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Wildlife Fact:

Fierce hunters, bobcats can kill prey much bigger than themselves, but usually eat rabbits, birds, mice, squirrels, and other smaller game.

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Extirpated Species of NJ

These five species have been lost from New Jersey, but they still survive within a portion of their range. Although unlikely, it's possible they could return to the state in the future. In the meantime, their stories may help us understand how to better protect the species we still have.



COUGAR (Felis concolor)

DESCRIPTION

Also known as the mountain lion or puma, the cougar is one of the most wide-ranging big cats in the world. At one time, it could be found across the entire width of North America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It was also found as far north as Canada and as far south as southern South America, including vast areas in between within Mexico and Central America. Today, the cougar is no longer found east of the Mississippi River with the exception of a small population in southern Florida and a few individuals who trek eastward occasionally. Their population remains stable in western portions of North America and throughout portions of South America.

Cougars have such a wide distribution because they are highly adaptable and flexible when it comes to habitat. They occupy temperate and tropical forests, swamps, deserts, and mountainous areas. In some areas of the U.S. west, they have been known to live within close proximity of suburban locations.

The cougar is uniformly buff colored with a long tail, large paws, and strong legs for leaping. The tail is often tipped with a dark brown or blackish color. Cougars can grow to a length of 6 ½ feet and weigh up to 230 pounds. Males are larger than females.

Cougars are solitary carnivores and they prey on a wide assortment of wildlife from small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels to larger animals such as deer. They will also kill livestock such as sheep or young cattle. They are active during any time of the day but most active at dawn and dusk.

Females give birth to 2-3 spotted cubs within a den, usually between the months of April and September. Cubs nurse for about 5-6 weeks and the young remain with their mother for 1-2 years. Females typically have a litter every two years. In the wild, cougars usually live to 10 years, but they can live longer than 18 years in captivity.

Image of Cougar, also known as the mountain lion or puma.Zoom+ Cougar, also known as the mountain lion or puma.

WHEN DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

1700’s-1800’s

WHY DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Habitat loss and killing by humans are the primary reasons this species no longer exists in New Jersey. Big cats require large home ranges and as natural habitat is lost or becomes fragmented, it becomes unsuitable. Cougars were also, and continue to be, persecuted due to fear and anger over livestock losses. In many areas, bounties or rewards were offered for each cougar killed.

Low deer populations in the 1800’s may have also contributed to the cougar’s demise. It’s hard to believe that deer density in New Jersey was ever low, but in the 1800’s, when there was less suitable deer habitat and more people hunting them for food, it was.

The eastern cougar was listed as endangered by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1973, although it was thought to have already been extinct as early as the 1930’s. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the species extinct. However, in June 2011, a 2-5 year old male cougar was struck and killed by a car in Connecticut. It is believed that this individual roamed over 1,500 miles from the Black Hills region of South Dakota based on DNA evidence. Big cats are very wide-ranging animals that can cover a great deal of distance in a relatively short amount of time as they search for prey, mates, or their own territory.


EASTERN PEARLSHELL (Margaritifera margaritifera)

DESCRIPTION

This freshwater mussel was formerly common in the Hackensack River and was also known to occur within the Delaware River watershed. It can currently be found throughout much of the northeastern United States, including Pennsylvania and New York, as well as southeastern Canada and across much of Europe.

The eastern pearlshell is about 6 inches long and the shell is dark, almost black, and sub-elliptical in shape. This mussel prefers cold, clean, soft-water streams with a moderate to fast flow and a fine substrate of firm sand, gravel or cobble. It can live for over 100 years and does not reach sexual maturity until about 20 years old. It is thought to be one of the longest-lived invertebrate animals in the world.

Eastern pearlshells breed by releasing their larval young, known as glochidia, into the water. The glochidia attach themselves to a host fish. In this first stage of the mussel’s life, they are parasites of the fish, feeding on them and being transported away from the parent. Once the larval stage is complete, the mussel detaches from the fish and completes its life cycle in the substrate of the stream. Each freshwater mussel species has its own specific host fish for the larval stage. Host fish for the eastern pearlshell includes several species of trout and salmon.

Image of Eastern pearlshell.Zoom+ Eastern pearlshell.

WHEN DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

1900’s

WHY DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Pollution of streams, habitat alteration, dam building, introduction of exotic species, and over-collection of individuals most likely contributed to the eastern pearlshell’s extirpation in New Jersey and these factors continue to be threats for the remaining 12 species of native freshwater mussels found in the state.

One in ten of North America’s freshwater mussel species has gone extinct in this century. Meanwhile, 75% of the remaining species are either rare or imperiled. This alarming decline is directly tied to the degradation and loss of essential habitat, and the invasion of exotic species which compete for space and food with native mussels.

Destruction and alteration of freshwater mussel habitat includes dam construction, channelization, and dredging. Dams alter the physical, chemical, and biological stream environment, sometimes destroying over half of the mussels upstream and downstream of the dam. The most harmful effect of dams, however, is the elimination of host fish species and resulting disruption in the mussel’s reproductive cycle. Increased silt in the water caused by erosion may also threaten mussel habitats, as do contaminants such as heavy metals and pesticides, and discharge from sewage treatment plants.


NORTH ATLANTIC GRAY WHALE (Eschrichtius robustus)

DESCRIPTION

The North Atlantic gray whale could once be found off the coasts of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada as well as on the other side of the Atlantic, along the coast of Europe. It is the same species which is still found along the Pacific coast of the U.S. as well as the northern Pacific coast of Asia.

Like gray whales in the Pacific Ocean, North Atlantic gray whales were primarily a coastal whale, never venturing too far from land. They would migrate between winter breeding and calving grounds in the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to summer foraging grounds in New England.

Gray whales are benthic filter feeders. They will scoop up large mouthfuls of fine sediment and then use the baleen strips within their mouth and their tongue to squeeze out the sand and water from their mouth while trapping small invertebrates inside to then be swallowed.

Gray whales grow to a length of 50 feet and a weight of 80,000 pounds, with females being slightly larger than males. They are mottled gray in color with small bumps along their back, and no fin. Their only natural predators are large sharks and killer whales, which usually target young whales or calves.

Image of North Atlantic gray whale.Zoom+ North Atlantic gray whale.

WHEN DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

1600’s-1700’s

WHY DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Like other large whale species, the gray whale was hunted mercilessly for its meat and blubber, which yielded oil ideal for lamp oil and, much later, in the production of margarine. Baleen was also of value. Whalebones were also used in the manufacture of glue, gelatin and manure. Besides being eaten by humans, the meat has also been used in dog food and, when dried and crushed, cattle feed.

Because gray whales typically occur in shallow water and within enclosed bays and lagoons, especially during their breeding and calving season, they are especially vulnerable to hunters. In addition, whalers often targeted newborn calves, knowing that the calves’ mothers would stay by their side and therefore be an easier target.

Gray whales were most likely extirpated from Atlantic waters off Europe before disappearing from the Atlantic coast of North America. Gray whales off the Pacific coast of North America were also hunted and were critically endangered at one time. However, due to protective measures, the gray whale population in the eastern Pacific Ocean has rebounded and they were removed from the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Species in 1994. Gray whales in the western Pacific Ocean, along the coasts of Russia and Korea, remain imperiled with no more than 100 individuals remaining.

In May 2010, a gray whale was observed off the coast of Israel, in the Mediterranean Sea. It is unknown how this individual was able to find its way there, thousands of miles from the nearest known population of gray whales. It seems unlikely that North Atlantic gray whales would have gone undetected for hundreds of years, due to their large size, but it is not impossible. It is more likely that this individual made an enormously long voyage, as whales are known to do, and found itself in unknown waters.


RUSTY-PATCHED BUMBLE BEE (Bombus affinis)

DESCRIPTION

This species of bumble bee was once common throughout much of its range as recently as the 1990’s. However, it has declined so rapidly that it no longer exists in New Jersey and may even become extinct within the next 10-20 years. It could once be found across much of eastern and central North America. Currently, its range is restricted to southern Ontario and a few locations in the U.S. Midwest.

The rusty-patched bumble bee is named for the rust-colored patch found on worker bees’ abdomens. Workers also have yellow on their first and rear half of their second abdominal segments, with the remaining segments being black. The head is black and the thorax is yellow with a black spot between the wings. The queen and males look similar to workers except that they lack the rust-colored patch and queens are larger.

This bumble bee, like other species of bumble bee, is a pollinator. It feeds on plant nectar and, in so doing, performs a vital function for the ecosystem by assisting plants in reproduction. They nest underground in colonies with a queen and her workers. Their larvae are fed honey produced by the bees themselves. Only young mated females survive the winter and they overwinter usually in leaf litter on the forest floor. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees can sting many times.

Image of Rusty-patched bumble bee.Zoom+ Rusty-patched bumble bee.

WHEN DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Late 1900’s

WHY DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Habitat alteration and destruction, as well as habitat fragmentation and the loss of plants on which to forage, have contributed to the decline of many pollinator species such as bees. However, the most likely cause for this species’ dramatic decline is the introduction of a non-native pathogen and parasite. Pollinators, such as bumble bee species, were brought to North America from Europe and vice versa. Some of these insects carried with them diseases and parasites which the rusty-patched bumble bee had never encountered before and was not able to fight. Unless the species develops a resistance to them, it will eventually become extinct. There is also a possibility that it may be able to survive on isolated offshore islands as long as they are not exposed to the parasites or disease.

Many additional species of pollinators are also declining dramatically due to the spread of non-native diseases and this may have dire consequences for the production of food crops for humans.


TROUT-PERCH (Percopsis omiscomaycus)

DESCRIPTION

The trout-perch is a small fish which grows to about 7 inches in length, has a relatively large head for its size, and is yellow-olive in color with 7-12 dusky spots on its back and a pale underside. It can be found across Canada from western Quebec to the Yukon and, within the United States, it can be found in the Northeast and Midwest states as well as Alaska. Throughout their current range, they remain a very common species.

Trout-perch typically inhabit large ponds and lakes, but they can also be found in deep flowing pools within some streams and rivers. They spawn in streams or rivers, usually in the spring or early summer, and will then return to their lake habitat. By day, they prefer to remain in deeper water and then occupy more shallow water at night. They prey primarily on invertebrates, such as insects and small crustaceans, but larger individuals may also consume small fish.

Image of Trout-perch.Zoom+ Trout-perch.

WHEN DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Late 1900’s

WHY DID IT BECOME EXTIRPATED IN NEW JERSEY?

Trout-perch are especially sensitive to pollution and sedimentation. They may also be temperature-sensitive. Although the exact cause of their extirpation in New Jersey is unknown, it is possible that its sensitivity to these environmental conditions may have played a role.

Although it can no longer be found in New Jersey, it still survives in Pennsylvania and New York. It has been extirpated from several of the watersheds in which it was once found, particular in the Mid-Atlantic region (the southern portion of their historic range).


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Written by Michael J. Davenport in 2011.


Find Related Info: Endangered, Threatened, Mammals, Invertebrates

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