SC Endangered Species

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

Threatened and Endangered Species in South Carolina

List from the SC Department of Natural Resources, June 2014 

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

Endangered Animals -

American Swallow-tailed Kite - Elanoides forficatus
Bachman’s Warbler - Vermivora bachmanii
Carolina Heelsplitter - Lasmigona decorata
Carolina Pygmy Sunfish - Elassoma boehlkei
Eastern Cougar - Puma concolor cougar
Flatwoods Salamander - Ambystoma cingulatum
Florida Manatee - Trichechus manatus
Gopher Frog - Rana capito
Gopher Tortoise - Gopherus polyphemus
Indiana Bat - Myotis sodalis
Rafinesque's Big-eared Bat – Corynorhinus rafinesquii
Red-cockaded Woodpecker - Picoides borealis
Shortnose Sturgeon - Acipenser brevirostrum
Wood Stork - Mycteria americana


Threatened Animals -

American Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus anatum
Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bewick’s Wren - Thryomanes bewickii
Bog Turtle - Glyptemys muhlenbergii
Eastern Small-footed Myotis - Myotis leibii
Least Tern - Sterna antillarum
Loggerhead Sea Turtle – Caretta caretta
Leatherback Sea Turtle - 
Dermochelys coriacea
Pine Barrens Treefrog - Hyla andersonii
Southern Coal Skink - Eumeces anthracinus pluvialis
Spotted Turtle - Clemmys guttata
Wilson’s Plover - Charadrius wilsonia

Endangered Plants/Fungi -

Black-spored Quillwort - Isoetes melanospora
Bunched Arrowhead - Sagittaria fasciculata
Canby's Dropwort - Oxypolis canbyi
Chaffseed - Schwalbea americana
Harperella – Ptilimnium nodosum
Michaux's Sumac - Rhus michauxii
Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant - Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii
Persistent Trillium - Trillium persistens
Pondberry - Lindera melissifolia
Reflexed Blue-eyed Grass - Sisyrinchium dichotomum
Relict Trillium - Trillium reliquum
Rocky Gnome Lichen - Gymnoderma lineare
Rough-leaved Loosestrife - Lysimachia asperulaefolia
Schweinitz's Sunflower - Helianthus schweinitzii
Smooth Coneflower - Echinacea laevigata


Threatened Plants - 

Miccosukee Gooseberry - Ribes echinellum
Pool Sprite/Little Amphianthus - Amphianthus pusillus
Seabeach Amaranth - Amaranthus pumilus
Small Whorled Pogonia - Isotria medeoloides
Swamp-pink - Helonias bullata


Full inventory of listed species can be found here. 


Endangered Species Spotlight

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
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. 

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.
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
By Joe Taylor, SC Master Naturalist
Photos by Jeff Kidd & Reg Daves

Woodstork_in_Flight_-_Reg_DavesMy wife and I had never heard of the American Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) until we moved to South Carolina from Maryland seven years ago. I remember our first sighting of these unusual creatures. They soared high above us in a thermal as we drove south on Rt. 21 several miles from Hunting Island. Near the entrance of the State Park, we stopped to get a better look. 

At first, we were struck by the slow beats of the long, black flight feathers and tail that contrasted with the brilliant white coloration of their bodies. A beautiful sight . . . at least until we got our first glimpse of its black, vulture-like, featherless head and prominent, heavy, down-curved bill. Our first reaction was that we had witnessed some result of a cloning experiment that had gone terribly wrong.  Since then we have come to love this beautiful beast-of-a-bird that can often be observed making its entrances into and exits from crowded rookeries throughout the lowcountry. 

On June 26, 2014, fans of the wood stork received great news from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  After being added to the list of Endangered Species in 1984, the status of the wood stork has now been updated to Threatened.  In 1984, the wood stork was only known to inhabit the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.  With focus on wetland restoration through partnerships with state governments and conservation groups, the range of the wood stock has currently expanded into parts of North & South Carolina as well as Mississippi.

The thirty-year conservation effort of the USFWS has also resulted in significant gains in the numbers of wood storks throughout the southeastern United States. Although worries still remain about environmental pollution and the threats to its habitat, environmentalists are somewhat optimistic about its continued reemergence. 

wood_storks_2_webFor the past ten years, the number of nesting pairs has remained above the 6,000 average needed to remove the wood stork from endangered species status.  There is some disagreement, however, between experts with regard to the actual number of nesting pairs. According to USFWS, the next critical juncture for wood stock conservation is to achieve and then maintain at least 10,000 nesting pairs. At that time, they would be removed from the Threatened List. 

Wood storks tend to inhabit freshwater or brackish wetlands and swamps from the southeastern United States to coastal Mexico and throughout most of South America where its population has remained relatively healthy. 

They are clever carnivores that put an open bill into the water as they patiently wait for an unsuspecting small fish. The rapidity with which they latch upon their prey is best measured in milliseconds. In fact, their reaction time is matched by few other vertebrates on the planet. Considering that a nesting pair of wood storks with two fledglings consumes over 400 pounds of small fish in a single breeding season, they have perfected the experience of fast food dining. 

Because wood storks are social animals, they tend to feed in fairly large flocks and nest in large rookeries. It would not be uncommon to find several nesting pairs living in the same tree. With regard to domestic duties, both male and female wood storks incubate two to five eggs for a month before they are hatched. The young fledge about two months after hatching. 

Although wood storks can be spotted year round in the ACE basin of South Carolina, birders are more likely to observe them from spring to late fall. Both Donnelley and Bear Island Wildlife Management Areas are particularly good spots to observe the memorable Mycteria americana.

Joe Taylor is a Master Naturalist who teaches English at Beaufort High School. Jeff Kidd is the editor of The Island Packet/The Beaufort Gazette. Birders are encouraged to take a look at Jeff’s Untamed Lowcountry blog (  which contains a list of the Top 10 birding sites in the lowcountry.

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.

Bald_Eagle_Lake_Monticello_SGIn 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.

Harbor_Island_Bald_EagleEven 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.
Smooth Coneflower- Echinacea laevigata
By Rachel Dodgens, Former SCWF 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. 

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:, the Rayner and Porcher book, A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina.,, (the Heritage Trust Program.)
Rough-Leafed Loosestrife - Lysimachia asperulaefolia
By Chris Daves, Master Naturalist

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:

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.
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.
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.

Seabeach Amaranth - Amaranthus pumilus
By Chris Daves, Master Naturalist

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:

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.

Little Amphianthus - Amphianthus pusillus
By Chris Daves, Master Naturalist, 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.
Eastern Cougar - Felis concolor cougar

Contributed by John Garton, SCWF Board Member Emeritus 

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.
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. 

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.

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.
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:
The West Indian Manatee - Trichechus manatus latirostris

Contributed by Liesel Hamilton

Manatee2_by_Liesel_Hamilton_webThey float through the water, peacefully, serenely, occasionally sticking their noses above water to exhale loudly and spray a small amount of water and air out of their nostrils. There is a reason that manatees are nicknamed “peaceful giants.” Weighing between 440 and 1,300 pounds, these vegetarians are inquisitive, curious, and friendly creatures that happily interact with humans, making “swimming with the manatees” a popular recreational activity for people who visit the Florida freshwater springs that these mammals frequent. 

The closest living relative of the manatee is the elephant and the similarities are apparent even from a quick glance. Manatees and elephants share the same tough, grey skin, and the manatee’s nose is structured very similar to a trunk, only shorter. If you look closely at a manatee’s flippers you will even see that they share the same toenail indentations as an elephant. 

Manatees require warm freshwater to survive and therefore can travel during the summer through waterways, however, in the winter they flock to natural springs that produce seventy-two degree water ideal to their survival. In the winter, Florida springs are the most common place to spot West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) that come by the hundreds to the crystal clear Florida water to relax, feed, and breed. However, in warmer months manatees can travel as far north as Massachusetts and thus it is possible to spot them in South Carolina’s waterways, with the most frequent sightings occurring along the coast. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is interested in recording the number of manatees that cross into South Carolina and viewers are encouraged to call and report manatees to them. 

Manatee3_by_Liesel_Hamilton_webPartly due to their curious nature, manatees are endangered, their only threat—humans. Because manatees are known to come towards boats to investigate them, they are frequently struck in the process. Also, since manatees move slowly along the water surface, their grey bodies camouflaging into the water, it is easy for boaters to never see them and therefore run right over them. Boats so often strike manatees that the white scars left behind on their bodies by propellers can be used to identify them. This, coupled with the low reproductive rate of manatees, has landed these gentle giants on the endangered species list. Areas that are home to manatees are subject to slow speed limits and specific areas are roped off completely as wildlife sanctuaries. 

Because of their lovable nature, there are many groups devoted to saving Manatees. When driving through places like Crystal River, Florida, one location of the natural springs that manatees love, it is clear that the manatee is king—paintings of manatees decorate the sides of buildings, giant cutouts of manatees greet people from the side of the road, and of course, manatee mailboxes are abundant. These people are proud to live near manatees and are avid to protect these endangered creatures, giving them a fighting chance after all.

Flatwoods Salamander - Ambystoma cingulatum
Contributed by Susan Coleman Fedor, Master Naturalist

Split alert:  The Flatwoods salamander category was split into two species in 2009 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  The species separation is thought to date back millions of years when the topography of the continent was very different.  The Apalachicola River system in Georgia is designated as the division between the two species.  The Reticulated is located to the west, and the Frosted is to the east of this system.

Flatwoods_Salamander_by_Dirk_Stevenson_webThe Frosted Flatwoods salamander is found in South Carolina.  It is small (3.5-5.5 inches), with short legs, a long rounded tail, no neck, and may have highly variable markings that include specks or gray cross bands.  

Their basic diet consists of invertebrates (earthworms and small crustaceans), insects, and zoo plankton.

Adults are nocturnal and subterranean, living in root channels or crayfish burrows.  Living underground, they only emerge during periods of heavy rains.  Courtship occurs in the shallow pond areas of the breeding sites.  Other than migration to and from these sites, this is a solitary species. Their secretive habits make population estimates difficult.

Current range includes coastal South Carolina, Southern Georgia, and Northern Florida. Its habitat has been reduced to 20% of its original size.  

The species selects seasonally wet, pine flatlands and pine savannahs.  This salamander is found under logs and decaying vegetation near small, seasonal ponds. 

The species breeds in acidic conditions (pH 3.6-5.6), typically tannin-stained ephemeral wetlands with an overstory of pond cypress, black gum, red maple, sweet gum, and sweet bay.  Midstory may include myrtle leaved holly, Chapman’s St. John’s Wort, titi, and sweet pepperbush.  Groundcover includes beakrushes, sedges and blue stem.

The species breeds in shallow ponds.  Francis Beidler Forest is a typical habitat.  October to January is the breeding period as they migrate to wetlands during rain events associated with passing cold fronts.  Females lay eggs in small groups in clumps of moist vegetation or in entrances to crayfish burrows.  Hatching occurs in response to rising water levels in about three weeks.  Larval stage lasts three to four months, and migration occurs in March and April.

Formerly, the Frosted Flatwoods Salamander was found in sandy, seasonally wet, fire maintained longleaf pine and wiregrass communities. These have been replaced by slash pine silviculture or destroyed altogether by urban development and agriculture.  Because summer wild fires have been suppressed, a dense tangle of hardwood shrubs has developed, suppressing natives and ephemeral wetland communities further impacting their habitat.  Because of these conditions, current populations are widely separated and restricted to isolated areas thus endangering reproduction and habitat.  This is particularly evident in South Carolina.

A. cingulatum is one of the only terrestrial breeding salamanders in North American that abandons its eggs.  A. cingulatum has a defense action where they roll their tails.  Up to 77-84% of the older larvae of the species have damaged tails due to attacks from invertebrates.  So, it is likely that this behavior is a life saving response.

Recommendations for conservation include active restoration of habitat:  mesic longleaf pine-wiregrass Flatwoods associated with ephemeral wetlands.  Also, recommended is maintenance of these areas by replicating natural phenomena especially lightning season fires.

Photo by Dirk Stevenson.  

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

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!
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).
American Chaffseed - Schwalbea americana
By Van Whitehead, Former SCWF Staff

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.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle - Caretta caretta
By Stacy J. Hitt, Master Naturalist

The Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) is known for its reddish-brown, slightly heart-shaped carapace (top shell) and yellow plastron (bottom shell).  It is the most abundant species of sea turtle in US coastal waters with major nesting concentrations from North Carolina to South West Florida.  It is so well known that in 1988 a fifth grade class from the town of Ninety Six wrote their Senator requesting that the Loggerhead Turtle be the South Carolina state reptile.  Later that year, their request was granted as the bill to make the Loggerhead Turtle our official state reptile was passed.

Adult Loggerhead Turtles can be up to 3 feet long and weigh 250 lbs.  After reaching sexual maturity around the age of 35, females will lay 3-5 nests over a period of several weeks during each nesting season (May- August).  Each nest will have over 100 eggs, each of which will be almost half the size of a jumbo chicken egg.  Approximately 60 days later, the hatchlings will emerge from the nest and head straight for the ocean.  At this stage in their lives, they are highly threatened by many natural predators, including birds, crabs, fish and raccoons.  If the hatchlings succeed in making it to the surf, they will begin what is called a ‘swimming frenzy’ which can last for several days and ensures that the hatchling moves far away from dangerous shore waters where predators are numerous.  The time between when a hatchling enters the water and when it returns to coastal areas to forage as a juvenile is called the ‘lost years’ because of how little is known about their behavior at this stage of life.  This period can be a decade or more!   Adult turtles are mostly carnivorous, enjoying conch, jellyfish, crabs and some fish, but have occasionally been observed eating seaweed and sargassum.   Sea turtles have been known to sail through the water at an impressive 15 mph, but are more commonly seen lumbering around coastal reefs.  

Loggerhead turtles, like all sea turtle species, are threatened by a variety of human activities.  The primary threat is incidental capture in commercial fishing equipment, particularly trawl nets used for catching shrimp.  NOAA developed a clever device to help sea turtles escape from trawl nets; it is called a Turtle Excluder Device (TED).  It is a grid of bars with an opening at the top that is fitted into the trawl.  Small animals, like shrimp, pass through the bars and into the net, but larger animals, like turtles and sharks, strike the bars and are ejected through the opening.  It is federally required in US waters that trawl nets are fitted with TEDS.  Also, if another country wishes to import shrimp to the US, they can only do so if they implement a similar TED program with their shrimp fleet.  Other threats include marine debris, environmental contamination, loss of nesting habitat, and artificial lighting.  The SCDNR is working on many projects to help better understand and manage sea turtles along our coast. The SCDNR has also partnered with the SC Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program, which acts as a sea turtle hospital for sick and injured animals. This is the only hospital for sea turtles in our state and fills a critical need. Tours of the facility are offered daily for those who would like to meet the current sea turtle patients and learn more about the amazing care that is provided to these endangered creatures.  To help sea turtles to thrive in our South Carolina waters and beaches visit the SCDNR website for more information on how to Adopt-A-Nest or purchase an Endangered Species Sea Turtle license plate.


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.
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
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USDA Forest Service
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
National Wildlife Federation
Bat Conservation International Inc.


Pine Barrens Treefrog - Hyla andersonii
Contributed by Hilda Flamholtz, Master Naturalist 
Photo by Nathan Shepard 

Pine_Barrens_Tree_Frog_by_Nathan_Shepard_webThe pine barrens treefrog (Hyla andersonii) is a medium-sized treefrog (nearly 2 inches) that lives in and around wetlands in the sandhills of South Carolina.  Considered by some to be the most beautiful frog found in the United States, it is green from above, white from below, and has a lavender/brown stripe running along the sides and across the eyes like a mask.  The stripe is bordered by white on both sides.  It has some orange concealed on the insides of its legs and sticky pads at the end of each toe pad making it easy to grip bark and leaves.  Males are a bit smaller than females and have a bit of loose skin under their chins.  

They prefer acidic wetlands and are found in the shrubbery around seepage bogs on the downslopes of the sandhills.  Other frog species cannot tolerate the acidity levels that the pine barrens treefrog prefers, so they do not have a lot of competition.  Their coloration makes them virtually invisible when they are sitting in their native habitat.  They don’t have a lot of predators, so they are not extremely quick.  

Pine barrens treefrogs are nocturnal and are usually heard or seen during breeding season which runs from April through September in South Carolina.  Males may fight over females during breeding season.   Females lay eggs singly or in clusters.  More than 200 may be oviposited at a time and attached to sphagnum or allowed to sink to the bottom of the seep.  After the eggs hatch, the tadpole stage lasts for 7-11 weeks.  During this stage, the frogs eat algae and vegetation found in the water.  As adults, they eat insects like flies, beetles, moths and butterflies, as well as slugs and snails. 

During drier weather, the frogs hide in damp areas in dense shrubbery and go into a type of torpor to conserve energy.  The call of the frog is a quonk-quonk-quonk repeated 10-20 times at infrequent intervals.  The males puff out their vocal sac to make the call and attract a mate. The call is similar to the green treefrog, but the pitch is higher and the sound does not carry as far. 

These frogs are currently found only in the pine barrens of New Jersey, the sandhills of the Carolinas and an area in Southeast Alabama/Florida Panhandle.  Their previous range is not known, but some believe the current distribution implies a more widespread territory in the past.  The pine barrens treefrog has suffered from loss of habitat due to development and fire suppression.  In addition, use of herbicides in power line cuts is thought to have negative effects.  Male pine barrens treefrogs are known to disperse as much as 100 meters from water after the breeding season, so it is important to ensure there is a sizable buffer around ideal habitat.

In South Carolina, the frogs are found in the Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge and Sandhills State Forest.  In these protected areas, controlled burns are used to keep an open character to the seepage bogs that these frogs need.  Also, the SC Department of Natural Resources Heritage Trust protected a gas line right-of-way where the frogs were found in Kershaw County.

Hopefully, measures like these will continue to occur in the future so that the pine barrens treefrog remains an important part of the sandhills eco-system in South Carolina. 

Peterson Field Guides Reptiles and Amphibians:  Eastern/Central North America, by Roger Conant/Joseph T. Collins
The Calls of Frogs and Toads, by Lang Elliott
Savannah River Ecology Lab:  Frogs and Toads of South Carolina and Georgia,
Frogs and Toads of North Carolina,
Pine Barrens Treefrog report by SC  Department of Natural Resources (Stephen H. Bennett and Kurt A. Buhlmann),
Animal Diversity Web:  University of Michigan, by Jessica Parman,
Natureserve Explorer information on Pine Barrens Treefrog:


Red-cockaded Woodpecker - Picoides borealis
Contributed by Susan Hamilton, Master Naturalist & Pro Birder

RCW_Susan_Hamilton_webWhen Europeans first settled in America, as many as 1.6 million family groups of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) inhabited the long-leaf pine forests of the Southeast. Today, approximately 3 percent remain and the birds are considered federally endangered. However, recovery efforts are successfully growing the populations, particularly in South Carolina where federal, state and private individuals are working to help these birds thrive.

“As a single state, when I look at designated recovery populations, I would have to say South Carolina is the best at rebounding populations (of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers),” according to Will McDearman, RCW Recovery Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Red-cockaded woodpecker is the second-smallest woodpecker in South Carolina, measuring about seven inches in length. It has a black-and-white barred back, with solid black cap and white neck and chest similar to both the hairy and downy woodpeckers. However, only the red-cockaded woodpecker has white cheeks, and males have a small “cockade” of red feathers behind their eyes that is usually difficult to observe. It inhabits mature long-leaf pine forests, living in isolated clans that generally consist of one female and a group of males that helps feed and protect the family unit. Diet consists primarily of insects although it will also eat wild fruit and pine nuts. It is the only woodpecker that builds cavities in living trees, choosing long-leaf pines infected with the heartwood fungus. It encourages the flow of sap around the cavity to keep predators from disturbing nests. It is found in 11 southern states from Texas to Virginia with a national population estimated at about 14,000 birds.

RCW populations declined as a result of loss of habitat and changes in land use. Where 90 million acres of long-leaf pines once flourished throughout the Southeast, only about 2 million acres remain today following massive harvesting in the 1700s and 1800s for commercial timber and the turpentine industry. Forests were further depleted by farming and harmed by fire suppression. A single RCW clan needs between 70 and 200 acres to survive. Nationally, there are about 5,600 RCW clans. In South Carolina, there were 657 clusters on state and federal properties in the year 2000, and another 400 on private property according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Of those, 342 existed in Francis Marion National Forest despite those populations being nearly wiped out by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. According to the national US Fish and Wildlife Service, Francis Marion is one of four national core sites that has met its recovery goals and now boasts 440 clusters – more than any other site nationally.

The RCW populations are rebounding due to both a better understanding of ecology as well as human intervention. Whereas fire was suppressed for many years, federal, state and private landowners now understand that fire is necessary to maintain a long-leaf habitat. Controlled burns are now a commonly-accepted practice to reduce undergrowth and allow the forests to thrive. Additionally, much of the RCW population growth is attributed to the placement of artificial cavities in long-leaf pine trees. Naturally, it takes RCWs years to carve a nest into the extremely dense native pines while the placement of manufactured cavities quickly welcomes new clusters of birds.

“We’ve grown by artificial cavities, there’s no question. Otherwise, I don’t know if we would have saved the species,” says McDearman. The federal government is targeting a 5 percent yearly population growth on its properties. It has achieved about a 4 percent increase over the past five years.

Woodpeckers are also being aided by private landowners. Because RCWs are listed as endangered by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), landowners have an obligation to protect the birds and their habitats. These requirements are essentially frozen if the landowner participates in the national Safe Harbor program that encourages habitat restoration through specific improvements. The Safe Harbor program is voluntarily and can be terminated at any time. Currently, South Carolina leads the nation in Safe Harbor participants with 151 private landowners enrolled.

Throughout the Southeast, the federal government would like to see Red-cockaded clusters increase to 7,000 before they are removed from the endangered species list. With the work being done in South Carolina and elsewhere, however, federal officials are optimistic these birds will someday make a full recovery.


Rafinesque’s Big-Eared Bat - Corynorhinus rafinesquii
Contributed by Hilda Flamholtz, Master Naturalist 

Rafinesque’s Big-Eared Bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquiiis a medium sized bat (3-4 inches long, 10-12 inches from wing-tip to wing-tip).  It weighs less than or equal to ½ ounce.  The fur is gray or dark brown on the back and white on the belly.  The nose has two glands protruding on either side of it.  The ears are huge in proportion to the overall size of the bat:  when laid back against the body, they are almost half the length.

This bat emerges later in the evening than most bats, emerging after it is completely dark.  It eats primarily moths, but may eat other insects like beetles, mosquitoes, and flies when moths are scarce.  It gleans insects off vegetation more often than catching insects in flight.  Sometimes the prey is very large, so the bat usually has a night roost where it can take large prey and eat it at leisure.  Mating occurs in fall or winter and one pup is born each May/June.  Pups can fly by 3 weeks of age.

Rafinesque’s big-eared bats roost in colonies which may consist of 3 or 4 up to a hundred.  They do not migrate.  In winter, they hibernate near the entrances of well-ventilated caves or mines.  In summer, they are found roosting in abandoned buildings in forested areas, caves or dead trees.  Colonies are larger in the northern part of their range where there are more caves and abandoned mines.   When approached, the bats rotate their ears.  This is probably a defensive mechanism to keep track of intruders.

There have been significant efforts to study the habits of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats.  However, the species has proven to be particularly difficult to catch in mist nets.  One study played the social calls of the species in an attempt to attract the bats, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.  A theory is that the bats might need virtual silence in order to hear and detect the small noises of prey on vegetation so they may avoid their fellow bats when hunting.

Rafinesque’s big-eared bats are rare or endangered in their entire range.  They were once thought to inhabit the entire Southeastern United States north to southern Virginia and Illinois; west to eastern Oklahoma and Texas.  However, the current range shows significant gaps within that area.  For example in North and South Carolina and Georgia, Rafinesque’s big-eared bats are found in the coastal plain and the mountains, but no longer in the Piedmont.  The biggest reason for this decline is believed to be loss of habitat:  older forest trees being cut down, abandoned buildings demolished, and trails leading visitors to desirable caves causing disturbance.  Pesticides used to control insects, like gypsy moths, can also be detrimental to these bats.

In an effort to better understand the bats and protect them, surveys have gone on to determine where Rafinesque’s are living.  Land has been conserved where possible to allow contiguous forest habitat for the bats.  In some cases, tunnels have been gated to reduce human disturbance while allowing free passage for the bats.  After it was determined that some Rafinesque’s big-eared bats live in I-beam and T-beam bridges, consideration was given to modifying bridges under re-construction to provide good habitat for bats.  Also, training for pest control and wildlife control operators has been provided to show how to exclude bats from negative impact.

These bats play a key role in controlling our insect populations, so it is important to continue efforts like these and others to protect them.


Stokes:  Beginner’s Guide to Bats, by Kim Williams, Rob Mies and Donald & Lillian Stokes

Peterson Field Guides Mammals of North America, by Fiona A Reid

SC Department of Natural Resources article:  Colonial Cavity Roosting Bats, by Mary Bunch, Susan Loeb, Wendy Hood, Mary K. Clark, and Travis Perry;

SC Department of Natural Resources article on Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bats in Ace Basin;

Last Updated ( Monday, 31 August 2015 05:56 )

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