of nature most delightful and fascinating animals, the need to conserve and protect them from extinction is paramount. Below are some of the most threatened reptiles of the US.
Flattened Musk Turtle
Flattened musk turtle is an Alabama endemic species with a restricted range. The turtle inhabits the Black Warrior River in north-central Alabama. The species have a flat upper shell which is yellow-brown to dark brown with black spots and streaks. The head, tail, and legs are olive green with block motting. The feet are webbed, and males have characteristic thick, long, spine-tipped tails. The reptile inhabits water sources that have large snail populations as they feed on snails, clams, and some aquatic insects and their larvae. Sexual maturity for males takes 4-6 years and 6-8 in females. At the age of 30-40 females reach the maximum size, and the males take 50-60. Generation time is about 20-30 years where a female lays two clutches of 1-3 eggs in a year. Erosion and siltation resulting from coal mining and damming are the primary threats facing this reptile. Precise cutting, development, and pollution have also caused significant habitat loss. The species have lost rock crevices used for escaping predation. The species is protected in the Bankhead National Forest.
The bog turtle is a semi-aquatic turtle species of the family Emydidae endemic to the Eastern US.It lives in the Vermont, Georgia, and west of Ohio.They prefer calcareous wetlands habitats like meadows, marshes, bogs, and springs. They are also known to live in cow pastures and near beaver dams. The bog turtle skin and shell are dark brown, with a distinguishing forked orange or yellow mark on each side of the neck. The turtle has an extremely low reproduction rate with females laying one clutch containing three eggs annually. The young one grows fast and within 4-10 years, they have reached sexual maturity. Mating is during the spring after the hibernating process. The turtles have a lifespan of 20-30 years. The turtles shun freezing temperatures and thus needs the sunshine for thermoregulation. As a result, the bog turtle spends a lot of time basking in the sun and so its habitat must have open canopies. The species also spend time buried in mud and hibernate during winter. The reptile is omnivorous and feeds on small invertebrates and aquatic plants. The species suffer from habitat loss. There are plans by the US Fish and Wildlife Services to recover the lost northern habitats. The Federal Endangered Species Act protects the bog turtle.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
The hawksbill sea turtle is a critically endangered species belonging to the Cheloniidae family. The sea turtles have a worldwide distribution from the Atlantic to the Indo-pacific. The hawksbill has a protective carapace serrated along the posterior and anterior, flattened body and limbs adapted to swimming in the open oceans. It has a sharp curved beak, and their shells change color as the water temperatures change. The sea turtles spend most of the time in lagoons and coral reefs. The shallow bays provide breeding sites in April to November. Females lay clutches with many eggs. After two months baby turtles hatch at night and migrate to the sea. Those that fail to reach the sea by day break fall prey to shorebirds, crabs, and other predators. After 20 years the hawksbills reach sexual maturity.It mostly feeds on cnidarians, fish, and algae. The turtle falls prey to larger fish, sharks, and human.Human fishing is the primary threat facing these turtles. The shells are harvested for decorative purposes. The Convection on International Trade in Endangered Species has outlawed hawksbill harvesting and trade.
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
The Kemps ridley sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae is the rarest sea turtle species and today it faces extinction. In the US, the turtle is only found in Texas. The species shows a nesting range of between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Kemps Turtle usually feeds on mollusks, jellyfish, fish, crustaceans, algae, and sea urchins. The breeding season is April to August and mating is offshore. The species show mass nesting in the mating season when a group of females lands in the beaches. A clutch contains around 110 eggs with an incubation period of 45-70 days. The incubation temperature determines the hatchling sex; above 25 degrees Celsius, the offspring is a female. Threats facing the Atlantic seas turtle include hunting, habitat loss, entanglement in shrimping trawls and pollution. Turtle Excluder Device is attached to the trawls which prevent drowning of sea turtles alongside shrimp. Another protective measure to save the critically endangered species is growing hatchling turtles in captivity until maturity where they are released. This action mitigates predation.
Human activities are the worst threat facing reptiles and any other form of life. Overfishing, urbanization, and harvesting endangered species have significantly led to a reduction in species number. Use of poor quality nets also contributes to reptiles small numbers. Even with conservation, human beings need to understand the importance of turtles in the ecosystem for a balanced existence.