This past year scientists and conservation organizations declared that a long list of species may have gone ex.t.in.ct, including dozens of frogs and fish. Most of these species haven’t been seen in decades, despite frequent and regular expeditions to find out if they still exist. The causes of these ex.t.in.ctions range from d.is.ea.ses to invasive species to habitat loss, but most boil down to human behavior. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) latest report said that more than a quarter of the species it has on its Red List are now ‘t h.r eatened with ex.t.in.ction’ – some 35,765 out of 128,918 species. It comes as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that animal populations have declined by an average of almost 70% in less than 50 years, as eco-systems break down and animals struggle to cope in a rapidly changing world. Many animals facing a bleak future – and some facing none at all.
Conservation scientist Stuart Pimm, founder of the organization Saving Nature says: “We can turn things around. We don’t just have to sit there and cry. But at the same time, we need to recognize what we’ve lost, or potentially lost. We can m.o ur.n them and vow to prevent as many others as possible from joining their ranks.”
1. 22 frog species—The IUCN this year declared nearly two dozen long-unseen Central and South American frog species as “critically en.d.an ger.ed (possibly ex.t.in.ct)”—vi.c ti.ms of the amphibian-k.i l.ling chytrid fungus. They include the Aragua robber frog (Pristimantis anotis), which hasn’t been observed in 46 years, and the Piñango stubfoot toad (Atelopus pinangoi), which mostly disappeared in the 1980s. A single juvenile toad observed in 2008 leads scientists to say this species “is either possibly ex.t.in.ct or if there is still an extant population, that it is very small (<50 mature individuals).”
2. Smooth handfish (Sympterichthys unipennis)—One of the few ex.t.in.ctions of 2020 that received much media attention, and it’s easy to see why. Handfish are an unusual group of species whose front fins look somewhat like human appendages, which they use to walk around the ocean floor. The smooth species, which hasn’t been seen since 1802, lived off the coast of Tasmania and was probably common when it was first collected by naturalists. Bottom fishing, p.o.ll.ution, habitat de.str.uc tion, bycatch and other t h.r eats are all listed as among the probable reasons for its ex.t.in.ction. Even though the local fishery collapsed more than 50 years ago, the remaining handfish species are still critically en.d.an ger.ed, so this ex.t.in.ction should serve as an important wake-up call to save them.
3. 17 freshwater fish from Lake Lanao, Mindanao, the Philippines—A combination of predatory invasive species, overharvesting and de.str.ucting fishing methods (such as dynamite fishing) wiped these lost species out. The IUCN this year listed 15 of the species as “ex.t.in.ct” following extensive searches and surveys; the remaining two as “critically en.d.an ger.ed (possibly ex.t.in.ct).” The predators, by the way, are still doing just fine.
4. Bonin pipistrelle (Pipistrellus sturdeei)—Scientists only recorded this Japanese bat one time, back in the 19th century. The IUCN listed it as “data deficient” from 2006 to 2020, a period during which its taxonomy was under debate, but a paper published in March settled that issue, and the latest Red List update placed the species in the the ex.t.in.ct category. The Japanese government itself has listed the bat as ex.t.in.ct since 2014.
5. Schizothorax saltans—This fish from Kazakhstan was last seen in 1953, around the time the rivers feeding its lake habitats were drained for irrigation. The IUCN did not assess the species before this past year.
6. Chiriqui harlequin frog (Atelopus chiriquiensis) and splendid poison frog (Oophaga speciosa)—Last seen in 1996 and 1992, these frogs from Costa Rica and Panama fell vi.c ti.m to the chytrid fungus and were declared ex.t.in.ct in December.
7. Pass stubfoot toad (Atelopus senex)—Another Costa Rican chytrid vi.c ti.m, last seen in 1986.
8. Lord Howe long-eared bat (Nyctophilus howensis)—This island species is known from a single sk.u.ll discovered in 1972. Conservationists held out hope that it still existed following several possible sightings, but those hopes have now been dashed.
9. Spined dwarf mantis (Ameles fasciipennis)—This Italian praying mantis was only scientifically collected once, in or around 1871, and never seen again. The IUCN says the genus’s taxonomy is “rather confusing and further analysis need to be done to confirm the validity of this species.” Here’s what we do know, though: There are none to be found today, despite extensive surveys.
10. Simeulue Hill mynas—An alarming paper called this an “ex.t.in.ction-in-process” of a previously undescribed bird that probably went ex.t.in.ct in the wild in the past two to three years due to overcollection for the songbird trade. A few may still exist in captivity—for now.
11. Pseudoyersinia brevipennis—This praying mantis from France hasn’t been seen since 1860. Its declared ex.t.in.ction comes after some extended (and still unresolved) debate over its validity as a unique species.