December 12, 2017
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These five animals are disappearing from Maine

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff
Updated:

A wide diversity of animals call Maine home, and many of those animals are getting along just fine. But there are a number of creatures that are becoming scarce, and when their numbers dip low enough, they’re placed on the Maine State List of Threatened and Endangered Species.

The following five animals are on that list — and they may take you by surprise. But they all have one thing in common: biologists believe these five species are in danger of disappearing largely due to stressors caused by people.

And that means people can do something to help.

Much of the following information was obtained from the back of the 2016 Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Poster, which was illustrated by Mark McCollough and written by Charlie Todd, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Endangered and Threatened Species Coordinator. The poster, along with other merchandise displaying Maine’s current list of endangered and threatened species, is for sale at DIF&W’s online store.

Little brown bat

Listed as Endangered in Maine in 2015

Once extremely common throughout most of the United States and Canada, the little brown bat population has dropped rapidly over the past decade due to White Nose Syndrome, a disease brought to North America from Europe in 2006, likely on the gear of cave explorers. In Maine — where little brown bats were likely the most common species of bats 10 years ago — their population has dropped more than 90 percent. Biologists from different organizations, institutions, colleges and agencies are teaming up to find ways to save bats from this devastating disease. Also in Maine, White Nose Syndrome has killed significant numbers of northern long-eared bats (listed as endangered in 2015) and eastern small-footed bats (listed as threatened in 2015).

Box turtle

Listed as Endangered in Maine in 1986

The small population of eastern box turtles in southern Maine are at the northeastern limit of their range, and they keep getting run over by cars. With big, strong shells, these animals can defend themselves from most predators, but not from a vehicle’s tires. In addition, their habitat is shrinking and being fragmented through development. This is also the case for the Blanding’s turtle (listed as endangered in 1997) and spotted turtle (listed as threatened in 1986). Recognizing that connectivity of habitats is crucial to the survival of these three species, biologists in the Northeast are working together to conserve and maintain wetlands and travel corridors. Also in recent years, biologists in southern Maine have erected “turtle crossing” signs each spring, when these turtles often cross roads on the way to mate, lay eggs and feed.

Black racer

Listed as Endangered in Maine in 1986

This large, black snake — which is known for its speed and ability to climb shrubs and small trees — lives in southern Maine and, like many turtles, often meets its demise in roadways. Maine biologists have recently implanted radio transmitters in these snakes to study their movements and habitat needs. They’ve also installed warning signs on roadways where racers are frequently killed.

New England cottontail

Listed Endangered in Maine in 2007

Once a common sight in farming communities throughout much of Maine, the New England cottontail rabbit is rapidly disappearing — to the point that biologists estimate only between 250 and 300 individual cottontails remain in Maine. This remaining population is secluded to small pockets of shrublands south of Portland. So if you see a rabbit elsewhere in Maine, odds are you’re seeing a snowshoe hare. The biggest contributing factor to the New England cottontail’s decline is habitat loss and fragmentation, biologists say. The species relies on dense thickets, which hides them from predators, for survival — but thickets have become less and less common in Maine as old farmland grows into mature forests. Biologists throughout New England are currently working to conserve land and create more young forests and shrublands where New England cottontails can thrive, including the recent approval of the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge, a new refuge dedicated to managing shrubland habitat for wildlife in the Northeast. In addition, captive breeding of the New England cottontail and planning for future reintroductions of this species to certain areas of the Northeast are underway.

Piping plovers

Listed as Endangered in Maine in 1986

Small shorebirds often described as “cute,” piping plovers nest in the sand dunes of southern Maine beaches during the spring and summer. Development, beach recreation, the creation of seawalls and high surf events have disturbed and diminished their nesting habitat over the years. To help these birds, biologists install wire fencing around nest sites to protect plover eggs from predators and unaware beachgoers, and biologists work with communities and volunteers to educate people about these endangered birds, which are often difficult to see as they scurry around in the sand. Likely due to these efforts, state biologists counted at least 60 nesting pairs of piping plovers on Maine beaches in 2015, a 20 percent increase from the previous year’s 50 pairs and twice as many as were counted in 2010.

 


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