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Meet 4 native Florida species that have gone extinct

Conservation advocates cite pollution, deforestation and other forms of habitat destruction as the largest threats to Florida’s endangered species.
 
This image of Bachman's warblers was commissioned in 1833 by John James Audubon. The hand-colored engraving by Robert Havell Jr. is based on Audubon’s painting of the birds in a Franklin tree.
This image of Bachman's warblers was commissioned in 1833 by John James Audubon. The hand-colored engraving by Robert Havell Jr. is based on Audubon’s painting of the birds in a Franklin tree. [ Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art ]
Published Oct. 17, 2023|Updated Oct. 21, 2023

Florida lost another native species this week. The Bachman’s warbler, one of the rarest songbirds in North America, was declared likely extinct Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The bird joins the growing list of 650 extinct U.S. species and is the fourth Florida animal to be listed as extinct in recent years.

The main culprit? Development that caused the destruction of their habitats.

Habitat destruction fueled by climate change is leading to the loss of biodiversity worldwide, said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. This is most visible in the extinctions of unique species.

“When you look back on that, it doesn’t shine very brightly in our history,” he said. “I think people in the future aren’t likely to look at this kindly that we let so many species go extinct.”

Bachman’s warbler

In 1967, the Bachman’s warbler was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Preservation Act.

Since the bird had not been seen in the U.S. since 1962, conservation advocates say it was most likely extinct before the landmark conservation law was passed.

Its habitats were destroyed by clear-cut logging across the southeastern U.S.

Efforts to locate a member of the Bachman’s warbler species waned over the years. Extensive surveys between 1975 and 1979 didn’t yield any sign of the birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This week, the species was delisted from the agency’s endangered species list, signaling its official extinction.

South Florida rainbow snake

The last sighting of the South Florida rainbow snake predates other recent extinctions in Florida, with the last one spotted in 1952.

Development, dams, pollution and drought spelled disaster for the species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Rainbow snakes like the one pictured here are found throughout the Florida Panhandle. A separate population of South Florida rainbow snakes known only from Fisheating Creek was declared extinct in 2011.
Rainbow snakes like the one pictured here are found throughout the Florida Panhandle. A separate population of South Florida rainbow snakes known only from Fisheating Creek was declared extinct in 2011. [ Courtesy of Ryan Means ]

The species’ only known habitat existed in Fisheating Creek, which flows into the west side of Lake Okeechobee. The snake stood out from others with its iridescent bluish-black color, banded by red stripes on its back and sides.

Adults grew to be more than 4 feet long. The species was declared extinct in 2011.

Florida fairy shrimp

The fairy shrimp was delisted alongside the rainbow snake in 2011.

“It’s heart-wrenching to learn that these two unique Florida species have been lost forever,” said Sierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a news release that year. “Like most species that go extinct, these two were not protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is the most powerful tool we have for saving our nation’s plants and animals from disappearing.”

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Few in numbers at the time, the final blow for the species came when researchers returned to the only pond known to house the species — just a few miles south of Gainesville — in 2011 and found it was destroyed by development.

Dusky seaside sparrow

The dusky seaside sparrow was known to inhabit only a small area near Titusville and made its home in the marshes of Merritt Island and along the St. John’s River.

The dusky seaside sparrow was declared extinct in 1987, decades after a flood aimed at reducing mosquito populations around the Kennedy Space Center destroyed their habitat.
The dusky seaside sparrow was declared extinct in 1987, decades after a flood aimed at reducing mosquito populations around the Kennedy Space Center destroyed their habitat. [ Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ]

Human error wiped out its last remaining habitat. In 1956, Brevard County flooded marshes in an attempt to reduce the mosquito populations, resulting in a change of tidal salt marsh vegetation to freshwater species. Floodwaters at one marsh in Merritt Island, near the Kennedy Space Center, destroyed the sparrows’ nesting grounds.

The combination of habitat loss, pollution and pesticides dwindled the population to just a handful, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By 1979, only six male dusky seaside sparrows were known to exist. The females were gone four years earlier, spoiling any chance for the species to regenerate. The remaining male dusky seaside sparrows were brought to the Discovery Island nature reserve in the Walt Disney World Resort.

The last surviving sparrow died there on June 17, 1987, and the species was declared extinct.