Due to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delay in deciding whether to protect them as “endangered,” they never received the habitat protections and science-based recovery plans that have helped rescue other species on the brink of extinction.
Stephan's riffle beetle - Illustration courtesy USFWS
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that the Stephan’s riffle beetle of Arizona and the Tatum Cave beetle of Kentucky have gone extinct — more than two decades after they were first identified as needing federal protections that were never awarded to them. The agency declared the two species extinct after searches and surveys for both miniscule beetles in their respective specialized micro-habitats turned up no insects. Both beetles were known to be threatened by unchecked development. But due to the Service’s delay in deciding whether to protect them as “endangered,” they never received the habitat protections and science-based recovery plans that have helped rescue other species on the brink of extinction.
“I'm deeply saddened by the loss of these two beetles, which we can never get back,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The world is a little shabbier, and the Santa Rita Mountains and Tatum Cave are each a little less unique without these former resident beetles.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the Stephan’s riffle beetle as needing protection in 1984, reaching the same conclusion about the Tatum Cave beetle in 1994, but the agency failed to complete the paperwork necessary to provide Endangered Species Act protection for either species. In accordance with a 2011 settlement agreement with the Center to make protection decisions for more than 250 species stuck on the candidate list as of 2010, the Service today officially denied protection to both species because they are believed extinct.
The Stephen's riffle beetle lived in two springs in Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains outside of Tucson. Its habitat was degraded in the 1800s by rampant livestock grazing and again in the 1930s with the Civilian Conservation Corps’ piping of water from the canyon’s main spring, and, later, development of a campground and hiking trail. But the beetle survived these assaults, clinging to existence in the face of these threats at least until 1993, when the last one was sighted. Drought from global warming, which contributed to reducing flows in the springs, may have been the nail in the coffin for the beetle.
In Marion County, Ky., the Tatum Cave beetle was abundant when first discovered in 1957 but less so when last seen in 1965. It is thought to be extinct because eight surveys since that year have failed to locate the beetle. The Service identified urban sprawl pollution and cave alterations as threats to the species.
“Few people ever saw the Stephan’s riffle beetle or the Tatum Cave beetle, and perhaps not many will mourn their passing,” said Robinson. “But the extinction of species, tiny and tremendous alike, leaves us all a little poorer, whether we recognize the losses or not."
The late scientist J.B.S. Haldane quipped that “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles,” because of their many varieties. These two beetles were no exception. The Stephen's riffle beetle was a one-tenth of an inch long, had dozens of tiny black dots on the back of its wings, respired through gills, and attached its eggs to underwater rocks and substrate. The Tatum Cave beetle was eyeless and reddish-brown.
To date the Center's agreement with Fish and Wildlife has led to the protection of 176 species and proposed protections for 22 more.
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