Study sounds alarm over decline of world’s reptile species

By: - May 6, 2022 5:23 am
Milwaukee People's Climate March. Photo by: Isiah Holmes

Milwaukee People’s Climate March, 2019. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

A study conducted by NatureServe, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Conservation International has revealed that a fifth of all the world’s reptile species are at risk of extinction. Published in the journal Nature, the analysis found that 21% of all reptile species globally are threatened with extinction. Wisconsin has 37 species of reptile including snakes, lizards and turtles, and an additional 19 species of amphibians including frogs, toads, and salamanders. Both reptiles and amphibians are sometimes referred to as “herps” after herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. Of these, seven are listed as endangered, one is listed as threatened, and another 21 are listed as of special concern.

The study finds environmental destruction and the effects of climate change continue to strain global ecosystems. Using IUCN Red List criteria, some 10,078 reptile species from around the world were assessed by the study. An additional 118 species of turtle were recommended for Red List categories, pushing the total of 10,196 global species, or about 89% of all known reptiles into that category as of August 2020. It also notes that many other species are threatened with extinction including 40.7% of amphibians, 25.4% of mammals and 13.6% of birds.

It notes that, “because global assessments have been lacking, reptiles have been omitted from conservation-prioritization analyses that encompass other tetrapods,” referring to the scientific term for animals with four limbs and their descendants. “Reptiles are unusually diverse in arid regions, suggesting that they may have different conservation needs.” The 21.1% of reptiles now threatened with extinction around the world represent 15.6 billion years of collective evolutionary history and diversity on the planet.

Wisconsin has several endangered reptile species, found in all corners of the state. These include the eastern and western ribbon snakes and one of the state’s two rattlesnakes, the Eastern Massasauga, and the queen snake. One of the state’s four lizard species, the slender glass lizard, is listed as endangered. The ornate box turtle, a species which favors prairies, oak savannas, and semi-open woodlands, is also endangered. For amphibians, Wisconsin has the Blanchard’s cricket frog listed as endangered. Many other species are listed as threatened, or of “special concern,” and require particular attention to prevent further population declines.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.