SC Endangered Species

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Written by Sarah Lloyd
Tuesday, 03 March 2009 14:29

Threatened and Endangered Species in South Carolina

List from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Threatened and Endangered Species Program (2008)

Articles on species status researched and written by SCWF members and volunteers
(see publication dates for each article)

Animals -- 23 listings

17 occurring in South Carolina
6 not occurring in South Carolina
4 species listed in some other state occurring in South Carolina

Status Species listed in this state and that occur in this state
E Heelsplitter, Carolina (Lasmigona decorata)
T Plover, piping except Great Lakes watershed (Charadrius melodus)
E Puma (=cougar), eastern (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar)
T Salamander, flatwoods (Ambystoma cingulatum)
T Sea turtle, green except where endangered (Chelonia mydas)
E Sea turtle, hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)
E Sea turtle, Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)
E Sea turtle, leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
T Sea turtle, loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
T Snake, eastern indigo (Drymarchon corais couperi)
E Stork, wood AL, FL, GA, SC (Mycteria americana)
E Sturgeon, shortnose (Acipenser brevirostrum)
E Warbler (=wood), Bachman's (Vermivora bachmanii)
E Whale, finback (Balaenoptera physalus)
E Whale, humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae)
E Whale, right (Balaena glacialis (incl. australis))
E Woodpecker, red-cockaded (Picoides borealis)

Status Species listed in this state that do not occur in this state
E Bat, Indiana (Myotis sodalis)
E Beetle, American burying (Nicrophorus americanus)
E Curlew, Eskimo (Numenius borealis)
E Panther, Florida (Puma (=Felis) concolor coryi)
E Pelican, brown except U.S. Atlantic coast, FL, AL (Pelecanus occidentalis)
E Wolf, gray (Canis lupus)

Status Listed species occurring in this state that are not listed in this state
E Sawfish, smalltooth (Pristis pectinata)
T Tern, roseate (Sterna dougallii dougallii)
E Warbler (=wood), Kirtland's (Dendroica kirtlandii)
E Wolf, red except where EXPN (Canis rufus)

Plants -- 19 listings

19 occurring in South Carolina
0 not occurring in South Carolina
0 species listed in some other state occurring in South Carolina

Status Species listed in this state and that occur in this state
T Amaranth, seabeach (Amaranthus pumilus)
T Amphianthus, little (Amphianthus pusillus)
E Arrowhead, bunched (Sagittaria fasciculata)
E Chaffseed, American (Schwalbea americana)
E Coneflower, smooth (Echinacea laevigata)
E Dropwort, Canby's (Oxypolis canbyi)
T Gooseberry, Miccosukee (Ribes echinellum)
E Harperella (Ptilimnium nodosum)
T Heartleaf, dwarf-flowered (Hexastylis naniflora)
E Loosestrife, rough-leaved (Lysimachia asperulaefolia)
T Pink, swamp (Helonias bullata)
E Pitcher-plant, mountain sweet (Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii)
T Pogonia, small whorled (Isotria medeoloides)
E Pondberry (Lindera melissifolia)
E Quillwort, black spored (Isoetes melanospora)
E Sumac, Michaux's (Rhus michauxii)
E Sunflower, Schweinitz's (Helianthus schweinitzii)
E Trillium, persistent (Trillium persistens)
E Trillium, relict (Trillium reliquum)

Articles on Other Species not listed Above:
American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
Ivory Billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis)

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

 

Endangered Species Spotlight

6/8/06
Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
By E. G. Sebastian, Volunteer

One of the great advantages of living in the rural Lowcountry is the opportunity to encounter almost daily all kinds of wild birds and animals. It is not uncommon to see in a day’s drive several deer, a few egrets and blue herons, possums, hundreds of squirrels, turtles, occasionally armadillo, and many more. We often drive out in the weekends to different natural reserves just to observe this beautiful variety of wildlife.

One of our all time favorites are turtles. There’s just something mystical about these somewhat clumsy looking, yet so swift swimming creatures. Just recently I and my two kids – Alexa 8 and Philip 7 - tried to rescue two of them (meaning, return to water) at two separate occasions: a beautiful Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) and an Alligator Snapping Turtle (Machrochleys temminckii) that almost bit off my hand. Luckily for the Box Turtle, I stopped at the Lowcountry Estuarium to ask where I should release it, only to learn that not all turtles live exclusively in water. But that’s the beauty of living here – there’s always something to see and learn about.

Our recent learning adventure was to find out more about one of the most amazing turtles; one that very few of us will ever have a chance to see in its natural habitat: the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). We learned that his turtle is so amazingly unique and different from its relatives that they had to come up with a complete separate family classification for it (Dermochelys).

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is unmistakably different from other turtles. Instead of dermal bones on the carapace as most other turtles have, the Leatherback – as its name suggests – has it back covered in a mosaic of small platelets set in a leathery skin. These little platelets are set in seven hard longitudinal ridges along the length of its back. The color of the leathery back, the limbs, and the turtle’s head is black with white spots, with a pinkish white spot on the head. They have large paddle-like limbs with no claws, with the front limbs being much larger than what one would expect from a turtle and the rear ones being broadly linked to its tail. The largest Leatherback recorded was close to 10 ft long; the average size being around 3 feet (this measured from its nose to the end of its tail).

The Leatherback is the largest living reptile in the world, with adults often exceeding 1,000 pounds, and some even exceed 2,000 pounds. It can be found in the waters around Australia all the way up close to the arctic regions, and is the reptile that can survive in the most diverse and extensive geographic areas. It can live in the colder environments due to the insulation provided by their high oil-content of their carapace (shell) combined with their capability of producing body heat by muscle activity. Satellite monitoring has showed that Leatherbacks cross entire ocean basins.

Even though Leatherbacks are considered to be an endangered species, aerial studies of the South Carolina shores have recorded more than 1,000 Leatherbacks in the past 10 years around our shores. Unfortunately, studying these mighty creatures is rather difficult due to their tendency to live exclusively in the open ocean. Most of our findings are based on females who were observed while on our shores for nesting, and the study of dead Leatherbacks washed out to the shore which provided valuable information on their feeding habits, sex, their reproductive status, and at times the cause of their death.

Most male Leatherbacks never leave the seawaters. Females leave the waters for nesting purposes, needing tropical sandy beaches with light vegetation. Females usually return to the same beach biannually or triennially, laying multiple clutches during each nesting season. The size of their clutch can vary from 40 to 160 eggs (usually around 80).

Some of their most common nesting beaches are found in Costa Rica, French Guinea, Panama, Surinam, Central and South America, several Caribbean Islands, and South Florida. Several nesting events were recorded in the past decades in South Carolina as well, at Edisto Beach State Park (Colleton County), St. Phillips Island (Beaufort County), and Huntington Beach (Georgetown County). Hilton Head Island also recently had its first documented leatherback sea turtle nest, laid on Sunday, May 7, 2006. This was the 6th recorded leatherback nesting in SC history.

Unlike most turtles, the Leatherback cannot withdraw its head into its shell, but it is protected from large predators by some strong scales on the two sides of its head.

Leatherbacks are omnivorous, eating both meet and vegetation. Their primary food source consists of jellyfish, but they also feed on crabs, fish, squid, sea urchins, blue-green algae, and seaweed.

The Leatherback’s meat is known to be toxic to humans and other animals (the Hawksbills turtle is the only other turtle with toxic meat).

All sea turtle populations are being threatened by nesting habitat destruction – they rely on the availability of mature sand dunes in which to build their nests. Adult sea turtles, as well as new hatchlings are disoriented by lights, as they rely on visual cues to find their way from the dunes to the ocean.

To reduce the chance of extinction of this amazing animal, nature preserves have been established in nesting areas. Scientists also occasionally harvest the eggs and hatch them under artificial, but safe, conditions.

E.G. Sebastian is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Visit him on the web at www.egsebastian.com.
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3/30/06
Florida Panther- Felis concolor coryi
By Deborah Ray, Executive Director Native Communications/ SCWF Volunteer; Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Mention the words “big cats” in a room full of people and you are likely to send half of them fleeing in terror and the other half running home to retrieve their shotguns, especially if any of them are ranchers and farmers. The sad fact is, neither reaction is appropriate or warranted, and America’s wild cats continue to suffer at the hands of a public reluctant to change their opinion of anything they see as a threat to their livelihood or their personal safety.

One of America’s most beautiful and mysterious big cats, the Florida Panther, despite its status as an Endangered Species, remains on the verge of total extermination and unless drastic steps are taken, and immediately, there will be little hope of saving them.

Despite their placement on the United States Endangered Species List in 1967, almost 40 years ago, the Florida Panther (Felis concolor coryi) now holds the shameful distinction of being the most endangered of North America’s big cats. Startlingly beautiful, this magnificent feline deserves more from us than the systematic slaughter of their species and the total destruction of their habitat.

The National Wildlife Federation {NWF} estimates there are only 40-50 adults surviving in the wild, with nearly all struggling to exist on a small tract of land in southwest Florida, where limited food sources, inadequate land cover for creating breeding dens and on-going real estate development and road construction continues to threaten this last vestige of animals.

Known by many names in many regions of our country, the Florida Panther is a subspecies of the puma {Puma consolor}. In some areas it’s known as a mountain lion, in others a puma or cougar Once one of the most widely distributed big cats in North and South America, this beautiful feline once roamed freely from Coast to Coast, and from the tip of Florida, north to Canada and beyond. They can now be found on a tiny patch of land in Florida, where urban sprawl and inbreeding is threatening to wipe out the remaining population.

Species Survival: Saving the Florida Panther
The two biggest obstacles for any species survival, especially for predatory species like the Florida Panther, remain habitat loss and public perception. By addressing both obstacles at federal, state and local levels, with on-going support and involvement of local citizens, it is not only possible to conserve and protect endangered species, it can be accomplished economically and fairly.

Obviously, the most critical issue for any species survival is habitat. North America’s wild cats require a large amount of space to live and hunt, as much as 15-20 square miles, with sufficient space to allow dispersal of juveniles to establish new territories. Establishing and preserving large areas of habitat is critical to the long-term survival of all species, especially North America’s big cats.

Increasing human activities, real estate development and road construction continue to encroach on previously “wild” areas, subsequently reducing habitat and limiting their ability to hunt, den and disperse. Wildlife groups face the challenge of identifying and then protecting key cat habitats, while determining “how much habitat is enough”.

As scientists and biologists continue to study habitat needs for the Florida Panther and other big cat species, the challenge of changing the public’s perception of this species falls not only to environmental and animal conservation groups, but to you and I as well. For every one of us supporting protections for the Florida Panther, there are dozens more that see wild cats as threatening predators and they are more than willing to take their arguments all the way to Washington.

You can help by explaining how increasing human activities affect cats, their behavior and their habitat. Start public education campaigns that illustrate the need for all species, including big cats like the Florida Panther, to survive for a balanced ecosystem. Public education programs, public service announcements and even letters to the Editor of your local newspaper can all serve to create an environment of acceptance for your conservation efforts.

With resources like the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation and dozens of other conservation groups around our state and the country, creating your own public education campaign, whether for elementary school children or Senior Citizen’s groups, has never been easier.

Now, more than ever before, we have the knowledge to save a species from total extinction and protect the delicate balance of our ecosystem. What each of us decides to do with that knowledge is yet to be seen. Will there be a wild Florida Panther population surviving for future generations to experience? Only time will tell.
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2/6/06
American Burying Beetle - Nicrophorus americanus
By Sara Green, Director of Education
Photos by Doug Backlund, SD Game, Fish and Parks

This species, as well as others in the same family, feed on carcasses of birds and small animals. The difference with the American Burying Beetle is that they also feed it to their young. In fact, they don’t lay eggs until they have secured a carcass that will be available for the young. Once locating a suitable carcass, the adult beetle will emit pheromones hoping to attract another beetle of the opposite sex. Once together, the pair immediately begins the process of burying the carcass by digging out the soil from beneath the body. Soil type is extremely important for successful burial. If the soil type is not acceptable, the beetle pair will lie on their backs beneath the carcass and move it along the ground with their legs. After the burying process, the pair covers the body with sticky saliva that will keep the carcass from rotting and makes it easier for the larvae to eat. The female beetle then lays up to 30 eggs in a tunnel near the carcass. When the eggs hatch into larvae, both the mother and the father stay to feed them with regurgitated food and to protect them from other beetles.

The American Burying Beetle was once found in 35 states in the eastern and central United States, including South Carolina. Currently, this species is only found in small pockets in six states: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Kansas. There are many factors, which may have led to the decline of this species. Light pollution in the form of urban lighting and bug zappers interferes with American burying beetles’ nocturnal activities, since burying beetles will only commence carrion burial at night.

Another factor may have been a change in carrion sources, and competition for them. Agricultural land use leads to an increase in small-bodied rodent populations, such as mice, which are not large enough for burying beetle breeding purposes. The disappearance of several prey species, such as the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorus) and the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) is also seen as leading to the reduction of burying beetle numbers. The increase in habitat boundaries associated with development promotes an increase in numbers of vertebrate scavengers, such as foxes, crows, and skunks, which compete with the American burying beetle for limited carrion food sources.

More research needs to be done to better understand the pressures that caused the species to decline in the first place. This research will help biologists to develop recovery programs for the American Burying Beetle. One program that has been successful is at The Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island where they are breeding the beetles in captivity. So far, they have raised six batches of baby beetles, and a new colony has successfully been established on Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Protecting insect diversity is critical to the conservation of the larger ecosystem. The impressive size of the American burying beetle and its unique reproductive behavior makes it interesting and charismatic. Scientists are beginning to see that cooperative conservation efforts might save this species from extinction. For these reasons, the American burying beetle is an ideal “poster-child” for insect conservation.

Sources:
www.beetlelady.com
www.thewildones.org
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11/30/05
The Gray Wolf (Canis lupus): Misunderstood and Persecuted
By Deborah Ray, Executive Director Native Communications

Few words in the English language are more capable of invoking simultaneous feelings of admiration and fear than wolf. From the earliest times in history, wolves have been portrayed as cunning and bloodthirsty creatures. Though that fear and misunderstanding remains unfounded, people in areas of the world where wolf populations endure, continue to harbor the heartbreaking viewpoint that “the only good wolf is a dead wolf”.

Following their treacherous oceanic treks to the New World, our European ancestors disembarked their great ships at ports up and down the East coast, and entered a strange and fascinating world inhabited by equally strange and fascinating people, magnificent terrains and more beautiful and mysterious animals than they had ever dreamed possible.

In America, the gray wolf had freely roamed virtually every region in North America, peacefully co-existing with the American Indian tribes and thriving in a world brimming with vast sources of food and shelter.

It was an easy life, as easy as Mother Nature allows, until myths and misconceptions about them would begin large scale eradication campaigns to try and wipe out the entire population of wolves. Many of these campaigns were carried out by the United States government, and by 1965 wolves had been virtually eliminated in the lower 48 states. Wolves were poisoned, shot, tracked with dogs; many even set out poisoned carcasses them, just as often killing other wildlife, including bald eagles and bears.

Too slowly to save many thousands of innocent wolves, education and understanding began to change the views of many people. In communities throughout the United States, individuals and organizations would begin extensive campaigns to educate the public on the benefits of wolves for a healthy and balanced ecosystem, while also engaging in governmental advocacy programs in an attempt to pressure governments to enact laws for the protection of wolves and other animals in danger of becoming extinct. In the United States, that protection would come in the form of the Endangered Species Act. In 1973, the gray wolf was officially listed as endangered and placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. A status of endangered means a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its normal range.

As a protected endangered species, gray wolf populations were subject to capture and reintroduction programs, habitat conservation, captive breeding projects and other methods of conservation. Although many of these projects have been met with anger from ranch owners afraid of losing their livestock to “wild wolves” or uneducated citizens afraid of being attacked by wolves, the fact remains that there has never been a documented case in the United States of a healthy wolf attacking humans and there is currently a program ran by Defenders of Wildlife, that provides for ranchers to be paid market prices for cattle lost to wolves.

Finally, as confirmation of the success of the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf was officially down listed from endangered to threatened in April of 2003. Threatened means a species may become endangered. The wolf’s slow comeback has been attributed to a combination of scientific research, conservation and management programs, and education efforts that helped to increase public understanding of wolves.

The Life of the Wolf
Wolf packs usually consist of a set of parents (alpha pair), their offspring and other non-breeding adults. Wolf pups are born in early spring and will exist on their mother’s milk for the first month, before being weaned and fed regurgitated meat brought by pack members. Solitary and mysterious animals to the “outside world”, wolves are actually very social animals, living in packs ranging in size from 2-15 wolves.

To flourish wolves need between three and four pounds of food a day, although most average eight to ten pounds. When food is scarce wolves can go for two weeks or more without food, living on small stores of fat. When prey is plentiful, wolves enjoy a diet of large mammals like deer, moose, elk and even big horn sheep, and smaller mammals like beaver and rabbits. Excellent hunters, wolves will commonly look for weaker prey like the very young, the very old and the sick, allowing only the stronger and healthier animals to go on and produce.

Most people recognize the unique sounds wolves make from those portrayed in movies like Dances with Wolves and other westerns; although because of their solitary nature and natural fear of humans, few people have actually been fortunate enough to have heard their cries in the wild. Their vocalizations are unique to each animal and can include howls, whines, growls, barks and even yelping. Most often, a single wolf will call out for only a few seconds, and then quiet as other wolves of the pack pick up the call. They use different vocal calls for different reasons, to call the pack together, to warn the pack of danger, as a challenge to an enemy. Their calls are beautiful and haunting, calling forth images of times past, when our world was less complicated and there were still places in America that remained wild and unadulterated by mankind.

Gray Wolves Today
The story of our gray wolf remains one of trials and tribulations, strife and survival. Once one of the most widely distributed animals in our country, today’s wild gray wolves are found in only the most remote areas. With the tireless help of many organizations and individuals more people are being educated about wolves and the need for them to be protected and respected members of our society.

The absence of the gray wolf, and other wolf species, from our ecosystems would be catastrophic to the environment and to mankind. It is easy to see the ramifications by studying the areas in the United States formerly inhabited by them. In areas like Yellowstone National Park, where the last gray wolf had been shot by a federal agent in 1930, nearly every aspect of the environment in and around the park was negatively affected.

It is up to every citizen to make certain our wolves, indeed all our wildlife, is strenuously protected and preserved. It is not only our duty to our planet; it is our duty to future generations. The extinction of any plant, animal or organism from our ecosystems must be seen as a threat to mankind and prevented whenever possible. Today’s wolves, and many other species, now live in a constant struggle with us merely to survive, their days of peace, prosperity and freedom long ago forgotten.

To find out what you can do to help protect the gray wolf and other wildlife, contact the South Carolina Wildlife Federation at (803)256-0670. There are also numerous organizations listed on the internet that are dedicated to protecting wolves and their habitats. To find them, simply type in “gray wolf” or “wolves” into a search engine and enjoy learning more about them. A word of caution, there are many fraudulent groups on the internet more than willing to take your money and care nothing about wolves, so if you are considering donating money to help, only donate to legitimate groups like the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.

Together, we can make a difference in South Carolina, our environment and, indeed our planet. It all begins with you so, what are you going to do today to make a difference?
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10/18/05
Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
By Sara Green, SCWF Director of Education

The gopher tortoise is one of the oldest living species, originating in North America over 60 million years ago. Today their range includes many parts of Florida, southern areas of Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and the tip of Eastern Louisiana. They are generally about a foot long and weight about 30 lbs. with a very drab tan or gray coloring. They have broad, flat front legs, shaped like a shovel for use in digging. The back legs are much rounder.

Gopher tortoises are unique in that they dig large burrows, which provide protection from predators and shelter from the weather. Other tortoises just hide under vegetation or dig very short, shallow burrows. Gopher tortoise burrows average around 30 feet long, and depths vary from around 3-20 feet. These burrows make the gopher tortoise a popular animal in the local ecosystem because many other animals like to share their burrows. Snakes, gopher frogs, mice, foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, quail, armadillos, burrowing owls, lizards, frogs, toads and invertebrates have been observed sharing burrows with tortoises or living in abandoned burrows.

Gopher tortoises are listed as endangered in South Carolina. Much of the reason for the decline of this species, as with so many others, is loss of habitat. In the past, many tortoises were killed for food or by people trying to kill rattlesnakes that often share their burrows. Because they spend much of their time underground, it is hard to get an accurate count of gopher tortoises in South Carolina. In an effort to create and manage gopher tortoise habitat, artificial planting of longleaf has proven successful in many areas. Since the tortoise requires an open forest floor with sunny areas and grasses for food, regular burning or thinning of trees is required to maintain this type of habitat. The protection of this species is critical to the entire food web, since many other animals depend on the burrows of the gopher tortoise.

Information from: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Gopher Tortoise Organization and Gopher Tortoise Services, Inc.
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8/25/05
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
By Sara Green, SCWF Director of Education and Paul Koehler, Audubon South Carolina

Formerly called the “Wood Ibis,” this is a true stork. It is white with black flight feathers and tail and is easily distinguished from white herons by its large size, upright posture, dark, naked head and neck, and long, heavy bill with a downward curve at the tip. Unlike herons, storks fly with their neck extended.

The Wood Stork is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The numbers of these large wading birds have declined drastically in recent years due to land development and draining of their breeding and feeding grounds.

The Storks breed in colonies chiefly in cypress swamps or mangroves throughout Florida and Georgia, as well as a few locations along the coast from South Carolina to Texas. There were an estimated 20,000 breeding pairs in the 1930s, breeding throughout much of the southeast as far West as Texas. Today’s population of breeding pairs is approximately 5,000.

While Wood Stork rookeries have been protected in recent years, it is the loss of feeding habitat that has dealt the major blow to this species. These birds slowly stalk through marshes in search of food. They obtain food—mainly fish and other aquatic organisms—by probing the water with their bills, locating prey by sense of touch. It has been estimated that a pair of storks and their young require some 440 pounds of fish during the breeding season, so adequate feeding grounds are critical.

Preserving Wood Stork Habitat in South Carolina
In 1980, a small colony of Wood Storks was discovered nesting in Big Dukes Swamp near Millen, Georgia. Researchers also discovered storks feeding at a nearby nuclear facility in South Carolina, the Savannah River Site. The birds depended on a freshwater stream at the site that was soon to be flooded by cooling water discharge from a nuclear reactor. In an effort to replace this lost foraging habitat, government agencies and Audubon South Carolina formed a partnership that led to the creation of the 30-acre Kathwood Wood Stork foraging ponds at the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary near Jackson, SC. Each year, Audubon stocks the ponds with fish for the foraging storks. Each summer since 1986,, Wood Storks from the Big Dukes colony and elsewhere from throughout the region have returned to Silver Bluff to feed. As many as 435 storks at one time have been observed feeding at the Kathwood ponds, along with a host of other wading birds and a nesting pair of Bald Eagles.

The SCWF and Audubon South Carolina co-hosted the 2nd annual Storks & Corks event on August 13 at Silver Bluff Audubon. Proceeds from the event benefit Audubon’s Wood Stork project and habitat conservation goals of the SCWF. Eighty participants were treated to close looks at over 150 of the endangered Wood Storks along with Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons and dozens of shorebirds. While the birds continued to feed into the evening, birdwatchers headed back to the Silver Bluff visitor center to enjoy a sampling of three wine varieties donated by Southern Wine and Spirits, along with heavy hors d’oeuvres. Unlike the storks, patrons were not offered any sushi! A silent auction during the event featured stunning art and photography which garnered an additional $700 for conservation projects. The 3rd annual Storks & Corks is being planned for 2006. Don’t miss out!

Join Audubon's "Support a Stork" program by calling Silver Bluff Audubon at 803-471-0291 or e-mailing Paul Koehler.

Information provided by eNature.com and Audubon South Carolina.
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6/1/05
American Bald Eagle- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
By Deborah Ray, Executive Director Native Communications

Eagles are a member of the Accipitridae family (also includes hawks, kites, and vultures).

During the Second Continental Congress in 1782, our forefathers would adopt the Bald Eagle as the official emblem of our new nation. At that very moment, there were as many as 100,000 Bald Eagles nesting in the still expansive and virtually uninhabited territory that is now the lower 48 states. As more and more people migrated westward, the natural habitat of the eagles grew smaller and smaller, leaving them few places to nest and hunt freely without human interference. For these reasons, the population of bald eagles began to rapidly decline by the late 1800s.

There are two subspecies of bald eagles. The “southern” bald eagle, Haliaeetu leucocephalus leucocephalus, found from Texas and California to South Carolina and Florida. The “northern” bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascanus, found primarily in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

The Bald eagle is one of the largest birds of prey, with the female bald eagle measuring 35 to 37 inches and a wingspan that measures from 79 to 90 inches. Male bald eagles measure from 30 to 34 inches and a wingspan from 72 to 85 inches. Bald eagles typically weigh from 10-15 pounds, with the northern birds significantly larger than their southern cousins.

In truth, there is no single cause for the rapid decline in the bald eagle population. Like with many species, as the human population grew and expanded across the continent, the eagle population declined. Food supplies decreased as people hunted and fished over the eagle habitat. Eagles, like their human counterparts, are at the top of the food chain, essentially competing with us for the same food, though we obviously have the advantage of weapons.

By the 1930s, as the American people became aware of the diminishing bald eagle population, efforts were made to protect the remaining wild eagle populations. In 1940 the Bald Eagle Act was passed, effectively reducing harassment by humans. Although the eagle began a slow recovery, the use of DDT and other pesticides were now being used throughout the eagle habitat. These pesticides were sprayed on plants that were eaten by small animals like mice, and those smaller animals were later consumed by birds of prey. The DDT harmed both the adult birds and the eggs that they laid, with the shells becoming too thin to survive the incubation period, often being crushed. Typically, eggs that were not crushed often did not hatch. As many bald eagles were found dead or dying all over the country, scientist would discover lethal quantities of DDT and other pesticides in the fatty tissues and gonads, making many of them infertile.

Another threat was misinformed people. From 1917 through 1953, over 100,000 bald eagles were killed in Alaska alone, as fisherman dependent on salmon for their livelihood, believed them a threat to the salmon population.

In 1967, Bald eagles were officially declared an endangered species in all areas of the United States under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. This landmark legislation is still regarded as one of the most important wildlife conservation laws in the world. Government agencies and many private organizations, successfully sought to alert the public about the eagle’s fight for life and to protect their habitat. Three years later, on July 4, 1976, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the bald eagle as a national endangered species. In 1963 the United States bald eagle population had been reduced to just 417 known breeding pairs, it is estimated that there are more than 7,678 pairs of bald eagles today.

Even with decades of protection, there is still only an estimated 70,000 bald eagles in the world, with half living primarily in Alaska, flourishing in part because the salmon and because of greater undisturbed habitat.

On Saturday, May 15, 2004, the Bush administration announced the removal of the American Bald Eagle from the threatened species. The birds will still be safeguarded under the federal Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940.

There are still many dangers to the survival of the Bald Eagle, including illegal hunting by people wanting their feathers and feet to sell on the black market; power lines; lead poisoning; vehicles; and even starvation due to continued loss of habitat. It is clear that if the bald eagle is to survive, and thrive, in the wild, we must continue to protect their habitat and support rehabilitation and reintroduction efforts.

In the Carolinas there are currently six National Wildlife Refuges (NWR)with bald eagles. In North Carolina: Alligator River NWR; Mattamuskeet NWR; and Pea Island NWR. In South Carolina: Cape Romain NWR; Carolina Sandhills NWR: and Santee NWR.
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4/20/05
Smooth Coneflower- Echinacea laevigata
By Rachel Dodgens, Staff

Echinacea laevigata is not the most famous member of its family (or genus for that matter), but it might be the most beautiful. A member of the Asteracea family, E. laevigata’s most well known relative is Echinacea purpurea, known for its medicinal uses.

E. laevigata is commonly called Smooth Coneflower, referring to its smooth, hairless stem. It is a perennial herb, meaning it comes back year after year. The Smooth Coneflower looses all its leaves in the fall, but remains alive underground until the leaves reemerge in March. The plant grows up to 1.5 tall and has very few leaves. The leaves at the base of the plant are the largest and grow to a length of 20cm and a width of 7.5cm. Each leaf is elliptical to broadly lanceolate shaped with toothed edges and tapers at the base, and are alternately placed along the plant.

You will probably notice E. laevigata until May and August when the flower blooms. The flower is a solitary head, similar to a black-eyed Susan. The petals are pink to pale purple, 8cm long, and droopy. The center of the flower is a darker purple. The plant usually flowers once per year, but another flower sometimes appears during the same season.

The fruit of E. laevigata is a gray-brown, 4-angled achene (a small, dry, indehisced one-seeded fruit; like a sunflower seed). Each fruit is approximately 4 to 4.5mm long and contains a seed measuring .5cm. The reproduction of this plant is predominantly sexual; however, asexual, vegetative reproduction has been reported. The Smooth Coneflower needs bare soil for seed germination. Bees and butterflies act as pollinators and birds and small mammals help with seed dispersal.

So why all this discussion of E. laevigata? This beautiful plant has been on the Federally Endangered list since 1992. There are currently 23 remaining populations, seven of which are in South Carolina. Of the 23 remaining populations, 13 are in decline and only one is increasing in numbers. Each of the remaining populations has 100 or less plants.

E. laevigata was historically found in eight states (SC, NC, VA, GA, MD, PA, AL, AR), but currently South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia are the only states left with populations with South Carolina hosting a large percentage. The species is on the endangered or threatened list in each state. The seven populations here in the Palmetto State are in Oconee and Allendale counties. Two of these are located on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. There are three additional populations in Aiken and Allendale counties, but they are believed to be introduced and not native.

E. laevigata, like all species, ended up on the Endangered Species list for a variety of reasons. The over collection of plants from natural populations is believed to be one of the main reasons. People have collected the plant for its beautiful flower and when trying to collect medicinal E. purpurea. Habitat reduction is also a main source of problems for this species. It prefers open woods, cedar barrens, roadsides, clear cuts, dry limestone bluffs, and powerline right-of-ways. Smooth Coneflower grows best in full sunlight and with periodic disturbance. Natural fires reduce the shade and competition from woody plants. Fire suppression, therefore, is another of E. laevigata’s threats.

Other threats include certain agricultural and silviculture practices, roadway construction and improvement, roadside and powerline right-of-way maintenance, and encroachment of woody vegetation. Encroachment of native and exotic wood species has a negative affect as well. The inadequacy of protection afforded by state laws and enforcement of such laws is sometimes a problem.

Even though E. laevigata is on the Endangered Species list there is still hope. The SC Botanical Gardens has E. laevigata as part of its living collection and also has an Endangered Species Research Unit. Research is being done on the potential for vegetative reproduction, including the optimal time of year to undertake such tasks. It has shown great potential for this kind of production and hormone treatment is not necessary. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a Smooth Flower Recovery plan which includes: research on the biology of the plant, maintaining a cultivated source, and encouraging and assisting nurseries in the development of cultivated stock. Sumter National Forest is working for preservation using prescribed burns. They have also teamed up with the Center for Plant Conservation to plan collection and storage of seeds and plant material. Canopy thinning has also proven to be an effect preservation technique for Smooth Coneflowers because it is not shade tolerant. Periodic disturbance is the primary way for individuals to help; set up a regular fire regime, timed mowing, or careful clearing.
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2/10/05
Fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus
By Margaret Murphy, Protected Resources Scientist for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Elusive by nature, the fin whale is one of the least understood of the large whales. A fast, sleek animal that can reach up to 90 feet, most observers only get brief looks as the whale comes up for a few breaths before quickly disappearing into the depths. If fortunate enough to get a closer look, one might notice the distinctive asymmetrical coloration on the head: the lower right jaw is white and the lower left jaw is dark. Also obvious would be the beautiful swath of white pigment sweeping behind the blowholes known as the blaze, and a pale V-shaped swirl along the back called the chevron, which create a pattern unique to each individual fin whale. This pattern is one characteristic researchers use to identify individual fin whales to learn more about the whale’s movements and reproduction.

Fin whales are found throughout the world’s oceans, occurring in coastal waters as well as far out to sea. Their migratory habits are not well understood. They appear to follow the same pattern as many other large whales; feeding in cold, nutrient-rich high latitude waters during the summer and traveling to warm, lower latitude waters in the winter to breed and give birth. Less clear, however, is whether all individuals undertake this migration. Fin whales have been sighted off the mid-Atlantic shores during the winter.

Breeding grounds have not been identified for fin whales nor is it known where they are born. It is commonly assumed that births take place in warm, sub-tropical or tropical waters, though data based on strandings of newly born calves indicate that some calving may occur in the mid-Atlantic region between October and January. Since being able to recognize and track individuals, researchers have discovered that a female fin whale gives birth to a single calf about every two to three years. The calf measures about 20 feet at birth (weighing as much as 2 tons) and is weaned around seven months. A female is able to begin bearing calves as early as five to six years of age with no evidence to suggest she stops reproducing as she reaches old age. Fin whales are believed to live 70 to 80 years on average.

Individual fin whales show strong fidelity to a particular feeding ground, returning to the same one year after year during the summer months. Records also show that a calf, once independent from its mother, will return to its mother’s feeding ground indicating that distribution on the feeding grounds is matrilineally directed. While on the feeding ground, most migratory whales pack a whole year of feeding into a few short months, in some cases increasing their weight by as much as 40%. Whales store much of that as blubber which they use to survive the several months of fasting while on the wintering grounds.

Fin whales are filter feeders meaning they have between 250 to 450 short plates of baleen on each side of the upper jaw instead of teeth. Baleen is made of keratin, the same material as human hair and fingernails. Somewhat like teeth on a comb, baleen hangs straight down from the upper jaw. The edge of the plate that faces outward is smooth while the inside edge is frayed into bristle-like hairs. The fray of hairs from all the plates forms a dense mat inside the whale’s mouth allowing the baleen to act like a giant sieve, capturing the food while the water runs through. Fin whales feed primarily on small schooling fish but will also eat small shrimp-like critters called krill. They are referred to as “gulpers,” as they take their food by the mouthful. In the process of gulping a huge volume of food and water, folded pleats of skin extending from the whale’s chin to its belly expand to form a huge pouch which greatly increases the capacity of the whale’s mouth. The water is dispelled surprisingly quickly and the fish are swallowed whole.

When accelerating toward a school of fish, a fin whale can attain speeds of up to 25 knots (29 mph). Feeding is only observed at the surface. During surface feeding, fin whales are often accompanied by sea birds that have gathered around to grab a “free lunch”, courtesy of the whale. The lucky few fish to escape the mighty mouth of the whale generally fall prey to several coastal or pelagic species of birds. It is also not uncommon to find a pod of dolphins buzzing around a fin whale eager to take advantage of its ability to quickly herd large numbers of fish; grabbing as many as possible before the whale takes its mouthful.

A characteristic behavior of fin whales when feeding is to circle their prey before charging, presumably to corral the fish making them easier to capture. Fin whales commonly roll onto one side, usually their right side, while lunging through a prey patch. Their unique asymmetrical coloration has been associated with this behavior. It has been suggested that the white coloration of the right jaw may provide a sudden flash serving to startle the fish into schooling. Fin whales can eat up to six tons of food a day.

Fin whales are typically solitary animals, except for a mother with her calf. They depend largely on sound to find each other. In the world of marine mammals, sound is the primary sense used to navigate the waters, communicate with one another and locate food. Along with blue whales and elephants, fin whales have one of the deepest voices known in the animal kingdom. They emit sounds at such low frequencies that their sound is inaudible to the human ear. Sound can travel farther through water than through air and low frequency sounds travel farthest of all. It is believed that fin whales can hear each other over vast distances, reaching one hundred miles or more in deep waters.

Whaling has been the predominant threat to fin whales. During the earliest days of commercial hunting, fin whales remained largely unscathed as they were too fast for whalers to catch. Back then, whalers relied on the wind in the sails or their own ability to row for propulsion. With the steam engine came the means to travel fast enough to pursue and catch a fin whale. This, with the invention of the explosive-tipped harpoon shot from a cannon mounted on the deck, allowed the previously untouched fin whale to become the favorite target of 20th century whalers. In the southern hemisphere alone nearly three-quarters of a million fin whales were killed from the early 1900’s through the 1970’s.

Today, fin whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Most stocks were depleted by modern whaling, but there are still tens of thousands of fin whales remaining worldwide. In the North Atlantic, commercial whaling ended in 1987. In Greenland, however, fin whales are still the focus of a limited hunt under the International Whaling Commission’s “aboriginal subsistence whaling” scheme.

Aside from the threat of illegal whaling or the resumption of commercial whaling, potential hazards to fin whales include collisions with vessels, entanglement in fishing gear, reduced prey abundance due to overfishing, habitat degradation, and disturbance from low frequency noise. The actual level of human-caused mortality or serious injury to fin whales is unknown. More information is needed to determine the population trend for fin whales in the western North Atlantic.

If you find yourself out at sea on a windless day, keep a look out for a spout that rises up nearly 30 feet or more. With luck you may catch a glimpse of the fast, sleek and mysterious whale known as the “greyhound of the sea”.
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12/7/04
Red Wolf (Canis rufus)

Originally, the red wolf roamed as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. Like its relative the grey wolf, the red wolf was wiped out from its former range by large scale predator control programs. By the late 1930s, only two populations were believed to have remained; one in the Ozark/Quachita Mountain region of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and the other in southern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. Nearly extinct only a few decades ago, the Red Wolf has begun to recover with the help of captive breeding and reintroduction programs.

The Red Wolf derived its name from the reddish color of the head, ears, and legs. However, its coloring can range from very light tan to black. Weighing 45 to 80 pounds, the red wolf is smaller than the grey wolf and larger than the coyote. Also, the head is broader than the coyote’s but more narrow than the gray wolf’s. The red wolf’s most distinguishing features are the long ears and legs.

The exact identity of the red wolf has been debated for decades, with some authorities considering it a species, some considering it a sub-species of the gray wolf, and some considering it a hybrid, or cross-breed, of the coyote and the gray wolf.

In the wild, red wolves normally establish life-long mates. They reach breeding maturity in their second or third year, and breed in February or March of each year. The female wolf, sometimes assisted by the male, finds or digs a suitable den in areas such as hollow logs, ditch banks, or under rock outcrops. Two to six pups are born in March or April. The pups are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependant on their mother for about 2 months. They usually remain with the parents until reaching breeding maturity, forming small family groups, or packs. Red wolf packs generally use 10 to 100 square miles of habitat.

Red wolf packs are smaller than those of the gray wolf, and consist of an adult pair and young of the current and previous years. Similar to gray wolves, red wolves are very social and territorial, with aggression among pack members sometimes resulting in death.

White-tailed deer and raccoon are the most important part of the red wolf’s diet, but smaller animals, such as rabbit and nutria, are eaten when available. Red wolves will prey on small livestock in certain situations, but proper livestock husbandry can greatly reduce or eliminate these losses. With large livestock such as cattle, it is normally only the very young calves that are vulnerable.

Yet it was the belief that the red wolf caused widespread cattle losses that led to extensive predator control programs in the early part of the 20th Century. Fear and a misunderstanding of the animals led to indiscriminate killing for bounties. The red wolf was also affected by land clearing and drainage projects, logging, mineral exploration, and road development that encroached on its forest habitat.

As predator control programs were carried out with a vengeance, the red wolf was totally removed from extensive areas of its former range, while in other areas its social structure was destroyed by removal of pack members. At the same time, deforestation in eastern Texas and Oklahoma caused an eastward surge of the coyote. These factors resulted in red wolf and coyote interbreeding when red wolves were unable to find mates of their own species.

In 1967, the red wolf was listed as an endangered species (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973), meaning it is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established a captive breeding program for the red wolf in 1973. Biologists began to remove remaining red wolves from the wild in an effort to save the species from extinction. These animals were taken to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Over a period of 6 years, more than 400 wolf-like canids were captured in Louisiana and Texas, but of this number, only 43 were considered red wolves and were placed in captivity. Further breeding experiments revealed that only 17 of the 43 were true red wolves, and only 14 of these successfully bred in captivity. By 1980, the red wolf was considered extinct in the wild.

In 1977, captive red wolf pairs produced their first litters. Biologists took great care to maintain the wild instincts of these animals and to avoid creating a dependence on man.

In 1987, four pairs of red wolves were reintroduced to the wild on the 120,000-acre Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. Each wolf was equipped with a radio transmitter so that biologists could monitor their movements. Additional releases were made, and the first wild reproduction occurred in 1988. The reintroduction area has been expanded to include additional federal and private lands, and now encompasses approximately 500,000 acres. Today, there are more than 50 red wolves at this location.

Early releases of the red wolves at Alligator River resulted in high mortality, and some animals exhibited a tolerance of people considered to put them at risk because of potential conflict with human activities. Therefore, several island projects were established to serve as pre-introduction sites where the wolves could have their first experience in the wild with limited human contact. Wolves placed on these islands have reproduced, and the packs roam freely on the islands. The adults and/or young are subsequently captured and used in reintroduction projects such as the one at the Alligator River Refuge. Bulls Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina, Horn Island in the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi, and St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in Florida are the three island sites now used as pre-introduction sites.

Disease and parasites have also caused mortality among the reintroduced red wolf populations. Hookworm, heartworm, distemper, parvo virus, and others have taken their toll. Now, released and captive animals are vaccinated against such maladies.

Biologists continue to monitor the two reintroduced populations of red wolves. The Fish and Wildlife Service also is working with the USDA Forest Service to evaluate National Forest lands in the Southern Appalachians and elsewhere that may be suitable as future reintroduction sites.

There are now 270 to 300 red wolves, including 220 in captivity and the rest in the wild—quite a comeback from the 14 animals making up the original captive breeding population. There are currently 33 facilities nationwide where red wolves are bred in captivity.

Click here to: JOIN SCWF FOR A TRIP TO SEE THE RED WOLVES AT SEWEE CENTER- January 8.
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10/15/04
Bunched Arrowhead (Saggitaria fasciculata)
By Susan H. Young

The bulldozers are gone now. The little bend on the Enoree River is silent, its trees and vegetation scraped from its loamy soil. Where once the woodland animals and deer had bedded down by little seeps, now the bare clay lies baking. Clear seep wetlands in this area of Greenville and Spartanburg counties hold amazing unique treasures such as the bunched arrowhead, one of the world’s rarest plants, which was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1979. And yet development and sprawl just bulldoze through these sensitive habitats, destroying them before the Conservation Bank can purchase and preserve them. Dr.Gillian Newberry, curator of the USCS Herbarium, is disgusted by the lack of planning and awareness. “The bunched arrowhead now occurs naturally only within five square miles of Travelers Rest (and Furman.) It grows in clear creek drainage systems of the Enoree and Tyger Rivers. It needs clay-based drainage from the hills, moving down to an organic ‘sponge.’ These wetlands help to maintain a constant flow of water in the drainage system. During droughts, water drains from these organic sponges increasing the river’s flow. This ‘stabilizer’ action benefits us, too. Degradation factors include nearby development and drainage ponds. Areas around Lake Cunningham have the habitat, but no longer have these plants,” she explains.

Human activity causes roadblocks in its distribution, too. The seeds have a reticulate surface that gloms onto the feet of deer and other animals when they bed down in these seeps. Once people disrupt the seep, nearby fences and roads stop the successful pattern. Seeps are actually transitory, moving very slowly upstream. “We’ve lost the dynamics,” states Dr. Newberry. “Reinoculation, the process of animals moving seeds to other seeps, is important for the plant’s survival.” Massive environmental disruption has been the pattern in South Carolina. Planning for rare species has been “too little, too late.”

Only a few intact populations of bunched arrowhead are still struggling to exist. They used to live in piedmont springhead seepage forests, according to “A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina.” The best sites are near Travelers Rest, on coveted lands near the banks of the Reedy, Enoree and Tyger rivers. These forests begin at seepages below hillsides. Year-round, cool, slow-moving groundwater slowly percolates out from Pacolet sandy loam soils. Good examples of this community’s diversity include cinnamon fern, Solomon’s seal, running cedar, and partridge berry. More rare denizens might include the dwarf-flower heartleaf and the climbing fern. Puttyroot orchid and pipsissewa dot the upslope. Small green wood-orchids grace the seep’s edges. The remaining seepage forests are threatened by non-point-source (NPS) pollution, upslope disturbance (bulldozers), and lack of conservation planning/easements. There is, however, a bright spot. In a 2001 report written by soil scientist Dr. Dave Hargett, the Reedy River Task Force states that it planned to preserve four rare, threatened or endangered species, including the piedmont ragwort, wild goldenrod, bunched arrowhead and sweet pinesap. In addition, Upstate Forever, a local conservation group, has just received a large grant to open a Spartanburg county office.

Two protected areas harbor populations of the bunched arrowhead: an SCDNR site, and Furman University. Both locations are perilously close to development and roads that could disrupt their flow and pollute them.

Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve was purchased with the assistance of Nature Conservancy funds. Near Travelers Rest, the SCDNR manages it as a Heritage Trust Program site. They use small prescribed burns and bushogging, and have placed many nest boxes for owls, bats, bluebirds, etc. The preserve is a great birdwatching locale, according to Harry Davis, president of the Greenville Birdwatchers. Winter birds include fox sparrows, kinglets, and great blue herons. Summer residents include the tanager, yellowthroat warbler, woodpeckers, grasshopper sparrows, blue grosbeaks, and quail. Other standouts include buntings, flycatchers, vireos and chats. Kestrels and hawks soar above the open areas. This amazing diversity on 160 acres is supported by the upland slopes ecotones and the forested seeps. “This preserve represents the best chance for the bunched arrowhead’s long-term survival. People don’t realize that these unimportant-looking little wet places harbor some of the rarest creatures on Earth. These little seeps are so endemic. They are vulnerable. Please visit them carefully and gently,” says Mary Bunch, their SCDNR manager.

Furman University’s site was discovered by their botanist in the 1950’s. Leland Rodgers was surveying the north end of the future Furman Lake and discovered a plant he couldn’t identify. When he took a specimen to Duke, visiting botanist E.O. Beal identified it as the bunched arrowhead, already considered one of the world’s rarest plants. Privately owned Furman has an agreement with the SCDNR to protect and preserve its tiny colony. The little side path winds along near the Meditation Garden. A new observation deck overlooks the seepage stream. (Funded by the SC Governors and the National Wildlife Federation.) SCDNR signs caution that it’s a protected site. The low-key approach in the isolated area hopefully insures that it won’t be overrun with visitors. Nearby, joggers and walkers trot across an arched stone bridge; most never knowing that little rare plants are peeking out of the mucky seeps just upstream. Biology professor Travis Perry says, “This deck will be an educational tool, raising awareness about the plant’s existence here. The bunched arrowhead has educational and intrinsic value. We do not have the power to replace it, so we have a moral obligation to preserve it.”

For more info: www.uscs.edu/academic/colla&s/herbarium/rare.htm, the Rayner and Porcher book, A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina. www.furman.edu, www.endangered.fws.gov, www.dnr.state.sc.us (the Heritage Trust Program.)
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8/2/04
Rough-Leafed Loosestrife (Lysimachia asperulaefolia)
By Chris Daves, Board member

Rough-leafed loosestrife is an herbaceous perennial belonging to the Primrose family. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed it as an endangered species in 1987.

The distribution of this species is restricted to the sandhills/coastal plain region of only two Southeastern states: South Carolina and North Carolina. Nine populations are known to exist. Most of the populations of rough-leafed loosestrife are located in North Carolina. In South Carolina, only one population is known to exist in Richland County. Most of the populations are found on publicly-owned lands such as military bases and federal forestlands.

Its habitat includes the area between longleaf pine or oak savannas and wetter plant communities. It prefers moist or saturated sands and shallow organic soils.

Other habitats include savannas, seep bogs in the sandhills and pocosins. The species fares well where periodic fires are prevalent. Abundant sunlight and low vegetation are important to its survival.

The stems originate from a rhizome and grow up to two feet in height. Leaf formations are in whorls of three to four leaves. Its large, showy, yellow flowers are found on the terminal end of the stems. The plant flowers from May to June and fruits from August to October.

The largest threats to the plant are fire suppression and other habitat-destructive activities such as road construction, residential development, hydrological alterations, agricultural conversion of wetland areas and silviculture.

Efforts to preserve the species include better preservation and management techniques on publicly-owned land. Restrictions on human activity by placing buffering zones around existing populations are being implemented. More controlled burns are being conducted to eliminate competition that can shade out rough-leafed loosestrife. Other efforts are being made to create seed banks so that populations can be reestablished in suitable habitat. Reintroduction of the species to its historic habitat is another recovery method currently being used.

The only place to view rough-leafed loosestrife in South Carolina is on the Fort Jackson military base east of Columbia. A large population was discovered here in 1991 and is said to be the first population discovered in South Carolina since the 1800s.

Sources Consulted:
http://endangered.fws.gov/i/q/saq4b.html

Radford, A. E., H. Ahles, and C. R. Bell. 1978. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. UNC Press, Chapel Hill. 1,183 pp.

US Fish & Wildlife Service. 1995. Rough-leafed Loosestrife (Lysimachia asperulaefolia) Recovery Plan.
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5/26/04
The Carolina Heelsplitter (Lasmigona decorata)
By Jennifer M. Koches, USFWS

A native freshwater mussel species first described as Unio decoratus in 1852 by Isaac Lea, A. H. C larke did not classify the Carolina heelsplitter as the distinct species Lasmigona decorata until 1985. This medium-sized mussel has an ovate, trapezoidal-shaped shell with the largest ever-recorded specimen measuring 4.6 inches in length, 1.56 inches in width, and 2.7 inches in height (Keferl 1991). The outer surface of the shell varies from greenish brown to dark brown in color. Younger shells have faint greenish brown or black rays. The inside surface (nacre) is often pearly white to bluish white, grading to orange in the area of the umbo (Keferl 1991). In older specimens, however, the entire nacre may be a mottled pale orange.

The species currently has a very fragmented distribution but historically was known from several locations within the Catawba and Pee Dee River systems in North Carolina and Catawba, Pee Dee and Savannah River systems in South Carolina. Historic records also exist for the Carolina heelsplitter in the “Abbeville District” which were originally interpreted as having been records from the Saluda River system. However, a population of the heelsplitter discovered in the Savannah River system in the spring of 1995 opened up the possibility that the “Abbeville District” records may have referenced either the Savannah, Saluda, or both river systems.

Recent collection efforts indicate that the Carolina heelsplitter has been eliminated from the majority of its historic range and only six small populations are known to exist. Of those six remaining populations, two are in North Carolina and four are in South Carolina. North Carolina’s two populations occur in Union county; one population in Waxhaw Creek (Catawba River system) and the other population in Goose Creek (Pee Dee River system). One of South Carolina’s four populations occurs in a relatively short reach of the Lynches River (Pee Dee River system) in Chesterfield, Lancaster, and Kershaw counties. This population also extends into Flat Creek, a tributary to the Lynches River in Lancaster County. In the Catawba River system, another population of the species is found in a short reach of Gill Creek in Lancaster County.

The Savannah River system has the two remaining populations. One of these populations is in Turkey Creek in Edgefield and McCormick counties and two of its tributaries, Mountain Creek and Beaverdam Creek in Edgefield County. Another population exists in Cuffytown Creek in Greenwood and McCormick counties. Despite the extensive surveys in recent years, no evidence has been found to support the existence of a population in the Saluda River system.

The Carolina heelsplitter has been recorded in a variety of substrates, including mud, clay, sand, gravel, and cobble/bolder/bedrock. A majority of these areas are without significant silt accumulations and are along stable, well-shaded stream banks. Stability of stream banks and stream bottom appear to be the habitat elements essential to the species.

Like other freshwater mussels, the Carolina heelsplitter feeds by filtering detritus, diatoms, phytoplankton, and zooplankton from the water column. Many aspects of the heelsplitter’s life history are unknown, such as the life span and fish host species. An obligate parasite during the larval stage of its life cycle, the Carolina heelsplitter larvae (glochidia) are released into the water from the adult female’s brood pouch (marsupium) where they must attach to the gills of their fish host to undergo the metamorphosis to free living mussels. Finding this fish host remains one of the greatest mysteries of the Carolina heelsplitter’s survival.

Reduced to only a narrow fraction of its historic range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Carolina heelsplitter as endangered in 1993, and critical habitat was designated in 2002. Critical habitat identifies specific areas that are essential to the conservation of a listed species and areas that may require special management consideration or protection. All that aside, the remaining populations are more vulnerable than ever before. A single catastrophic event or alteration to habitat could cause irrevocable harm to the Carolina heelsplitter, possibly ushering it into extinction.

Pollutants from wastewater discharges are just one of the many factors affecting this species. Like canaries in a coalmine, freshwater mussels are one of the most reliable indicators of a stream’s health. Early life stages of the mussel are extremely sensitive to compounds such as chlorine and ammonia, heavy metals, and high concentrations of nutrients, all things commonly found in municipal and industrial wastewater effluents. Three of the four populations of Carolina heelsplitter in South Carolina exist in “impaired” water systems that do not currently meet State water quality standards.

Habitat loss and alteration associated with impoundments or dams, channelization, and dredging operations alter the quality and stability of remaining stream reaches by affecting flow regimes, water velocities, and water temperature and chemistry. Certain types of agricultural and forestry practices, highway and road construction projects, and residential and industrial developments can cause channel and streambank scouring associated with increased storm-water runoff, and add to the runoff of silt, fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants if inadequate or poorly maintained erosion and stormwater control measures are in place.

Compounded by the fact that the remaining populations of the Carolina heelsplitter are disjointed, it is easy to see that this is clearly a species in peril. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the South Carolina Aquarium, and The Nature Conservancy are co-hosting a Mussel Symposium in June to bring together malacologists (mussel biologists), resource agency representatives, and non-profit natural resource groups from across the region to discuss the need for statewide inventories of our native freshwater mussels, the status of the Carolina heelsplitter, and statewide water quality issues. Being successful at keeping the Carolina heelsplitter from slipping off into extinction will take much time, work, and cooperation.
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4/2/04
Miccosukee Gooseberry
Article and photos by Susan H. Young

Nearly everyone’s heard of the red-cockaded woodpecker and the swallow-tailed kite. But what about their neighbor, one of the rarest plants on Earth- the Miccosukee gooseberry?

Why is this odd little spiky shrub federally threatened? (Only a few hundred exist, huddled in two tiny colonies in South Carolina and Florida.) Other gooseberry species are quite common out West. What pollinated its flowers during the Pleistocene era, when it flourished? Only bumblebees pollinate it now. Was it alkali bees at one time? Or specialized ants? Does anything eat its sour fruit? Perhaps those spiny berries hide a medicinal secret. (Other berry-producers, like the saw-palmetto, provide valuable treatments for humans.) Why do these rare plants even persist? Most other relics from 10,000 years ago are extinct.

Why do they thrive only in unusual alkaline “sinks”? Was the gooseberry dependent on one specific (now extinct) pollinator? –Or seed disperser? (The Carolina Parakeet?!) Both of the existing gooseberry colonies live close to large cities, perilously close. They’re at risk from sprawl, hurricanes, pollution disasters, etc. If the groundwater becomes polluted, or the alkalinity disperses, what will happen to the gooseberry? It might go extinct before we could discover its secrets.

Can erosion and silt from nearby rivers affect it adversely? The SC population is permanently protected, but the Florida plants are on private land. Their protection is only voluntary. A nearby interstate and encroachment from Tallahassee provide so many opportunities for accidental destruction. (Several other endangered species of plants and animals still live there as well.)

This gooseberry is such an oddball adaptive plant. Its niche is very location-specific. For example, its leaves emerge in autumn, and it stands bare in the summer! It takes advantage of the winter sun, when there is no canopy of hardwood leaves. This shrub blooms in April, thriving on the calcium and alkaline provided by the chalky marble limestone. (The plant’s Latin family name, Saxifragaceae, means breaking rocks.) However, these porous layers and the nearby lakes and streams act as “sinks”. They trap sediments, over-nutrients, and non-point-source pollution from stormwater. The gooseberry also grows a relatively short distance inland from saltwater. As the result of hurricanes or humans, saltwater intrusion could migrate there too.

Speaking of migrations, do any animals, birds or even insects still travel between the SC and Florida colonies? (It would be a great advantage for providing genetic diversity.)

The ecosystem around Lake Miccosukee (Jefferson County: Florida panhandle) provides critical habitat for the largest population of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Other rare animals as varied as the SE shrew, Cooper’s hawk, swallow-tailed kite (another raptor), Florida pine snake, the bald eagle, and a striped newt struggle to survive there. The mud sunfish, another ancient rare oddball, may actually be a surviving relic of the Pleistocene era. The gooseberry isn’t the only rare plant there, either. The Florida mountain-mint, turk’s-cap lily, Mexican tear-thumb, and karst pond xyris all grow there. These plants crave calcium, so they’re called calcicoles. The mountain-mint also grows in the SC location (Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve, McCormick County.) Unusual mountain wildflowers also seek refuge on the SC site, miles south of their brethren. Imagine seeing trilliums (lance-leaved, nodding, and faded), false-rue anemone, spring beauty, green violets and Dutchman’s breeches growing just north of Augusta! Other uncommon denizens including the yellow cucumber tree and the (state-endangered) Webster’s salamander live in this unique little cove. They’re a stone’s throw away from the huge Thurmond (Clark’s Hill) Lake and Dam. Both gooseberry populations are in forest-managed areas.

Is “fire suppression” suppressing the gooseberry? So many coastal plants are fire-dependent. Does this berry-producer NEED an occasional fire, like the blackberry does? The shrub is under fire suppression in both its colonies. A mechanical reduction of overstory would NOT supply the heat and chemical changes provided only by fire. (Ask a chemistry teacher or forester.)

Yet another problem faces this little shrub: it will transplant, but does not reproduce in those new locations. (Hence the curiosity about its pollinators and seed-dispersers. Perhaps its seeds had to pass through a Giant Sloth’s gut in order to sprout in the wild?)

Since it is not considered a “commercially viable” plant, few funds are available for its continuing study. Yet so many tropical or coastal plants hold great medicinal value. For example, quinine comes from the (tropical) cinchona’s bark. Hot peppers provide capsaicin (capsicum) for arthritis relief. Not to mention that this shrub holds a specific niche in its fragile ecosystem (basic-mesic forest.) Together, the gooseberry and its neighbors help preserve the genetic diversity essential to our planet.

Through floods, fire, frost and hurricanes, for over 10,000 years this spiky little shrub has persisted. WHY? HOW? What can we do to further support its habitat?

“The ecology of woodland herbs is understudied, but many evolved in situations where disturbances to woodlands were greater than they are today, and far more complex and diversified.” –Paul Catling, Dept. of Biology, Univ. of Ottawa.


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2/9/04
Seabeach Amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus)
By Chris Daves, Board member

Seabeach amaranth is an annual herb belonging to the Amaranth family. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed it as a threatened species in 1993.

The distribution of this species formerly included nine states located along the Atlantic Coast. Currently, the species is restricted to only three states: South Carolina, North Carolina and New York (Long Island). Most of the populations of seabeach amaranth are located in North Carolina. In South Carolina, populations are known to exist in Horry, Georgetown and Charleston Counties.

Its habitat includes the sandy substrates of coastal barrier beaches. It is found above the high tide line in the lower foredune area of non-eroding beach. Other locations include overwash flats and accreting spits at the end of the barrier islands.

It possesses thick, fleshy, oval-shaped leaves located at the end of the branch tips. Leaves range from 0.5 to 1 inch long and also have a hollow notch at the tip.

The prostrate stems originate from a taproot and form mats below or above the sandy surface. Flowers are found in clusters within the leaf axils. Seabeach amaranth is monoecious, containing both male and female flowers on the same plant. Its fruit is in the form of a smooth, bladder-like utricle. Its small black seeds are easily spread by wind and water. Seeds typically germinate in May. Both the flowers and fruits mature from June to frost.

Seabeach amaranth is often found mixed with sparse populations of sea rocket, Carolina saltwort, seashore elder and sea oats. However, it is intolerant of competition and does not occur in thickly-vegetated areas. It often grows in areas occupied by nesting shorebirds such as plovers, terns and skimmers.

The largest threat to the species is destruction of its habitat via man-made beach stabilization efforts. The construction of sea walls, bulkheads, jetties and revetments often cause further erosion of the lower foredune area. The species fares better when soft erosion control measures such as beach renourishment are used. Beach renourishment often enlarges the beach and thus creates more habitat for seabeach amaranth.

Hurricanes and strong storms which cause coastal erosion also contribute to habitat destruction. The number of plants fluctuate year to year based on coastal dynamics and the number of strong storms. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo wiped out an estimated 90% of the seabeach amaranth population in South Carolina.

Other threats to the species include webworm herbivory and impacts caused by recreational abuse such as excessive foot traffic or off-road vehicles.

Efforts to preserve the species include limiting the hard erosion control measures implemented along the coast. Other efforts are being made to create seed banks so that populations can be reestablished in suitable habitat. Restrictions on off-road vehicular traffic and pedestrian activities also help to protect this species.

An excellent location to view seabeach amaranth is the north end of Pawley’s Island in Georgetown County. It can be seen in multiple clusters just below the dunes south of the inlet separating Pawley’s Island from Litchfield. Although this area was hit hard by Hurricane Hugo, the seabeach amaranth population appears to be making a steady comeback.

Sources Consulted:
http://endangered.fws.gov/i/q/saq9z.html

Porcher, R.D., and D.A. Rayner. 2001. A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia. 551 pp.

Radford, A. E., H. Ahles, and C. R. Bell. 1978. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. UNC Press, Chapel Hill. 1,183 pp.
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11/25/03
The Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
By Stephanie Obley, SCWF Volunteer

“It was hardly to be doubted, that several vessels reported to have encountered, at such or such a time, or on such or such a meridian, a Sperm Whale of uncommon magnitude and malignity, which whale, after doing great mischief to his assailants, had completely escaped them; to some minds it was not an unfair presumption, I say, that the whale in question must have been no other than Moby Dick.” — Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Made famous by the Herman Melville’s Moby Dick in 1851, the sperm whale remains an awesome creature.

Reaching 60 feet long and weighing up to 45 tons, the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is the largest of the toothed whales, one of two groups of cetaceans that also includes the killer whale and dolphins. The sperm whale is the deepest diving whale, going to depths of 3,200 feet and staying under for as long as 2 hours. It has the largest brain of any animal on Earth and can live up to 70 years. Sperm whales are found in all the world’s oceans, including the Atlantic Ocean along the United States‘ eastern coast.

The sperm whale has been listed as federally endangered and protected in the U.S. since 1970. It is possible that the sperm whale passes through waters just off South Carolina‘s coast. During winter in the Atlantic, sperm whales concentrate near Cape Hatteras, N.C., heading northward in spring. Males range from the poles to the equator, while females and their young remain together in pods in temperate regions. The total number of sperm whales in the Atlantic is not known, but according to the September 2000 stock report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estimates are about 3,500. The worldwide population may have once been about 2 million, but is now around 500,000, although exact estimates are difficult because of the deep diving nature of these whales.

The sperm whale can be identified by its unusual head, which takes up about 30 percent of its body. A sperm whale’s head is blunt and squared off, with a small underslung jaw, and its eyes are relatively small. Their bodies are a dark brownish gray. It is thought that the sperm whale does not see well, given their small eye size and that its deep-water hunting grounds have little light. Instead of depending on light, they use echolocation to find their food. The main food source for the sperm whale is deep-water giant squid, but it also eats fish, skates and octopi. One sperm whale can eat about 1 ton of food each day. Researchers looking for the giant squid - the world‘s largest invertebrate, which has only been found dead washed ashore or in the stomachs of beached sperm whales - have followed sperm whales in hopes of finding a live giant squid.

The number of sperm whales has dropped because of hunting that began as far back as 1690, reaching a peak in the 1963/64 whaling season of 29,000 sperm whales killed, and continuing until the 1980s. They were sought for their unique spermaceti oil from an organ that derives their name. Spermaceti may be used for echolocation and buoyancy regulation. They were also hunted for their blubber and a substance called ambergris, which forms in their intestines around squid beaks and may aid in digestion. Ambergris was once used as a fixative for perfumes in the cosmetic industry.

By 1984, all hunting of sperm whales was banned by the International Whaling Commission and is honored by most countries. Sperm whale numbers seem to be increasing, however, due to centuries of hunters targeting large male sperm whales, the balance between the sexes may have been disrupted, as well as birth rates and average whale size.

The information in this article came from the following books and Web sites:
• The textbooks “Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology” (Feldhamer, Drickamer, Vessey, and Merritt. 1999) and “Marine Biology: Function, Biodiversity, Ecology” (Levinton, 2001)
• U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service:
-www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/PR2/Stock_Assessment_Program/individual_sars.html
-caldera.sero.nmfs.gov/protect/sa_cand.htm
- nmml.afsc.noaa.gov/education/cetaceans/sperm1.htm
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
- http://ecos.fws.gov/servlet/SpeciesProfile?spcode=A02T
• U.S. Minerals Management Service:
- www.mms.gov/eppd/sciences/esp/profiles/gm/GM-01-04b.htm
• Public Broadcasting System - www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/spermwhales
• American Cetacean Society - www.acsonline.org/factpack/spermwhl.htm
• Princeton University - http://www.princeton.edu/~batke/moby/moby-1.html
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9/19/03
Little Amphianthus (Amphianthus pusillus)
By Chris Daves, Biologist, S&ME, Inc.

Little amphianthus is a very small, aquatic herb belonging to the Figwort family. Other common names for this species include pool sprite and snorklewort. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed it as a threatened species in 1988.

The distribution of little amphianthus is restricted to the Piedmont physiographic region of only three southeastern states: Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. A majority of the populations are located in Georgia. In South Carolina, only three populations are known to exist and include sites located in Lancaster, Saluda and York Counties.

Its typical habitat includes rock-rimmed temporary pools on weathered granite or gneissic outcrops. The outcrops can be large, isolated domes or gently rolling flatrocks. The pools are often referred to as vernal pools and are typically shallow, flat-bottomed, and have intact rims. The intact rims are an important feature in that they restrict drainage and thus allow the pools to hold water required by the species.

Ideal conditions within the vernal pools include shallow mineral soils that are sandy-silty and very low in organic material and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Pools retaining 1 to 4 inches of water for several weeks following a heavy rain provide sufficient habitat for the species.

Two other federally listed species, mat-forming quillwort (Isoetes tegentiformans) and black-spored quillwort (Isoetes melanospora) also share this specialized microhabitat with little amphianthus.

Little amphianthus is an ephemeral annual with its entire life cycle usually lasting less than a month. During the summer months, the vernal pools are often dry and the species persists only as seeds in the dried-out soil. Seed germination usually peaks in the late winter or early spring when light and rainfall conditions are adequate. The plant dies when the pools are desiccated by lack of rainfall.

Little amphianthus possesses two types of leaves: floating and submerged. Submerged leaves are narrow and arranged in a basal rosette. The single pair of floating leaves is oppositely arranged and greenish-purple. The floating leaves are ovate or rounded in shape and attached to a long, slender, underwater stem.

Depending on environmental conditions, flowering usually occurs in early spring (March to April). Flowers are borne in the axils of both types of leaves. Submerged flowers remain closed except when exposed to air. Only floating flowers are opened. A single, white to pale-purplish flower grows between the paired floating leaves. The fruits are in capsule form containing numerous dark-brown seeds. Seeds can lie dormant for several seasons until adequate amounts of water become available for germination.

Self-pollination appears to be the predominant form of sexual reproduction in little amphianthus. Cross-pollination does occur between individuals.

One of the largest threats to the species is destruction of its habitat via rock quarrying. Quarrying companies own approximately 10-20% of granite outcrops known to contain suitable habitat for the species.

Farm animals have contributed to the demise of the species through trampling of its habitat and depositing excessive amounts of fecal waste (i.e. nutrients) in the vernal pools. Extra nutrients in the pools result in eutrophication that causes algal growth and thus competition for carbon dioxide and light. Excessive soil accumulation in the pools causes invasion of more aggressive species that may shade out little amphianthus. The species is a poor competitor and requires high light intensity.

Many sites have been impacted by recreational abuse such as excessive foot traffic, motorcycles, bicycles, four-wheelers, and automobiles. Dumping of waste materials and fire-building in the pools also contribute to habitat destruction.

Conservation and preservation activities being implemented include tighter controls and restrictions on vehicular traffic and pedestrian activities. Protective fencing is being placed around suitable habitats where farm animal activity is occurring. Efforts have been made to form cooperative agreements with private landowners since most of the suitable habitat is under their control. Other efforts include land acquisition by conservation groups to protect remaining habitats and populations.

Forty-Acre Rock Heritage Preserve in Lancaster County in one of the few places in South Carolina in which little amphianthus can be found. On a recent late-October field excursion to Forty-Acre Rock, I along with Jake and Lori Duncan of D&D W.E.S.T. Consulting had the fortunate opportunity to view a flowering little amphianthus at an unusual time of year.

With flowering usually occurring in early spring, this untimely sighting may be due to lack of adequate rainfall this past spring. Apparently, the vernal pools were not able to retain enough water for the seeds to germinate during their usual time. However, the ideal conditions of enough light and rainfall to fill the pools occurred in October. It appears botanists should look for little amphianthus at other times of the year and not just in early spring.
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6/16/03
The Cougar

The cougar (also known as mountain lion, panther, painter, catamount, puma, and other names) was once one of the most widely distributed mammals in the Western Hemisphere. At the time of European settlement it occupied a wide range of habitats from Canada well into parts of South America, and was found throughout the continental United States. Today the only known reproducing population of cougars in the eastern US occurs in south Florida in the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp. This Florida population, once down to about 50 animals, is now thought to be back in excess of 100 animals as a positive result of recovery plans.

The largest cat native to the eastern US, adults can exceed 8 ft in total length (including their tail) and 200 lbs. in weight. Cougars are rather long and slender in appearance. They have short ears and large round heads. Their fur is short and rather uniform reddish to light brown in color. A distinctive feature is their 30-inch long tail (so different from our native and still abundant bobcat, which has a very short tail). Young cougars are marked with dark spots.

Cougars are stealthy predators that can run up to 35 miles per hour. They were once major factors in the ecosystems of our South Carolina forests and coastal swamps where adults killed deer and other large prey items (wild hogs, raccoons, woodland buffalo, etc). Adults are largely nocturnal, solitary and territorial. They are active hunters and may cover as much as 20 miles in a night. It is estimated that cougars make a kill of a large prey item (deer, etc) about once each week. They typically target a sick deer or other individual animal not in prime condition. Usually a shy cat, the cougar prefers to stalk its prey and is rarely ever a threat to people.

There are approximately 20 recognized geographic races of the cougar throughout its range. In South Carolina it is thought that the cougars occurring here were of both the eastern race (Felis concolor cougar) and the Florida race (Felis concolor coryi). The US Fish and Wildlife Service lists both of these races as endangered.

Cougars were eliminated from our state, as they were throughout much of the eastern US, for a combination of reasons including: a) loss of much of the forest and deer herd during the heavy agricultural activity of the late 1800's and b) the cougar's habit of substituting livestock for wild prey items (in the latter cases, stock owners typically took direct and terminal action against the cougars). Today there are no wild reproducing populations of cougars in South Carolina. However, an individual animal is occasionally observed, or killed, as a result of someone releasing a "pet" cougar that got to be too much for them to handle. While there is some doubt the cougar still exists south of the Canadian Maritime provinces, significant sightings occur in Tennessee and North and South Carolina. Greenville and Pickens Counties are among the several counties where sightings have been reported in South Carolina.

Although gone from the eastern US (except Florida), the cougar is doing well throughout much of the western US, and is a game animal in many locations. In South Carolina, as in much of the east, what largely remains of the cougar is its name, which is linked to many of our landscape features. When you see the name "panther" "painter", "catamount" and other cougar synonyms attached to creeks, mountain peaks, gaps, and other features of our topography, it is a testament to the fact that this large predator was not only once here in South Carolina and the eastern US, but that its presence impressed people enough to name a place after it.
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6/16/03
Schweinitz's Sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii)
Contributed by Robert Siler, SCWF Member

One of the rarest species in the nation, Schweinitz's sunflower has been on the US Fish and Wildlife Service's federally endangered list since June 1991 (Department of Interior 1991). Found only in the Carolinas' lower Piedmont, populations occur in Lancaster and York County in South Carolina and Anson, Cabarrus, Davidson, Gaston, Mecklenberg, Montgomery, Randolph, Rowan, Stanly and Union Counties in North Carolina - all within about 90 miles surrounding Charlotte. In these areas combined, only 90 known populations exist; less than 10 sites are protected (Dr. Richard Houk, Rock Hill, SC, personal communications).

The rare flower was named after Lewis David von Schweinitz (1780-1834), a Moravian clergyman and church administrator from Salem, N.C., who discovered the sunflower in the early 1800s. Often called the founder of American mycology, Schweinitz published The Fungi of North Carolina in 1818 (The New York Botanical Garden 1999). Schweinitz also collaborated with many of the early botanist, including John Torrey. Later, in 1841, John Torrey and Asa Gray (Department of Interior 1991) described and named the sunflower from material collected in North Carolina, presumably from Schweinitz.

Schweinitz's sunflower blooms late, from August to frost. The flower is composed of relatively small, yellow disk flowers (center portion) and yellow ray flowers ("petals" surrounding the center). The plant generally ranges from 3-6 feet tall but grows as tall as 16 feet. The composite flowers are 2-3 inches in diameter. The leaves of the lower stem are generally less than 1-inch wide with upper stem leaves less than half that wide. Leaves range from 2-8 inches long with the upper side being rough and the lower side "hairy". The stem is usually covered with minute bristles or hairs and is reddish-purple (USFWS 1994). From a distance, the sunflower resembles many of the yellow fall asters that you see in roadside Carolina ditches and fields. The main difference is that Schweinitz's sunflower is generally taller that most of the late summer/fall asters and sunflowers. The head (disk) is small (1/4 to 2/3 inches in diameter) - not nearly the size of sunflowers cultivated for oil or gardens.

Geology and soil appears to have a lot to do with the restricted distribution of the species. Sites often have shallow soils and exposed boulders and bedrock. Soils are generally fine textured and tend to shrink and swell with soil moisture, fissuring when dry. These soils present harsh conditions for many plant species and are not widely used for agriculture or forestry. Schweinitz's sunflower requires disturbance and openings and will flourish under sparse canopies with abundant sunlight. That's why the plant is most abundant on unforested roadsides, electric-line corridors and other permanently maintained openings. Sunflower populations dwindle as trees colonize their habitats, since they don't fare as well when shaded by taller vegetation. The common habitat of Schweinitz's sunflower, if left undisturbed, tends to succeed to a blackjack and post oak community. This vegetation type is often referred to as the Blackjacks because of the abundance of blackjack oaks. Trees on these sites grow slowly and occur at low or moderate densities. When disturbed or cleared, the plant community resembles a midwestern prairie. In fact, plant species associated with the sunflower are uncommon or rare in the Carolinas but characteristic of the prairies and glades of the Midwest. An especially notable site is the "Rock Hill Blackjacks" near Rock Hill, S.C. When disturbed, these sites display an abundant and diverse wildflower community with many of the Midwest prairie-type plants. In early accounts, John Henry Logan (1859) must have been describing this area: extensive prairie ridges, widely spaced large trees, great stands of cane, wildflowers of every hue and large herds of buffalo and elk in Richland, Fairfield, Chester and York Counties. Douglas S. Brown (1953) reported writings of Mrs. Elizabeth F. Ellet and others that describe the blackjack lands of Chester and York as once being open prairies "where a person could be seen at a great distance" but by the 1800s, were thickly covered with blackjack oak.

The discovery of the plant diversity of the Rock Hill Blackjacks is a story in itself. In 1982, a Duke Power biologist, who is a board member of SC Wildlife Federation, and a forester were setting up test plots to use herbicides on a right-of-way because the rocky land was difficult to bush-hog. The biologist noticed plants he recognized from his years with the Illinois Department of Conservation and contacted the SC Department of Natural Resources. The South Carolina Heritage Trust Program inventoried the plants and later acquired lands in the Rock Hill Blackjacks. The SC Heritage Trust restored the prairie habitat of their purchase, which has resulted in unique plant communities and an abundance of Schweinitz's sunflowers.
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6/16/03
Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) Bird of Fire and Forest
By Ed Falco, SCWF Education Committee Member

Among the thick underbrush of a young, scraggly Jack Pine, a tiny, finicky mom builds a ground nest for her future family. Perched atop the chosen tree, her mate's loud call stakes claim to their territory. Each summer 900 or so breeding pairs of the highly endangered Kirtlands's Warbler fight for their right to exist.

The 1999 census showed a total of 905 singing males. While that number is slowly rising, it's disturbingly low. This fire-dependent warbler has faced countless setbacks. Habitat loss and life cycle disruptions due to parasitism head the list. Extinction could loom just one well-placed and ill-timed catastrophe away.

This migratory species spends winters only in the Bahamas and only breeds in the scrubby, Jack Pine forests of Michigan's Northern Lower Peninsula. That's it. These rare birds are seen and heard by only a handful of fortunate humans-mostly biologists.

The male's blue-gray back is streaked with black. His black eye mask and "broken" eye ring are distinct. He is pale yellow below with dark streaks alongside his breast. The female is duller and lacks the mask. This warbler constantly bobs its tail.

History
In 1851 an unknown dead bird was found in Ohio by a relative of Doctor Jared Kirtland. The good Doctor, sensing a new find, documented the species and gave the specimen to the Smithsonian. The bird was named in his honor. It wasn't until the summer of 1903, that two students, who had studied endangered birdcalls, heard a loud "familiar" trill while canoeing Michigan's Upper Lower Peninsula. Their finding confirmed, warbler nests were soon discovered nearby.

Jack Pines (Pinus banksiana)
Short, slow-growing Jack Pine forests prefer the sandy soils found in Michigan's Northern Lower Peninsula. Historically, stands ranged from heights of 5 to 20 feet and were maintained by natural occurring wildfires. As people moved in, they battled against the fires. The tree's cycle was disrupted, allowing the pines to grow too tall. Heat bursts open the pinecones, scattering seeds and giving way to a new generation of young trees. The juvenile "Jacks" provide the crucial thick ground cover and promote the presence of insects preferred by this picky warbler.

Establishing young Jack Pine forests is tricky and lengthy. The window of "criticality" for the ideal habitat is small. Warblers only appear in this habitat 9-13 years after a fire when the new pines are about 5 feet high. Once the pines reach 12-18 feet the birds abandon this site for a younger growth stand.

Parasitism
Preying on its subjects in a most sinister manner, the innocent looking, but deadly Brown-Headed Cowbird victimizes over 200 bird species coast to coast.

Enticed to the warbler's area years ago by farming and the open fields created, the cowbirds flourished. Akin to an alien invasion sub plot, the larger cowbirds lay a single egg in the warbler's nest and toss an existing egg. The cowbird egg hatches first and the bigger nestling overpowers the warbler chicks for food starving them to death. The unsuspecting mother raises the alien intruder as her own.

In the 1960's before control measures began, cowbird invasion of Kirtland's Warbler nests topped 70%. Today, due to extensive trapping of cowbirds plus an increase in suitable habitat, parasitism is less than 3%.

Habitat Management
Each year biologists obtain a very accurate estimate of the total Kirtland's Warbler population due to its unique nesting and breeding habits. They are very territorial and only one breeding pair occupies a 20-acre area. In the spring, males sing loud and often from the top of a Jack Pine. You can hear the male's song up to ¼ mile away. One female is counted per each male reported. The Michigan Audubon Society and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation help fund the census.

A carefully crafted recovery plan focuses on reducing cowbird parasitism, maintaining old and developing new breeding habitat, protecting the warbler on its migration route and managing wintering habitat.

State and Federal environmental agencies use controlled burns and clear-cutting to restore habitat. For the Kirtland's Warbler these management tools, while sometimes controversial elsewhere, are key for survival.

Recently discovered nests in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Canada and Wisconsin gives hope for future expansion of the birds' range.

Each year since 1993, a Kirtland's Warbler Festival is held in June, at the Kirtland Community College in Mio, Michigan. Kirtland's Warbler tours are available from the US Forest Service.

Perhaps the title of "Fire Bird" truly belongs to this beautiful, spirited, tiny, tail-wagging warbler. Fighting against all odds every new Kirtland's Warbler reaching adulthood raises the collective spirits of conservationists. Sound environment stewardship benefits us all. What we do for the earth and it's resources, we do for ourselves.
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6/16/03
The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (campephilus principalis)
Contributed by John Garton, Board Member

In April 1944 wildlife artist Don Eckelberry made paintings of a lone ivory-billed woodpecker in a Louisiana swamp. His observations of this individual bird, made along with other ornithologists, represents for many people the last authenticated sighting of this species that once ranged throughout many parts of the southern United States.

The ivory-bill was a beautiful and strikingly colored black and white bird, with males having a bright red crest. It was the second largest woodpecker in the world (next to Mexico's imperial woodpecker) and the largest woodpecker in the United States, being several inches longer than our pileated woodpecker. Its common name was derived from its white, three inch-long, bill that was an inch wide at the base. Other popular names included "lord god bird" which referred to people's response upon seeing one for the first time ("lord god, what a bird") , and "kint" which was a reference to the sound of its call.

The story of the ivory-bill is apparently closely connected to the history of our forests. The species was a creature of mature, or old growth, southeastern bottomland forests. It was essentially restricted to these kinds of habitats. Within these forests it was most commonly associated with "die off" areas resulting from fire, wind, drought, or insect attack. According to the Audubon Land Bird Guide by Richard Pough (Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1946, 1949) "_ _ _it is most abundant where there has been an abnormal tree mortality. It is likely that most nesting has always been in ‘die off areas’. A normal healthy forest has a low carrying capacity for ivory-bills". Unlike our many other woodpecker species that thrive in mature bottomlands, but also do quite well in younger second growth forests, the ivory-bill could not make this adjustment. When the old growth bottomland forests were extensively harvested to meet demands for forest products; the ivory-bill was deprived of its life source.

A major part of that life source was a food supply that was rather restricted. While ivory-bills sometimes ate various fruits and nuts, like most woodpeckers they thrived on insects (its scientific name, Campephilus principalis, means "the principal lover of grubs"). However, unlike other woodpeckers that drill into trees to obtain burrowing insects in sections of dead or diseased heartwood, the ivory-bill depended on insects that live just under the bark of recently dead and dying "upright" trees. Rather than drilling into these trees, they stripped the bark away to expose their food source. Standing dead trees of mature size are not a common item in young, second growth forest stands. Indeed, such trees are only relatively abundant in expansive stands of older growth. As our old growth bottomland forests were depleted, so was the ivory-bill’s primary food supply.

Ivory-bills lived along the coast from North Carolina southward to Florida, west to Texas, and up the Mississippi River as far as Illinois, but they were never known to be abundant. Estimates from various observers range from one nesting pair every 6 to 10 square miles of good habitat. This is an incredibly low density (for comparison it is estimated that only one square mile of habitat can support 21 nesting pairs of red-bellied woodpeckers, or 6 pairs of pileated woodpeckers), and it further contributed to the bird's demise. Because of their limited abundance, they were heavily collected as "specimens" by museum personnel (a bird in the hand - or the museum cabinet - was worth two in the bush). The scarcer they became, the more value that was placed on each individual as a "specimen". And, as the old growth forests were harvested in the first half of the 20th century, the ivory-bill became scarcer. By the 1930's there were only a few known nesting pairs, most of which were in Louisiana.

The ivory-billed woodpecker lived in South Carolina. Accepted records for the bird include locations in the coastal plain associated with the Pee Dee, Santee, and Savannah rivers, among others. The bird is reported to have survived in South Carolina as late as the mid 1930's making our state one of the last known locations for ivory-bills. By the end of the 1930's it was considered to be extirpated from South Carolina, and by 1944 from Louisiana (and from the United States).

Is the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct? Probably. Although there are still periodic "sightings", none have been appropriately confirmed. It has been thought there might be some birds in Cuba, but apparently little hope remains there. Regarding the general thoughts of ornithologists on the status of the ivory-bill in the United States, it is noteworthy that many recent field guides still picture the ivory-bill while mentioning that it is "likely extinct". However, some of the newest field guides neither picture nor mention the ivory-bill.

The ivory-bill’s history presents an interesting story. Several sources of information include the following. The book "Hope is the thing with feathers" by Christopher Cokinos (Tarcher/Putnam books, 2000) summarizes the history of the ivory-bill, Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon and other extinct birds. The most detailed study of the ivory-bill was made during the 1930's in Louisiana by James T. Tanner and reported on in his book "The ivory-billed woodpecker" (Dover, 1942). Tanner's book includes photos of ivory-bills at their nest site. In addition, the call of the ivory-bill, as recorded in the 1930's in Louisiana, can be heard at the following site. http://birds.cornell.edu/LNS/history/thepast.htm

While the ivory-bill is apparently gone, there are a few places in South Carolina where its habitat type seems to exist today. One of these is the Congaree Swamp located just south of Columbia. Tanner said in his book that "one condition is characteristic of all ivory-bill habitats, namely, that other species of woodpeckers are common or abundant in those places". If you have a chance, go visit the Congaree early in the morning when you might have a section of the high boardwalk to yourself for a few moments. Then look and listen. There are times when the sights and sounds you observe will consist largely of woodpeckers tapping, drumming, calling, and flashing their colors among the giant living, dying, and dead trees standing in this old growth bottomland forest. Woodpeckers can dominate your senses at Congaree. Here, surely, the lord god bird would feel at home.
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6/16/03
Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia rubra ssp. Jonesii)
Contributed by Sara Green, SCWF Director of Education

South Carolina is lucky to be one of the few places where you can still find the carnivorous Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant. There are six small populations (some are less than 50 square feet) in Greenville County - five are in the Saluda River drainage, and one is in the Enoree River drainage. North Carolina is home to four populations, located in the French Broad River drainage.

This perennial grows from 21 to 73 inches tall and has numerous waxy green leaves with maroon veins. The leaves grow in clusters and form tubular “pitchers” with a heart-shaped hood. These plants can only be found in bogs and along streams in the Blue Ridge Divide or occasionally near waterfalls. The bog soils are deep, poorly-drained combinations of loam, sand, and silt, with a high organic matter content and a medium to high acidic composition.

The mountain sweet pitcher plant is carnivorous. Botanists do not fully understand how carnivorous plants evolved, but the ability to absorb minerals from insects may allow these plants to compete in nutrient-poor habitats. Insects are attracted to the pitcher plant by nectar secreted from glands near the top of the pitcher, or by the plant's bright color. Just inside the tube's opening is a slippery smooth surface, and the insects fall into the tube or get caught by hairs. These stiff, downward pointing hairs keep the insects captive inside the pitcher. Inside the pitchers, the plant secretes a fluid containing enzymes which digest most insects that are caught.

Due to this plant’s dependence on wetlands, habitat degradation is a major factor leading to the decline of this species. Since being added to the Federal Register of Endangered Species on September 30, 1988, sixteen historic sites of this plant have been eliminated by draining of wetlands, flooding from impoundments, conversion into golf courses, industrial development, and agricultural use.

Occasional, moderate disturbance is necessary to maintain the species' habitat and reduce the encroachment of woody plants. Woody plants create a drier, shadier habitat unsuitable for pitcher plant survival. The role played by fire in this mountain species' habitat is still speculative, but fire may historically have opened areas for colonization. Severe droughts in consecutive years and the channelization of nearby streams also threaten the plant's habitat.

Collection is another serious threat. Carnivorous plants are in demand by amateur plant enthusiasts as well as professional botanists. Recently, commercial florists have been using dried pitcher plants in their floral arrangements. Even through cultivated sources of most pitcher plants are available, are also collecting the species from the wild.

This species is protected by the Lacey Act (P.L. 97-79, as amended; 16 U.S.C. 3371 et seq.) which makes it unlawful to possess any wild plant (including roots, seeds, and other parts) within U.S. territorial or special maritime jurisdiction (as defined in 18 U.S.C. 7); or to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any wild plant (including roots, seeds, and other parts) taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any State law or regulation. It is also unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any wild plant (including roots, seeds, and other parts) taken or possessed in violation of any U.S. law, treaty, or regulation or in violation of Indian tribal law. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for the management/recovery, listing, and law enforcement/protection of this species.

Management in South Carolina:
The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism owns one of the plant sites, and two others have recently been acquired by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. In North Carolina, a site has been registered as a State Natural Area, and the owners are managing the land to protect the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is cooperating with conservation agencies in both States to survey potential habitat areas for additional populations. In addition, the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working with private landowners to protect and manage their sites. Other plans for the species recovery include reestablishing nursery-bred plants into the species' historic range, developing cultivated sources for this plant, providing for long-term seed storage, and enforcing laws protecting the species and its habitat.

Information from: http://international.fws.gov/animals/sarrjone.html http://endangered.fws.gov/i/q/saq5b.html http://ecos.fws.gov/servlet/SpeciesProfile?spcode=Q2I0
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6/16/03
The West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)
Contributed by Stephanie Obley, SCWF Volunteer

Sometimes known as a “sea cow,” the endangered West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is actually more closely related to an elephant than a cow. These gentle, herbivorous marine mammals are also credited with fueling the myth of mermaids when they were spotted by long-ago sailors.

The West Indian manatee is one of 4 living species and 1 extinct species of the mammalian order Sirenia. It is the only species occurring in North America, with a range extending from the southeastern U.S. Atlantic coast, to the western Gulf of Mexico, and into Central and South America. There are two sub-species of the West Indian manatee, with the Florida manatee (T. manatus latirostris) occurring in the U.S. and the Antillean manatee (T. manatus manatus) found throughout the remainder of the species’ range. Other members of Sirenia include the West African manatee, the Amazonian manatee, the dugong (Indian and Pacific Oceans) and the extinct Steller’s sea cow, which lived in the sub-Arctic waters of the Bering Sea until it was hunted to extinction in 1768, 27 years after it was discovered.

The closest relatives to Sirenia are Proboscidea (including elephants) and Hyracoidia (including hyraxes, a small rodent-like animal living in Asia and Africa). These groups are linked because they are thought to have evolved from a common ancestor and share specific characteristics. Additionally, the dugong, manatee and elephant are unusual among mammals in that their molar teeth are replaced horizontally instead of vertically.

Although manatees spend much of the year in warm Florida waters, during the summer they often travel north along the U.S. Atlantic coast, past Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia. Chessie, a now-famous manatee tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey‘s Sirenia Project, has been spotted as far north as Rhode Island.

Average adult manatees are about 10 to 12 feet long and weigh between 1,500 to 1,800 pounds, although the largest are over 13 feet and weigh 3,500 pounds. Their fusiform or torpedo-shaped gray-brown bodies taper into flat, paddle-like tails. They have two flippers and their faces are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout. Manatees are entirely herbivorous, subsisting off sea grass and floating freshwater plants. It is believed they eat 10% to 15% of their body weight each day, or 100 to 150 pounds of vegetation for a 1,000-pound manatee.

Manatees have been known to stay under water for up to 20 minutes and have developed several adaptations. Both the lungs and diaphragm extend the length of the body and are oriented in the same horizontal plane as a manatee to help with buoyancy control. Intervals between breaths are prolonged by replacing a large percentage of the air in the lungs with each breath. Studies have shown that manatees can renew about 90% of the air in their lungs in a single breath as compared to humans at rest who generally renew about 10 percent.

Because they are constantly in the water, manatees must find ways to keep warm when temperatures drop. During the winter in Florida, they can be found by the hundreds huddled together in warm natural springs or the heated water released by power plants.

Slow-moving and slow to reproduce, the manatee faces extinction in the U.S. for several reasons. While they have no natural predators and are thought to live up to 60 years, their slow movement and preference for grazing in shallow sea grass beds makes them vulnerable to boat propellers. Indeed, individual manatees are often identified by the prop scars they bear from encounters with boats.

Current research shows that human-related activities accounted for 44 percent of manatee deaths from 1976 to 2001, with boat collisions the leading cause. Natural forces have also taken a toll. Outbreaks of red tide in southwest Florida waters are suspected in the deaths of 151 manatees in 1996 and 37 in 1982. Additionally, in the winter of 1989-90, at least 45 manatees died from a prolonged cold front.

Because of their slow reproductive rate, it is difficult for the manatee population to rebound from combined natural and man-induced pressures. Female manatees are not sexually mature until five years old, and males mature at approximately nine years. It is believed that one calf is born every two to five years, with a gestation period of about 13 months. Mothers nurse their young for a long period and a calf may be dependent on its mother for up to two years.

Manatee populations are thought to be between 2,000 and 3,000 animals. The last aerial population survey was done in March 2002 and showed a count of 1,796 manatees. While aerial surveys are currently the best method to determine manatee populations, much of their success depends on weather conditions. For example, the January 2001 survey showed 3,276 individuals, a large difference from the more recent, 2002 survey. This makes exact numbers difficult to confirm.

Manatees are protected throughout their range by federal law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. They are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 within the state of Florida, which carries penalties up to $50,000 and one year in prison. In addition to the federal and state protections, the Manatee Recovery Plan was developed in 1980 “to reestablish and maintain optimum sustainable populations in natural habitats throughout the manatee's historic range” and is currently coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Information for this article was obtained at the following sites:
The Florida Marine Research Institute
Save the Manatee
Sirenian International, Inc
U.S. Geological Survey Center for Aquatic Resource Studies Sirenia Project
American Society of Mammalogists
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
And from the textbook “Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology” (Feldhamer, Drickamer, Vessey, and Merritt. 1999).
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6/16/03
Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)
Contributed by Maria Whitehead, Graduate Assistant, Clemson University

On a slatey, gray January morning, I picked up my binoculars for the tenth time in an hour, hoping that the crouched bird scurrying away in the distance would have the distinctive yellowish legs and sandy plumage I was looking for. It didn’t. In fact, none of the birds I saw that morning on a one-mile stretch along South Carolina’s Pawley’s Island proved to be a Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). I was part of a team of volunteers scouring the South Carolina coast trying to assess how many of the less than 5000 Piping Plovers remaining along the Atlantic coast were wintering on our shores.

The Piping Plover has always wintered from the Carolina’s mild coast southward to the Bahamas and west to the Gulf coast. You can look for the plover along the South Carolina coast beginning in August at the start of their migration from northern breeding sites (coastal Newfoundland to North Carolina) until they return to these sites in the spring. Look for a sandy-colored bird about 7-inches long, with yellow legs and white feathers on the rump. Also listen for their short, clear call, “peep-lo.” Don’t confuse the plover with Sanderlings (Calidris alba), a common shoreline bird that also sports yellow legs and sandy plumage but can be distinguished by its longer beak and darker wing pattern. In spring and summer, the plover’s plumage changes for the breeding season - their legs turn from light yellow to bright orange, an orange ring appears at the base of their beak, a black band across their forehead, and a single black ring around their neck.

Plovers that come to the South Carolina coast particularly enjoy our barrier islands, such as Huntington Beach, North Island, Cape Island, and Deveaux Bank. They select these unpopulated islands for their sandy beaches, large inlets and sand flats or sandy mud flats. They use these sandflats, mudflats, and inlets to forage for their favorite foods - marine worms, fly larvae, beetles, crustaceans, and molluscs.

“So,” you may ask, “why are there so few Piping Plovers left on the South Carolina coast and elsewhere?” The unfortunate answer is “Because of humans!” First, in the early 1900s, uncontrolled hunting brought the plovers close to extinction. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 prohibited hunting and helped the population rebound by the 1930s. However, by 1945, Atlantic coast beaches became very popular for recreation and the plover population again began to decline. Since then, we have altered and destroyed plover breeding and feeding habitat by building homes and resorts along shorelines, dumping sand on beaches, and polluting inlets. We have flocked to plover breeding habitat in our cars and with our pets. Beach pedestrians flush plovers from nests, which can expose eggs to heat and predators. Off-road vehicles along beaches may crush eggs and chicks while degrading breeding habitat. Potential predators of plover eggs and chicks, such as non-native dogs and cats and native crows, foxes, and raccoons, are often attracted to beaches by human garbage. We’ve made life difficult for the Piping Plover during the past fifty years, but since the bird was listed as a federally threatened species in 1986, many changes have been made.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service developed a recovery plan for the species after it was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Residential and industrial development has since been restricted near plover breeding areas. Human access, both off-road vehicle and pedestrian, to plover nesting areas has also been limited. Garbage disposal has been made illegal and free-roaming dogs and cats have been restricted from beaches during the nesting season. Additionally, in some areas, wire fencing is now placed around plover nests to protect them from predators.

Through research, many federal, state, and private agencies are working together to identify breeding and wintering habitat requirements of Piping Plovers - research such as the census I helped with, which was initiated by The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. South Carolina also helps in the recovery of this species by protecting barrier islands from development. But, we still have a lot to learn about the Piping Plover and other threatened and endangered species, such as the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) and Roseate Tern (Stera dougallii), which also depend on coastal ecosystems. We must first learn how to protect threatened ecosystems before we can recover the species that are dependent upon them.

You can help in the recovery of the Piping Plover and other threatened and endangered species by learning more about these species and their habitat. Tell others about what you have learned. Join your local chapter of a conservation group and support its efforts in protecting threatened ecosystems and the native species that depend on them!
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6/16/03
Flatwoods Salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum)
Contributed by Steve Bennett, SC Department of Natural Resources

September and October, typically our driest months of the year, give way to November and the first warm rains of autumn. In the lowcountry of South Carolina, these rains cause a few species of amphibians to stir from their underground lairs and begin a journey to breeding ponds. Carolina bays, sinkholes, flatwoods ponds and other wetlands await the seasonal courtship ritual of the early breeders. These ponds, however, will hold little or no water at this time of year, a seemingly odd situation for a "pond" breeding amphibian to choose … but there is a method to their madness.

Salamanders are the most common members of autumn’s breeding fraternity, and one species, the flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum), has recently been listed as Threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The flatwoods salamander is a member of the mole salamander family, a family that embodies the true meaning of the word amphibian …double life. This species is found from southern South Carolina across southern Georgia into the panhandle of Florida and westward into Alabama.

Flatwoods salamanders spend most of their adult life in longleaf pine or slash pine flatwoods and savannas. These habitats can be seasonally wet, providing ample soil moisture for the salamander. Rodent burrows, root channels, crayfish burrows and other subterranean structures provide living quarters for the salamander, which seldom ventures above ground. Occasionally, adults will be found under objects, such as a log, especially near a pond during breeding season.

Adult flatwoods salamanders are dark gray to black with silver-gray markings forming a net-like pattern on the darker background. They can reach a little over five inches in length, but typically range from three inches to five inches.

Primarily fossorial (living underground) as adults, flatwoods salamanders feed on a variety of soft-bodied invertebrates. Small worms, beetle larvae, termites and the like comprise most of this salamander’s diet. Occasional forays on the surface may occur during periods of rain, affording the salamander an opportunity to seek prey on the surface or move to a new burrow location.

The fossorial lifestyle of the flatwoods salamander is interrupted when the first warm rains of autumn occur. In South Carolina this is typically late October, November or early December. These rains are a cue to the salamander that breeding season has arrived. Males and females typically migrate from their terrestrial habitat to breeding ponds at the same time. Arrivals at the breeding pond may occur over a period of time, some animals arriving with the first rains, some arriving with later rainfall events.

The first salamanders to arrive at a breeding pond don't find a "pond" at all …usually. They arrive to find a damp depression, the promise of a pond soon to be. This seemingly odd behavior is, in truth, a marvelous adaptation on the part of the flatwoods salamander. These "double-lifers" live terrestrially as adults, but have an aquatic larval stage …similar to the tadpole stage of the frog life cycle. As larvae, amphibians could provide a tasty meal for many predators, including fish. Some amphibians have solved this problem by developing toxic skin secretions as larvae. Larval newts, for example, are distasteful and not preyed upon by fish. Other predator avoidance strategies include cryptic coloration, schooling behavior and the instinct to spend a lot of time hiding.

The flatwoods salamander, and its cousin the marbled salamander have solved the problem of fish predation in a very unique way … they lay their eggs in dry ponds. These ponds, often called isolated, temporary wetlands are critical to the life style of numerous amphibian species. Most amphibians, including chorus frogs, tree frogs, leopard grogs and other species of salamanders, visit these ponds to breed when they are full of water. By laying eggs in a dry pond the flatwood salamander ensures that no fish will be present to feast on its larvae.

Adult flatwoods salamanders typically deposit their eggs under clumps of sphagnum moss, at the mouth of crayfish burrows, at the base of grass clumps or under debris, to provide some protection from the drying rays of the sun. As the early winter rains begin to fill the dry pond basin flatwoods salamander eggs hatch and the second phase of their double life begins.

Newly hatched larvae are brown with yellow stomachs. Soon after hatching, a yellow, horizontal stripe, with dark stripes outlining it forms on the hatchling’s body. This stripe is smooth-edged, not jagged, and runs the entire length of the body. Larvae also develop a dark stripe through the eye. The aquatic larvae are predators, feeding on tiny invertebrates such as fairy shrimp and other zooplankton. Larvae are nocturnal feeders and spend most of the day hidden at the base of grasses and sedges.

The larval period for the flatwoods salamander can last from three to five months. In South Carolina most flatwoods salamander larvae will have metamorphosed and left the breeding ponds by mid-April. Newly metamorphosed flatwoods salamanders may retain some of the lateral striping of the larvae.

Metamorphs (young salamanders) may hide under logs and other debris around the edge of their breeding pond. Spring rains provide ample moisture for the migration to terrestrial habitat, where they will live out their adult lives. No one knows for certain how long a flatwoods salamander can live. We do know that some animals can be reproductively mature at one year of age, and that females can breed annually, if weather conditions are appropriate.

The flatwoods salamander, never abundant anywhere, has declined range-wide in recent years. The historic loss of our southern longleaf pine forests, due to conversion to loblolly pine plantations and agriculture, has diminished the salamander's terrestrial habitat. Poor management of existing longleaf habitat, primarily the exclusion of periodic fire, has resulted in a degradation of remaining longleaf habitat.

In addition to loss of terrestrial habitat the flatwoods salamander has also suffered from the loss of breeding pond habitat. Isolated, temporary wetlands have been ditched, drained and converted to other uses throughout the Southeast. Exclusion of fire from these ponds, which would burn occasionally during dry periods, may have altered their community structure making them less suitable as breeding sites.

The flatwoods salamander is currently listed as Federally Threatened across its entire range and is listed as Endangered under the South Carolina Endangered Species Act. Conservation of this rare species is a high priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service. This animal has not been seen in our state in several years, likely a result of the prolonged drought. It is hoped that populations still exist in the Francis Marion National Forest, The Santee Coastal Reserve and on private lands in Jasper and Beaufort Counties. The future of this fascinating and rare amphibian in South Carolina is unsure. Through the cooperation of State and Federal Agencies, private and corporate landowners and the weather we may be able to conserve the flatwoods salamander in our state and across its historic range.
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6/16/03
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Contributed by Amy Deaderick, SCWF Intern

The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a whale most known for its glorious “songs,” breeching, and flipper-slapping. The Humpback, along with the blue whale, fin whale, Bryde’s whale, sei whale, and minke whale, is a member of the Rorqual family. The Rorquals characteristically have dorsal fins on their backs and ventral pleats running from their lower jaw to their bellies. Its knobby head and long flippers can make the Humpback easily identifiable. Because of the unique black and white coloration on the underside of the tail, or flukes, scientists can easily distinguish and even name each individual whale. No two Humpback whales are exactly alike.

The color of the Humpback whale is quite unique. The body of the whale is black, and speckled black and white on the ventral (under) side. When the Humpback sounds or dives underwater, it throws its tail upward, exposing the black and white pattern on the underside of the tail. This is how the scientists are able to identify each whale.

The Humpback’s body is more robust than other rorquals. The head, which is flat and covered with tubercles, makes up one-third of the whale’s entire body. The dorsal fin of Humpbacks is found 2/3 down the length of the back. The back is typically humped in front of the dorsal fin giving the whale its name. Since the Humpback whale is a baleen whale, there are twin blowholes located on its back. The Humpback has exceptionally long flippers with knobs lining the edges. The tail of the Humpback can be up to 18 feet wide, is serrated and pointed at the tips. The body of full-grown adult males can measure between 40 and 48 feet, whereas full grown adult females can measure from 45 to 50 feet. These whales can reach weights of 25 to 40 tons.

Humpbacks feed primarily on small fish, krill, and other small shrimp-like crustaceans. Generally, each whale eats up to 1 and ½ tons of food in one day. Since the Humpback is a baleen whale, it has a series of 270-400 fringed overlapping plates on each side of the upper jaw. These plates substitute for teeth. These plates that line the upper jaw consist of keratin, fingernail-like material. The keratin unravels into fine hairs at the end of each plate inside the mouth near the tongue. These plates are black in color and measure about 20 inches in length. As the whales feed, they can consume very large quantities of water and food due to the expansion of the pleated grooves in the throat. When the mouth begins to close, the baleen plates work to strain the excess water out of the mouth, leaving the food inside the mouth.

As far as whale distribution is concerned, Humpback whales are typically found in all of the world’s oceans. Most of the populations of Humpback whales follow a regular migration route. They tend to spend summer in temperate and polar waters so they can feed, and they spend winter in tropical waters for mating and calving.

The most interesting behavior of the Humpback whale is their ability to sing. Scientists have discovered that these whales sing long, complex songs. In fact, whales in the North American Atlantic Ocean sing the same song and the whales in the North American Pacific Ocean sing the same song. However, the songs of these whales are drastically different from the songs of different populations of whales in other parts of the world. One of these songs can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes. These songs are repeated over and over and have a tendency to gradually change through the years. Apparently, all the singing whales are males and the songs are part of their mating behavior.

Because the feeding, mating, and calving grounds of Humpbacks are so close to shores, and because they are such slow swimmers, Humpback whales are an easy target for whalers. During the whaling era, it was calculated that whalers killed more than 100,000 humpbacks. Due to this, the population of Humpbacks is only a fraction of what it was originally. As a result of their diminishing population, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) gave these whales worldwide protection status in 1966 and were considered endangered. Since then, the IWC instituted that all whaling come to a halt and be banned in 1985.
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6/16/03
Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais)
Contributed by Al James, Park Manager - Landsford Canal State Park

"What is the longest snake in North America?" I asked the 5th grade class at a local elementary school. Hands immediately went up. One young boy stated "Anaconda!" with the surety of an 11 year old. " No, I meant native snake, one that lives here all its life." "But this one has lived at the zoo all its life, I read the sign!" Asking questions of elementary school students is always a risk, but most of the adults in these classes also don't know the answer to this question. The longest snake in North America is the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais). With an average length around 60 inches (5 feet) the largest was 103.5 inches (8.5 feet).

This large snake used to be found in coastal South Carolina, but some studies indicate that it no longer occurs here. Preferring the sandy coastal plains areas, these animals can be found around Southeastern Georgia and parts of Florida. Similar in appearance to the racers, the iridescent blue/black coloration is highlighted by a brick red chin in the adults, and like some other species, the juveniles display a blotched pattern with brown to reddish heads. They lose this coloration as they get older taking on the shiny black coloration of adults. The feeding habits of these animals is very broad. Since it is not a constrictor, they basically will eat anything they can subdue, from amphibians and reptiles to birds and mice. They will even prey on venomous snakes like water moccasins and rattlesnakes. There is evidence to show that like the kingsnakes, they are immune to the venom.

In much of its present range in Georgia and Florida, these large animals can be found in association with tortoise burrows. This habit has been one reason that these animals have declined. The practice of gassing these burrows for rattlesnakes also has killed many of these superb creatures. Habitat loss through development and over collection for the pet trade has placed additional pressures on these animals. They are considered rare over their North American range but similar to other species, these snakes occur from southern Texas and into Mexico where their numbers are not in the threatened state they are in the U.S.

To illustrate their scarcity, I was traveling through Florida in 1985 and came across my first Indigo in the wild in a park near Naples Florida. This animal was about 6-7 feet in length and heading across the park road. As I approached it, it barely acknowledged my presence. No hissing, neck flattening or tail vibration commonly associated with these animals. As I began to take pictures of it, one of the park rangers came by and stopped to make sure I knew what I was doing. Politely informing me that these were Federally protected, he then asked me if I would hold it here so he could show the other rangers what one of these looked like as it was the first one found there in several years. Pretty soon, there was around 8 rangers and a few other park guests taking photographs of this elusive animal. After about 10 minutes of excitement, we returned it to the scrub palmetto forest from which it came. Hard to imagine working in an area and never encountering such an animal. There are some records that indicate these are long lived animals, one captive lived 26 years. That "lifer" happened over 15 years ago and I wonder if I could get that lucky ever again.
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6/16/03
Michaux's Sumac (Rhus michauxii)
Contributed by Charlie Williams, member Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, Stewardship Advisory Council

Michaux’s sumac Rhus michauxii is a low-growing shrub listed by the US fish and Wildlife Service as a federally endangered species on September 28, 1989. Other common names are dwarf sumac or false poison sumac. Historically, the plant was known to occur in the inner Coastal Plain and Piedmont of the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia.

The species was both discovered by and named for French explorer-botanist André Michaux (1746-1802). This is rather unusual. However, nearly a hundred years after Michaux published his name for the plant, botanist C.S. Sargent discovered that Michaux's name, Rhus pumila, had already been used for another plant. This invalidated Michaux's name so Sargent chose to honor the plant's discoverer with the new name Rhus michauxii.

Michaux worked for the French government as a researcher and plant collector. From a garden near Charleston he used as a base, Michaux traveled widely and often, especially in the Carolinas and Georgia. He was the first to document many plants in our flora. Dr. David Rembert of USC did a study of Michaux's work and credits the French botanist with being the first to name 283 species found in the Carolinas. Traveling throughout eastern North America, he also named many other species not found in the Carolinas.

Exactly where and when André Michaux may have discovered the rare sumac that bears his name will be the subject of one of the more than thirty presentations to be given at the upcoming ANDRE MICHAUX INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM in May. Belmont Abbey College, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden and the Gaston Day School are hosts for this event being held from May 15-19 in Gaston County, NC (near Charlotte). There is a website at www.michaux.org.

Michaux’s sumac is a dioecious shrub; single plants are not both sexes as are most plants, but each plant is a single sex. The species has been seriously impacted by habitat fragmentation and habitat loss. The most recent reports indicate that there are 36 known populations, but a population of this rhizomatus shrub may have just one genetic individual with clonal reproduction only. Most of the known populations are found in NC; Kershaw County is the only SC location listed in the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas (1968). The plant is quite rare throughout its range.

Individual plants are reported to grow to a height of about a half-meter. The plant is deciduous with alternate, pinnately compound leaves. Each compound leaf has between 7 and 13 oblong, toothed leaflets. Sometimes the rachis will be narrowly winged near the apex. In addition to the dwarf size of this sumac, another conspicuous feature is that all parts of the plant are densely pubescent. The greenish-yellow insect-pollinated flowers are individually tiny, but borne in terminal clusters containing many small flowers. The clusters of ripe fruits are red.

The species is shade-intolerant and dependent on some kind of disturbance to maintain the open condition of its habitat. The plant cannot survive if the canopy closes over it. Make a note, then, of the discovery in recent years of the largest known population of Michaux’s sumac. It is on the Fort Pickett military reservation in the Virginia Piedmont. In the context of training to fight wars, “disturbance” takes on new shades of meaning. At Fort Pickett and wherever soldiers are trained for combat, of course the word “fire” is a verb as well as a noun. When soldiers train, they “fire” artillery and other weapons and these weapons sometimes start a “fire” as well as “clear openings” in the canopy at the point the shell or other ordnance impacts. Botanists have known for some time about the role that long-term fire suppression has played in the decline of many species including Michaux’s sumac. However, the Fort Pickett population, is an unusual case because frequent, intense, man-made fires from military activities have helped an endangered species.

Efforts have been made to re-introduce the species to locales where it has been extirpated. In Mecklenburg County, NC the Conservation Biology Laboratory at UNC-Charlotte has been working in cooperation with the Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department to restore Piedmont prairies within nature preserves in county the park system for several years. Early travelers described extensive wild and fertile prairies across the Carolinas Piedmont, but this habitat type had been all but destroyed by agriculture and fire suppression during the last two centuries. Many Schweinitz's sunflowers, another globally endangered species, have been rescued from road widening projects and planted in these restored prairies. The sunflowers are thriving. Last November, to the delight of conservationists, 29 rescued Michaux's sumac were also planted in two restored Piedmont prairies in Mecklenburg parks. The last reliable sighting of Michaux's sumac in Mecklenburg County had occurred 207 years earlier, by Michaux himself!
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6/16/03
Hexastylis (Aristolochiaceae)
Contributed by L. L. “Chick” Gaddy

Some biologists think that the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae) represents a separate and divergent branch of the evolutionary tree of flowering plants. This family is unusual among dicots in that floral parts are arranged in multiples of sixes. Hexastylis-“six styles” in Greek-is a genus of Aristolochiaceae found in the southeastern United States. The ten species and three varieties of the “heartleaves” or “wild gingers” (no relation to true ginger) are closely related to the genus Heterotropa of Japan and China. The distribution of the genus is centered in the Piedmont of western North Carolina along the Broad River near the South Carolina-North Carolina state line. Two species in the genus-Hexastylis naniflora and Hexastylis rhombiformis-are endemic to North and South Carolina; Hexastylis lewisii is found only in North Carolina and Virginia; and Hexastylis speciosa is found only in Alabama.

Hexastylis naniflora (dwarf-flowered heartleaf) is listed as threatened by the Fish and Wildlife Service. It has spring flowers less than one inch long that are usually buried in leaf litter and difficult to find. It was originally described from Cherokee County, South Carolina along a boggy, acidic stream bank in the Piedmont. At one time, the species was thought to occur in Virginia, but research over the last 20 years has located the plant in only a few counties in the upper Piedmont of North Carolina and South Carolina. Here, the heartleaf grows on Pacolet sandy loams and related soils, soils that are sandy and well-drained and lacking the red clay usually seen in the Piedmont. It is a plant of forested ravines, streamhead bogs, and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) bluffs. In counties such as Spartanburg in South Carolina and Cleveland in North Carolina, it is locally common, forming large populations. Interestingly, however, if one goes north or south just a few miles, the plant does not occur. It is replaced by another Hexastylis on the Blue Ridge escarpment and inexplicably disappears in southern Spartanburg County.

It appears that Hexastylis naniflora and Hexastylis lewisii, both narrow Piedmont endemics, are sibling species of the more widespread Hexastylis heterophylla. Most Hexastylis species appear to be made up of outcrossing and selfing races (selfing plants are self pollinating or pollinate only within a small population). It is possible that selfing populations of H. heterophylla became isolated on “islands” on atypical Piedmont soils and gradually became unable to reproduce with H. heterophylla and, therefore, became H. naniflora.

When it became evident that dwarf-flowered heartleaf was a narrow endemic and was being impacted by rapid development of the upper Piedmont, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as threatened. Further information on the taxonomy and distribution of the genus Hexastylis will be mailed to any interested parties if a self addressed stamped envelope is sent to: L. L. Gaddy, 125 South Edisto Avenue, Columbia, South Carolina 29205.

Editor’s Note: Dr L. L. (Chick) Gaddy is a consulting biologist who lives in Columbia and Walhalla SC. He has published numerous articles in the fields of botany, invertebrate zoology, and plant ecology, including detailed studies on the various species of heartleaf (wild ginger). He recently authored the book A Naturalist's Guide To The Southern Blue Ridge Front (USC Press, 2000).
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3/4/03
American Chaffseed (Schwalbea americana)
By Van Whitehead, SCWF Community Organizer

South Carolina is fortunate to host a high percentage of the beautiful American Chaffseed (Schwalbea americana), which was designated as a federally endangered species in 1992. A recent tally reported 51 populations in the United States: 43 in South Carolina, 4 in Georgia, 2 in Florida, 1 in New Jersey, and 1 in North Carolina.

Although never that common, this plant historically was found throughout much of the eastern United States, but it is now limited to a range stretching from Louisiana to North Carolina, and a pocket in New Jersey. The major threats leading to the loss of this species from two-thirds of the states where it was historically found are outright habitat destruction from land conversion and changes in natural disturbance cycles, such as forest fires and flooding. Without these disturbances, American Chaffseed is overrun by larger and more aggressive plant species.

American chaffseed, which is only 1-2 feet tall, is a perennial herb that branches only at its base and displays large, purplish-yellow, tubular flowers on its top. Its alternate, elliptical leaves are about an inch long and attach closely to the stem. Aside from being a relatively leafy plant, small dense hairs cover the entire plant – even the flowers. Just remember that the best identifying features are the flowers, which bloom from April to June. The resulting fruits are long, narrow capsules and they mature from summer into the fall, depending on the location.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about American Chaffseed is that it is a hemiparasite, which means it is partially dependent upon another plant as a host. Specifically, it draws nutrients from the roots of other plants through a special structure called a haustoria. It isn’t too selective about its hosts and is found to use roots of various trees, such as sweet-gum, bald cypress, hackberry, and various oaks and pines.

American chaffseed occurs in sandy acidic, seasonally moist to dry soils that are common in the coastal plain. It is generally found in habitats described as open, moist pine flatwoods, fire-maintained savannas, transition areas between peaty wetlands and dry sandy soils, and other open grass-sedge areas. Because it is not tolerant of dark shades, the American chaffseed is usually found along the margins of forest or woodlands.

Many of the surviving populations are located in areas where the landscape is managed with prescribed fires, whether for timber, wildlife or otherwise. It is possible that fire also is important in the germination of the Schwabia seeds or forming connections with a host plant. Also, insect pollinators play a critical role in maintaining a healthy population. Clemson University’s agricultural cooperative discourages the aerial application of the pesticide “Pirate” within one mile of native vegetation in the counties likely to host Schwalbia.
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Loggerhead Sea Turtle
By Sara K. Green

South Carolina's official state reptile is in trouble! The Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, is listed as "threatened" and is protected under the Endangered Species Act. Due to the life style of the Loggerhead, this species is particularly susceptible to harm caused by human activities.

Loggerheads are a medium sized sea turtle, generally reaching about 82 to 105 cm (32-41 in.) and 66 to 101 kg (146-223 lb.). They reach maturity at 20-25 years and have been known to live 100 years. The nesting season in South Carolina is from mid-May until August. It is thought that they nest on the same beach that they hatched from. No one is really sure how they know how to get back to the right beach. The female Loggerheads come ashore alone at night and crawl up, above the high tide line, to the dunes. They dig a nest cavity about 11/2-2 feet deep and lay an average of 100 eggs. It is thought that females will return to the beach to lay 2-3 clutches per season.

Hatching occurs about 60 days later. Hatchlings, measuring about two inches long, emerge from the nest all together and scramble towards the ocean. During this journey, the hatchlings have to dodge predators such as ghost crabs, raccoons, shore birds, and dogs. When they enter the water, anything bigger than they are becomes a threat.

One of the main man-induced threats to adult sea turtles is incidental capture in shrimp nets. Sea turtles forage in areas where commercial shrimpers trawl. To avoid capturing sea turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service developed the Turtle Excluder Device (TED). A TED is a small, metal grid trapdoor inside a trawling net that allows shrimp to pass through, into the bag of the net. When sea turtles hit the grid, a trap door is opened allowing the turtle to escape before becoming entrapped or entangled. Since 1989, TEDs have been required on all U.S. fishing trawlers.

Another major threat to sea turtles is nesting habitat destruction. Loggerheads must be able to nest in an area of dry sand, above the high tide line. Rock walls and houses that are built too close to the beach often prevent the female from finding dry sand. A second factor is artificial lighting. Sea turtles use light to navigate. When hatchlings emerge from the nest, they head toward the lightest horizon, which should be the ocean (because of the reflection of the moon and stars off of the water). Due to artificial lighting, hatchlings may end up under street lamps, or on roads. Since adult females only come ashore to nest at night, they may mistake the lights for daylight and decide not to come ashore to nest since it is not dark. A third factor is human activity. Female turtles will not lay a nest in an area that they feel may not be safe. If humans, or any animals, are encountered on the beach, the female will return to the ocean without laying her eggs. Females may end up aborting their eggs in the water if they cannot find a suitable place to nest.

There are many groups in South Carolina who are working to offset the threats of habitat destruction. The main goal of these programs is to ensure nesting and hatching success on land. Volunteers, or paid staff, relocate nests to a hatchery where they are safe from predators, human intervention, and tidal flooding. Nests are monitored and hatchlings are watched to make sure they get safely to the water.

All of these conservation efforts are helping to raise the populations of sea turtles, but much more work has to be done. Presently, less than 1% of all hatchlings survives to maturity. To further increase sea turtle populations, people need to be educated about the threats to this species. If people could use less lighting on beaches, and refrain from building anti-erosion devices, the quality of nesting habitat would greatly increase. We need to be aware of the effects that our activities may have on other species. ________________________________________
Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum)
By Sara K. Green

Sturgeons are an ancient species of fish with fossils dating back 65 million years. The Shortnose sturgeon can be found in the salt or brackish coastal waters of South Carolina. It looks like a prehistoric cross between a shark and a catfish. The Shortnose is dark above and light below. (This is a common color pattern for fish, called countershading - when predators look at the sturgeon from above, it blends in with the dark color of the substrate on the bottom. When seen from below, the sturgeon blends in with the lighter color of the water and sky above.) Shortnose sturgeon are usually less than 3 feet in length, which is small compared to their larger, better known cousin, the Atlantic sturgeon. The Shortnose has no teeth in its wide mouth that is pointed downward beneath a short snout. They feed on bottom-dwelling invertebrates and plant matter embedded in the bottom mud. They find this food with their soft, fleshy barbs which cause some folks to mistake these rarely seen creatures for a kind of catfish. Shortnose sturgeons lack scales but have a unique body armor of diamond-shaped bony plates called scutes. Some sturgeons have been found to be over 60 years old.

From April to early June, Shortnose sturgeon migrate from the ocean to large tidal rivers specifically to reproduce. They do not build nests, but rather broadcast their eggs into the water in areas with gravely, rubble substrates. The eggs are small, dark brown, and less numerous per pound of fish than other sturgeons. Once hatched, the young fish drift downstream and may eventually swim to brackish water. The young are rarely seen, so early life history is unknown. Male Shortnose sturgeon mature at an age of four years after reaching a size of 20 inches, females mature after five years at a size of 24 inches.
The Shortnose sturgeon is listed as a Federal Endangered Species. A severe decrease in populations has been documented and is attributed primarily to over-harvesting in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Sturgeons were harvested for their meat, skin, swim bladders, and eggs (or roe). Shortnose taken commercially in more recent years are often bycatch - accidentally caught by fishermen who are looking for the larger Atlantic sturgeon. Along with exploitation by commercial fishermen, pollution of tidal streams and estuaries used by spawning adults and as nursery areas for young is considered another primary reason for the great decline in Shortnose sturgeon. Dams also contribute to the problem, since they prevent the adults from returning to fresh water to spawn, and the juveniles from migrating from the nursery area out to sea.

The Shortnose is a Federal trust fish, meaning that the Federal government has some responsibility for its recovery. Current research on the behavior of these fish is providing valuable information for the development of management strategies. According to Mark Collins of the Marine Resources Research Institute, the SC Department of Natural Resources has conducted studies on bycatch mortality in the commercial shad gillnet fishery, hatchery and culture techniques, trial stock enhancement, and radio and acoustic telemetry studies of adults and juveniles to determine habitat use and movements. They are also studying juvenile Shortnose sturgeon in the Savannah Harbor to determine the impact that harbor dredging and deepening will have on this species. Deepening the harbor would result in an increase in the salinity and a decrease in the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. These dramatic changes can have drastic effects on aquatic species.

Management strategies for Shortnose sturgeon that are currently in use include taking inventory and modeling the dynamics of natural populations, enforcement of existing environmental regulations concerning pollution, creation of new regulations, and studies of shortnose sturgeon’s environmental needs and limiting factors. Mr. Collins says that there are some waterways in South Carolina that the DNR has no information about in regards to shortnose sturgeon populations, due to lack of funding. With no research being done in these areas, it is very difficult to determine the effect that management practices are having on the population. Mr. Collins expresses his concern that most of the money that has been earmarked by the National Marine Fisheries Service for endangered species goes to the more “popular” species, such as sea turtles and marine mammals.
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The Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis)
By Stephanie Obley, SCWF Volunteer

The tiny Indiana bat was first identified as endangered nearly 36 years ago, one of the first species under the Endangered Species Preservation Act passed in 1966. It is one of 6 out of the 45 continental U.S. bat species currently listed as federally endangered.

The Indiana bat’s scientific name, Myotis sodalis, means “mouse-ear companion” due to its tiny mouse-like ears and its social nature, with thousands of bats hibernating together each year. This is true to such an extent that 85% of the remaining known species population (approximately 350,000) hibernates in just 7 caves in Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky. During winter hibernation, there can be as many as 300 bats per square foot.

The first Indiana bat was described scientifically in 1928 in Indiana. It is known to occur over much of the eastern U.S. and is listed as endangered in 23 states. The range stretches roughly from western Oklahoma to the Great Lakes states and from Vermont south to northern Florida. A mammal, the Indiana bat is part of the family Vespertilionidae.

With a weight of about 3/10 of an ounce (or about 3 pennies), the Indiana bat measures only a few inches long and has a wing span of 9 to 11 inches. It resembles the brown bat, although its fur is more of a grayish chestnut and the basal portions of its back hairs have a dull lead color. The fur on its underparts is pinkish to cinnamon, and its hind feet are smaller and more delicate.

The Indiana bat is listed as endangered in South Carolina by both the federal and state government, although it is unclear if and to what extent the species occurs here. Maternity roosts have been found in western North Carolina, and a team from USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station's Threatened and Endangered Species Unit in Clemson, SC, is looking for similar sites in South Carolina. None have been found to date.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ web site on Endangered and Threatened species of the Upper Savannah River Basin, the Indiana bat is suspected to migrate to parts of South Carolina during the summer months, although no record has been made of the species here. According to Bat Conservation International’s web site, one sighting was reported in 1993. Some range maps show the Indiana bat occurring in just the western edge of South Carolina.

The Indiana bat uses limestone caves for winter hibernation, preferring caves with a temperature averaging 37 to 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and relative humidity averaging 87 percent. Mating occurs in the early part of October prior to hibernation. In late March, the hibernating colonies disperse to upland, riparian and flood plain habitats throughout their range, possibly including South Carolina, where females congregate in small groups in maternity roosts. These roosts are typically found under loose bark and in the hollows of trees, and occasionally under bridges and in old buildings. Females give birth to 1 young in June or July. Like many bat species, Indiana bats eat large quantities of insects daily.
The Indiana bat’s population has declined by about 60 percent since the 1960s and continues to decline. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the total population at 550,000 in 1983 and the April 9, 1999, Federal Register put the total at 353,000 bats. The major threats to the Indiana bat include commercialization of roosting caves, alteration of cave temperatures, destruction by vandals, and intrusion by spelunkers. A single visit by people to a cave in winter can rouse hibernating bats, leading to a raise in the bats‘ metabolism levels which consumes energy needed to sustain hibernation. Such interruptions can be fatal. Because Indiana bats tend to return to the same caves each year, destruction of winter caves is particularly deadly.

The bats' summer habitat and maternity roosts are affected by human development, logging, tree removal and dam construction. Their slow reproductive rate of one offspring born per female bat per year, makes recovery difficult.
The original federal Indiana bat recovery plan was approved in 1976, and revised in 1983. The major goals include preserving critical winter habitat by securing primary caves and mines and restricting entry to those locations; initiating an education program; and monitoring population levels and habitat. So far, conservation efforts have involved controlling access to critical habitats by installing gates across cave entrances. The National Speological Society and the American Society of Mammologists are also taking measures to promote conservation.

To help the endangered Indiana bat, there are several things a person can do. The first is to dispel myths about bats. For example, very few bats carry rabies. They do not get tangled in people’s hair. They are not rodents, and none of the U.S. species are vampire bats.
Backyards can also be turned into inviting habitats for bats. For the Indiana bat, dead trees and snags can be left in place for summer roosting. They favor oak and hickory, but also will use cottonwood, elm and other trees with loose, sloughing bark. People should avoid going near any caves in which bats hibernate or any area known to be a maternity roost. If you believe you’ve spotted an Indiana bat, report it to the state Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Information for this article was obtained from the following Web sites:

Nature Serve Explorer
http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Myotis+sodalis
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
http://midwest.fws.gov/Endangered/mammals/ind_bat.html
http://nc-es.fws.gov/mammal/indianabat.html
http://endangered.fws.gov/bats/bats.htm
http://endangered.fws.gov/i/a/saa08.html
USDA Forest Service
http://www.srs.fs.fed.us/about/newsrelease/nr_2002-07-16-indiana_bat.htm
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/mindbat.htm
National Wildlife Federation
http://www.nwf.org/keepthewildalive/bat
Bat Conservation International Inc.
http://www.batcon.org/discover/species/sc.html

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 22 February 2010 11:26 )

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