These creatures are not cryptids – but if people do not pay attention to the needs and habitats of these species, they may be less likely to be seen.
In the spirit of Halloween, there are a few spooky species to keep an eye out for here in Pennsylvania.
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Atlantic and lake sturgeon: Large bony fish that are disappearing in numbers
Large, bony Atlantic sturgeon were once an abundant food source in the Delaware River. But as the Brodhead Watershed Associated noted this summer, “Overharvesting and other human impacts have reduced Delaware’s mature spawning population below 300.”
If the Tocks Island Dam were built, the situation would be even worse for this federally endangered species, as dams in other waterways would block sturgeon migration.
NOAA Fisheries, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says, “Currently, the primary threats to Atlantic sturgeon are fishing gear entanglement, habitat disturbance, habitat disturbances such as dams and other obstacles, and vessel strikes.”
“Removing aging dams or creating pathways for fish to bypass those dams can greatly improve Atlantic sturgeon access to historic habitat. NOAA Fisheries works with conservation organizations, energy companies, states, tribes and citizens to assess barriers and improve fish passage.”
More:Wildlife at risk: This dinosaur-era fish from the Delaware River is out
At the other end of Pennsylvania, lake sturgeon numbers have declined in Lake Erie, as has the rest of the Great Lakes.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, overfishing “nearly wiped out” the species in the Great Lakes in the early 1900s.
As of 2018, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Toledo Zoo stock juvenile sturgeon in the Maumee River, which connects the west end of Lake Erie. As they are not yet of reproductive age, it is too early to know how successful the program might be.
Eastern hellebore: Pennsylvania’s state amphibian and the nation’s largest salamander.
Hellbenders are Pennsylvania’s state amphibian and the largest salamander in North America. Although they are not listed as endangered or threatened, their fate is in our hands.
“Although raccoons may be one of the only natural predators of adult eastern hellbenders, humans are a significant contributor to the death of hellbenders,” says Penn State Extension. “Relying on dermal gas exchange for oxygen absorption, eastern hellbenders are excellent indicators of water quality.”
In other words: They absorb oxygen through their skin, which is difficult in poor water quality.
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The risks stem from “excessive erosion from sediments from dirt and gravel roads, inappropriate agriculture or pipeline projects,” Eric Chapman, director of aquatic sciences at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, said in an email. “Climate change is also exacerbating the effects of the above due to more frequent high-intensity rainfall events, leading to increased runoff that chokes hellbender habitat.”
Some states are helping the species spread by releasing juveniles born through breeding programs, but Pennsylvania is “blessed with some amazing hellhounds, and I think we still need to boost the populations,” he said.
Although they are large (maturity 9 to 25 inches, according to Penn State), you shouldn’t expect to see them often.
“Hellbenders are mostly nocturnal except during breeding season, so seeing one in the wild is a rare treat!” Chapman said.
Indiana bats are battling fungus, among other problems
This little bat is on the national and Pennsylvania endangered species list. Luzerne County is among 11 Pennsylvania counties where the species is known to hibernate, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“The decline of this species is due to many factors, including habitat loss, environmental pollutants, human activities and disease. The most crippling of these factors is a fungus known as white-nose syndrome,” says Penn State Extension.
“The fungus can stick to people’s clothes, shoes or equipment and can be carried by people exploring caves. Infection can cause bats to exhibit strange behaviors such as flying outdoors during the day and hibernation during winter. This behavior causes them to use up the resources they need to survive the winter,” Penn State adds.
In addition to staying out of caves during the wintering season, humans can also help the species by protecting trees that provide good nesting sites in the summer.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service advises: “Summer woodcocks typically scrape the bark off large, often dead trees.”
Eastern massasauga: An endangered rattlesnake that lurks on the plains
This rattlesnake is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania and federally threatened.
“Massasauga populations have declined from 19 historical sites in western Pennsylvania to four currently known,” Ryan Miller, a zoologist with the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, emailed. “These places have always been relatively small isolated areas of habitat and wetlands. However, succession of woody vegetation and habitat destruction are still reducing the size of these restricted habitats (even the four remaining in Pennsylvania).
Along with habitat destruction and overgrowth of trees and shrubs in the massasauga’s “preferred open, old-field, grass-grass habitat,” the species is also at risk from “wanton kills and human persecution,” Miller said.
The conservancy “works with other agencies, conservation partners and landowners to remove woodland vegetation from habitat through mowing and mowing during the winter when the snakes hibernate. Also, the WPC purchased property specifically for the Massasauga and restored it to make it more suitable for it and the many other wildlife species that share its habitat,” he said.
The species is venomous but also shy, Miller said.
“It relies on its camouflage pattern and prefers to remain quiet and stealthy. Many times I stepped within inches of the Massasaugas and they lay perfectly still and still and let me pass.” Miller continued. “I documented the Massasaugas hanging out in the gardens all summer long, because it was the only open habitat at the time. .”
“People can live with this animal as long as they understand its requirements to live and cooperate.” He said.
— Kathryn Rubright covers politics and the environment in northeastern Pennsylvania and is based at the Pocono Record. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.