There is a considerable number of endangered animals in Arkansas. You can attribute this to the fact that Arkansas is one of the most biodiverse states in America. Its varied topography and temperate climate make the state a hub for abundant wildlife.
Mountainous regions in Arkansas, like the Ozark and Ouachita mountains, are home to more than a few exclusive animal species. Moreover, as many as 33 rivers pass through the state, so freshwater species are in good supply too.
Although Arkansas has no coastal waters, its proximity to Louisiana means it experiences the same warm subtropical weather. As a result, many migratory species often find comfort in Arkansas’ inner corridors.
Threatened And Endangered Animals In Arkansas
The Arkansas National Heritage Commission and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are tasked with maintaining and protecting wildlife. In this light, they have identified species with dwindling populations and classified them by urgency under separate endangerment categories.
These species are classified as vulnerable, threatened, endangered, or critically endangered animals in Arkansas. However, for the sake of inclusivity and education, we’ll discuss all animals considered to be in peril.
Reading this article will be enlightening because we will be reviewing two dozen of these rare creatures. Keep abuzz as we examine 24 of the most endangered animals in Arkansas.
#1 Ozark Big-Eared Bat
Found only in a few caves in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, these bats are easily distinguished by their outsized ears. They also have large snouts with prominent lumps and reddish fur.
Similar to most bats, they play a significant role in controlling disease and agricultural insect pests like mosquitoes and beetles.
Habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, and bat-specific disease like white-nose syndrome, are the primary threats to their survival.
#2 Ouachita Madtom
The Ouachita madtom is a catfish endemic to the Ouachita river in Arkansas. Curiously, out of all the endangered animals in Arkansas, these freshwater fish only received recognition as a standalone species in 1969. Since then, they’ve been classified as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS] in 1973, and the IUCN recognized their endangered status in 1986.
The reason this species remains threatened is, to a degree, their commitment to a habitat that is rapidly degrading. Also affecting their survival are man-made conditions like river channeling, river impoundment, and commercial gravel operations.
#3 Benton County Cave Crayfish
This is a rare crustacean endemic to the Logan, Bear hollow, and Old Pendergrass karst caves in Benton County, Arkansas. Benton County cave crayfish heavily depend on other endangered animals in Arkansas, like cave-dwelling bats, for survival.
Cave water is nutrient deficient, so they rely heavily on detritus, fungus, and algae that grow due to nitrogenous bat droppings.
The main survival threat to this crayfish population is water pollution from septic systems and animal feeding operations. As a result, The USFWS listed them as endangered in 1993, and the IUCN followed suit in 2004.
#4 Ozark Hellbender
Commonly called the lasagna lizard or snort otter, the Ozark hellbender is a subspecies of the widely distributed hellbender salamander. However, the Ozark hellbender only exists in the mountain streams of the Ozark plateau in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.
These amphibians are nocturnal creatures, residing under flat rocks and mainly feeding on crayfish. They were listed as one of the endangered animals in Arkansas by the USFWS in 2011. Furthermore, their declining population has been attributed to low reproductive rates, habitat destruction, predation, and disease.
#5 Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
The red-cockaded woodpecker is a mid-sized bird, at least in comparison to other North American woodpeckers. Their range used to extend from Florida, north to Virginia, and West to Arkansas. However, their range has been reduced to only a small part of the southeastern United States.
These birds live in complex social societies where older offsprings take some part in the care of younger siblings. Male and female birds live solitary lives in pinewood cavities until mating season.
Factors putting this species at peril mainly pertain to the overgrowth of forests containing their favored pine cavities. Also putting them in danger is habitat destruction and colonization of habitat by other cavity-dependent species like flying squirrels.
#6 Winged Mapleleaf
The winged mapleleaf is a freshwater mussel native to a few states, including Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Yet, today they only reside in limited rivers across this region.
They are filter feeders but lack no means of locomotion in their early growth stages. Hence, they attach themselves to fish gills for feeding and movement until they mature.
Currently, survival threats they face include invasion by non-native species like the zebra mussel and river damming. Conservation efforts have, however, been put into effect, and the USFWS added these endangered animals in Arkansas to its list of endangered animals in 1991.
#7 Ozark Cavefish
Ozark cavefish are small fish growing to a maximum length of 5cm, found in subterranean freshwater habitats. They are well-adapted to cave habitats, so naturally, they’ve evolved to lose some unused morphological characters.
For example, they have no pelvic fins and only have rudimentary eyes with no optic nerves. However, they hunt small larvae and crustaceans using their highly developed sensory papillae.
The Ozark cavefish is one of the endangered animals in Arkansas native to the Springfield plateau of the Ozark islands. They’ve been listed by the IUCN and US wildlife agencies as endangered since before the turn of the 21st century.
#8 Caddo Mountain Salamander
Caddo Mountain salamanders, another endangered animal in Arkansas, are specific to this one state and doesn’t live anywhere else. These amphibians are endemic to the Caddo mountains, a part of the Ouachita mountains.
Although fairly abundant in their limited range, the fact that they have no known alternative habitat means they are particularly susceptible to habitat loss and degradation. Hence, they are classified as one of the threatened species of Arkansas.
#9 Crystal Darter
The Mississippi and Ohio rivers used to be home to the crystal darter. These ray-finned fish favor streams and rivers with clear waters and swift currents. While small populations still exist in the Mississippi River and its basin, the Ohio River population is almost extinct.
It has a unique burrowing behavior where it buries itself under the sand with only its eyes protruding. This behavior helps them avoid predators, capture prey, and conserve energy.
The population and habitat of the crystal darter are constantly under threat from pollution, river dredging, damming, and siltation. Due to this and their limited distribution, the IUCN has the crystal darter on its Red List.
#10 Alligator Snapping Turtle
The alligator snapping turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world and certainly the largest in North America. They are typically found only in water bodies that empty into the Gulf of Mexico, like the Mississippi River and the Rio Grande.
Females of this species venture onto land to nest, and mature turtles can live up to 200 years. These turtles are considered invasive species in some parts of the world, like central Europe. However, they’ve been considered endangered animals in Arkansas and throughout North America since 2006.
Alligator snapping turtles are not a small game by any means, but they still face constant threats from predation. This is particularly true for young hatchlings finding their way to water bodies. Predators like jaguars, herons, cranes, and hawks feed on the young generation before they even have a start in life.
#11 Alabama Shad
The Alabama shad is a fish breeding in medium and large-flowing rivers along the Mississippi. Previously we saw them gathering in large schools and moving together, but today concrete data on the status of this organism remains deficient. Therefore, they are classified as threatened by the IUCN.
Once common enough to support commercial fisheries, their population decline is a result of dams blocking access to spawning sites.
#12 Florida Panther
The Florida Panther is a subspecies of the North American Mountain Lion. These cougars used to roam the southeastern US to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Now they are only present in a small patch of Florida, in less than 5% of their historic habitat.
Florida Panthers are one of the first endangered animals in Arkansas to be added to the endangered species list, as early as 1967. Because of their limited range, there have been talks of redistributing the species to the Ozark mountains, where they once flourished.
These endangered animals are frequent victims of automobile collisions. Agriculture and Urban Development are other causes for their reducing population as humans encroach on their habitat.
#13 Fourche Mountain Salamander
This salamander species is endemic to the Fourche mountains, a part of the Ouachita mountain range in Arkansas. They are nocturnal amphibians that rest under rocks and logs during the day but come out to feed at night.
These animals are well-protected, with their preferred habitat being within the Ouachita National Forest. Still, they carry the endangered-classification because of their limited range and threats from habitat degradation.
#14 Caddo Madtom
Caddo madtoms are freshwater catfish inhabiting the Caddo river, a tributary in Arkansas. They only grow up to 2-4 inches in length, so they are quite small.
This species prefers clear waters in headwater streams. As a result, river impoundment at Degray reservoir has limited this species to the upper part of the Caddo river.
Much about the Caddo madtom’s reproduction is unknown as they hide their eggs well under rocks. We do know however that they spawn the eggs during spring.
#15 Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
Contrary to what its name might suggest, the bills of the ivory-billed woodpecker do not constitute of ivory but bone. However, they earn their name for the strength of their bills, which can create cavities in extremely hard trees.
Before there was an abundance of Ivory-billed woodpeckers in the hardwood and coniferous forests of the southern United States, but not anymore. Today they are deemed an endangered animal.
These birds once inhabited a wide geographic range, from Texas north to Oklahoma and east to North Carolina. They are so rare that as recently as July 2022, the USFWS considered declaring them extinct.
These are the largest woodpeckers in North America and one of the largest in the world. Unfortunately, these birds are one of the most endangered animals in Arkansas and the US at large.
Unregulated hunting, logging, and capturing by exotic collectors are the primary suspects causing their potential extinction.
#16 Wheeler’s Pearly Mussel
Also known as the Ouachita rock pocketbook, wheeler’s pearly mussel is a freshwater mollusk native to Arkansas. Isolated populations of these species also exist in Oklahoma and Texas.
Nonetheless, these mussels were first listed as endangered animals in Arkansas, where they were first discovered. They do not show sexual dimorphism, and their shell has a luscious iridescent black color.
#17 Leopard Darter
The leopard darter gets its name from its characteristic yellow coloring and black spots similar to those of a leopard. It is a small fish with ray-fins, only present in the Little Red River drainage in Arkansas and Oklahoma. They rarely grow beyond a few inches, with a lifespan of fewer than two years.
Generally, they prefer large streams with bolder substrates, and they occur less frequently in small headwater streams. Although leopard darters have never had a wide distribution range, today, they are threatened by habitat loss due to reservoir construction. As such, they’ve been listed as an endangered species by the IUCN since 1978.
#18 Indiana Bat
Indiana bats are mouse-eared bats found across the southern and midwestern states of the US. Although similar in appearance to the popular brown bat, they are distinguished by their pink lips, feet size, and calcar.
These mammals are insectivorous, spending their night consuming millions of aquatic and terrestrial flying insects. They were once abundant across their range but have experienced a population decline of almost 50% over the past decade.
Their survival threats are similar to most bats endemic to North America; human interaction, agricultural development, and white-nose syndrome.
#19 Arkansas Fatmucket
This is a rare species of freshwater mussel endemic to the Caddo, Saline, and Ouachita river systems in Arkansas. They have brown to olive-green colored shells, which differ in shape among the sexes.
Habitat-wise, they prefer deep pools with a fast current to remove debris. As a result, water impoundment and reduced water flow affects them severly. Also, the water quality of their favorite streams has been disturbed by dredging and sedimentation from human activities.
#20 Arkansas River Shiner
This minnow fish was once popular across the Arkansas River basin from Kansas to Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. They are now locally extinct in Kansas and Oklahoma and only inhabit the Canadian river, an Arkansas River tributary.
These fish are very small, growing to approximately two inches, and require long stretches of flowing river to survive. This is a consequence of their unique spawning behavior, where eggs have to float several miles downstream to hatch.
Due to this unique spawning character, younger generations of the Arkansas River Shiner don’t survive in impounded river areas. Although now successfully introduced and thriving in the Pecos river in New Mexico, Arkansas river shiners still forms part of the endangered animals in Arkansas.
#21 Yellowcheek Darter
Yellowcheek darters are federally listed as endangered and are also classified as endangered animals in Arkansas by state agencies.
These fish occur in only a small portion of the Little Red River in Arkansas. They can grow up to 2.8 inches and are fond of medium-sized river habitats with strong currents.
#22 American Burying Beetle
Commonly known as the carrion beetle, these insects are carnivorous, only feeding on dead animal matter. They also require carrion and carcasses to reproduce. Without these, they can’t find a suitable environment to lay their eggs.
Even though historical records show these beetles to have lived in over 35 states in the US, they are now listed as critically endangered animals in Arkansas and the remaining nine US states in which they are still found.
This extinction-level population reduction is due to the widespread use of pesticides and oil discovery in their once-flourishing habitat.
#23 Black Rail
Black rails are small birds occurring in limited ranges across North and South America. Typically, they are only live in coastal salt marshes, but in Arkansas, they live in freshwater marshes.
You can rarely spot these birds because they prefer running and feeding under dense vegetation instead of flying and perching.
Because of the black rails’ secretive nature, studies on the factors affecting their population are deficient. However, they are widely preyed upon by predators like hawks, egrets, and wild cats.
Although the IUCN lists them as endangered, they are probably the least endangered animals endemic to Arkansas.
#24 Pallid Sturgeon
Pallid sturgeons are fish living in rivers of the Central and Midwestern United States. They are one of the biggest freshwater species in North America, weighing up to 85 lbs and as long as 5ft 2 in.
Although this fish’s sporadic spawning behavior partly contributes to its population decline, river impoundment is also culpable for its habitat loss. These fish are among the few freshwater species whose eggs are harvested for caviar, which also impacts their population growth.
The USFWS has listed Pallid sturgeons as endangered since 1990. Still, restoration efforts by hatchery rearing and a reintroduction to familiar ranges have yet to yield any notable positive impact on populations.
As you can see there’s a wide variety of Arkansa-animals that need our help, ranging from the tiniest fish and clamps, to bats and wood peckers. So remember to enjoy your the nature and its inhabitants the next time you visit Arkansas, because it is highly uncertain how long they will still be around.
Thank you for reading this piece! If you enjoyed this one, this article will definitely tickle your fancy as well: The Most Endangered Animals in Massachusetts.
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