Meet six of the species on Ontario's endangered list
From bats weighing as little as a loonie to mint-scented birch trees, Ontario has its fair share of endangered species that depend on science and conservation for their survival.
Amelia Eqbal, Contributor
Mountain Gorillas, Bornean Orangutans and Asian Elephants are likely some of the living creatures that come to mind when people hear the term "endangered". Ontario, however, has its own group of endangered species. The province is home to over 30,000 species, 243 of which are considered species at risk. The provincial government announced this March that it will be allocating over four million dollars next year to support projects through the Species at Risk Stewardship program, but there’s still a long way to go in protecting Ontario’s most vulnerable species.
Ontario defines an endangered species as one that exists in the province’s wild spaces but is on the brink of extinction. Some of the province’s endangered life forms may be creatures you’ve never heard of. Some may even be hiding out in your own backyard. The commonality among them? They all need Ontario’s swift protection and intervention to save them from extinction. Read on to find out more about the province’s species at risk and how to help them.
Rusty Patched Bumblebee
Named for the distinctive, rust-coloured patch on its abdomen, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis) is an animal endemic to North America. Like many bumblebees, this species relies on the pollen and nectar of different flowering plants to survive. Once present throughout eastern North America, the bee has experienced a stark and swift decline since the 1970s. Since 2002, the only sightings of this bee in Canada have been within Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron. Although the exact cause is unclear, experts have speculated that pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change have all contributed to the decline in population.
Transverse Lady Beetle
Another insect identifiable by its colouring is the Transverse Lady Beetle (Coccinella transversalis). Its bright orange to red wing cover, black band and four black spots make it easily distinguishable from other ladybugs. The Transverse Lady Beetle has been known to frequent a variety of environments including suburban gardens, forests, prairie grasslands and meadows across North America. In Ontario, however, it’s been 30 years since anyone has spotted one—or at least, recorded it. Scientists have suggested that the introduction of non-native lady beetle species and predatory species—as well as habitat loss from urban expansion, conversion of farmland to forest and other human interventions—are reasons for the species’ decline in Ontario.
Little Brown Myotis
Bats might have a bad reputation when it comes to spreading disease, but these little guys need our help. They’re important pollinators and work to control pests. Here in Ontario, the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus) is a microbat that roosts in trees and buildings across southern Ontario. It can be found as far north as Moose Factory and Favourable Lake. Little brown bats live up to their name, typically weighing as little as a loonie or toonie. The biggest threat these tiny creatures face is White-Nose Syndrome, a disease caused by an invasive fungus originally found in Europe. The fungus thrives in humid, cold environments like the caves where these bats hibernate. Appearing as a white fuzz on their faces, the fungus disrupts the bat’s hibernation cycle, causing their bodies to run out of their fat reserves and effectively starving them to death.
A primarily nocturnal animal, the American Badger (Taxidea taxus) is the only badger found in North America and has a prime spot on Ontario’s endangered species list. Badgers are primarily nocturnal animals and are built for digging; their strong claws and streamlined skull allow them to dig their prey out of burrows. Found roaming in tallgrass prairies and farmland, badgers prefer habitats teeming with small prey, such as groundhogs and rabbits. With few natural enemies to the badger in Ontario, human activity has been the primary threat to this species. Habitat loss has triggered the badger’s decline, particularly the conversion of open grassland to farmland and ongoing urban development.
American Chestnut Tree
Classified as endangered for over a decade, the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is now found primarily in southwestern Ontario between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. This species has almost entirely vanished from North America due to an invasive fungal disease called Chestnut Blight. Accidentally introduced to North America from Asia around the early 1900s, the fungus nearly wiped out the entire population of American Chestnut trees over a 30-year period. While some saplings and trees managed to grow from the root systems and dead stumps left behind by diseased trees, the fungus has continued to decimate American Chestnut clusters due to the tree’s lack of natural resistance to the disease. Forest clearing and logging operations also pose a serious threat to the species’ survival.
Cherry Birch Tree
Named for its distinctive bark, the Cherry Birch (Betula lenta) is unique amongst birch trees for its smooth bark, which grows in a scale pattern that lacks the curling, peeling edges seen in many birch species. Despite its name, its twigs smell like wintergreen, exuding a strong, minty smell when scratched. Canada’s only population of Cherry Birches grows near St. Catharines along the Niagara peninsula. The main threats to this species have been habitat destruction and forest clearing, with the existing population surrounded by residential developments. Erosion from severe storms in the mid-2000s decimated all the mature trees and naturally-occurring, intense erosion along Lake Ontario’s shoreline continues to affect the remaining trees today.
How to help Ontario’s endangered species
Report a sighting
If you spot a species you think might be endangered, share the data. Take photographs and note the location where you spotted the species and inform the Natural Heritage Information Centre.
Create safe havens for species at home
Plant native flowering plants in your home garden to provide nectar and pollen to bumblebees, or build a bat box to house these flying critters while they hibernate.
Join your local environmental stewardship group to create a better environment for Ontario’s native species. Private landowners who spot endangered species on their property may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the safety and recovery of species at risk.
Educate yourself and others on the importance of environmental stewardship. You can find great resources online, from e-learning tools to region-specific databases, to learn more about ongoing conservation efforts in your area.