The Pine Creek Valley
Watershed Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 239
Oley, PA 19547
Endangered or Threatened Part Two-
The Plight of Many Living Organisms In Wet Habitats
In the previous edition of The Water's Edge, Dr. Susan Munch introduced us to some rather unusual plants in our Oley ecosystem and other watery ecosystems throughout Pennsylvania. Although Pennsylvania consists mostly of terrestrial habitats, the organisms whose populations have declined to the point where they are considered threatened or endangered include a very high proportion of species from wetlands, ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. This is partly because aquatic and wetland habitats have high species diversity. In this issue we introduce our readers to some other smaller species: a turtle, frog, snake, salamander, shrew, and selected birds.
The bog turtle, whose northern populations were recently listed as threatened by the federal government, inhabits our own local wetlands in Pike Township. It prefers open wetlands dominated by sedges, but may also be seen in wet pastures or crossing low spots in roads.
Besides the brightly marked bog turtle, another attractive reptile associated with marshes and streams in southeastern Pennsylvania is the threatened rough green snake. It is clear apple green, may be a yard or more long, and often climbs in shrubs overhanging water.
Populations of the New Jersey chorus frog and coastal plain leopard frog have been observed recently in southeastern Pennsylvania but are in a precarious condition because of the destruction of many of their breeding areas. The tiny one-inch chorus frogs breed in shallow bodies of water where the shrill mating calls of the males may be heard in spring. The larger coastal plain leopard frogs in similar habitats attract their mates by low trills and clucks.
Spring seeps in the south central part of the state harbor a few of the endangered eastern mud salamander, a large red-orange amphibian with shiny brown eyes.
In aquatic habitats, the only mammal in Pennsylvania that is listed as endangered is the West Virginia water shrew, which has been observed a few times along streams in the southwestern part of our state. Acidification of our streams both here and in West Virginia is a threat to the food supply of these small and voracious animals.
The great egret and two species of bitterns have been observed nesting in other parts of southeastern Pennsylvania, though not in Berks County. They are found in marshes and along rivers. Along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries the threatened yellow-crowned night heron has been observed nesting in sycamore trees. Additional populations of the great egret and the osprey are also found along the Susquehanna, as well as some bald eagles, which are listed as endangered in Pennsylvania. The majority of the bald eagle populations in the state, though, nest in the northwestern part of the state in large trees near various bodies of water. Ospreys are amazingly accurate when swooping down and grabbing live fish with their talons, while bald eagles not only eat live fish but also scavenge dead animals in wetland habitats.
All of these species of animals are dependent on a large and uninterrupted supply of clean water in their habitats. Because this type of water is not reliably available in many of our wetlands, rivers, and streams, their populations have declined and their continued existence here is seriously threatened.