Stories in Ohio

Ohio Endangered Species

Eight species The Nature Conservancy is protecting from extinction.

Ohio has 122 species that are listed as endangered.  One major cause of this is loss of quality habitat. The Nature Conservancy is working to protect, manage and restore areas across Ohio that will help bring these species back and help them thrive.

The state listed endangered Allengheny woodrat nibbling on some food.
Allegheny Woodrat The state listed endangered Allengheny woodrat nibbling on some food. © Rich McCarty/TNC

Allegheny Woodrat  (Neotoma magister)

You might not think a rat would be on an endangered list, but this species has been listed as endangered since 1974, and has seen a more rapid decline in recent years. Allegheny woodrats are about the size of a gray squirrel, weighing roughly one pound. They are brownish gray with white undersides and their tails are completely covered with hair. This species needs a specific habitat of rocky areas with cliffs, small caves and rock crevices.  These cracks and crevices are where they make their homes.  Our Edge of Appalachia Preserve System in Adams County has the perfect habitat for them.  It is the only place in Ohio known to have a population of Allegheny woodrat.

We are continuing research on how to help this species thrive.  Earlier research has shown our baiting program to reduce raccoon roundworm parasites that affect woodrats is working, however, it also shows our woodrat populations to be isolated and of very limited genetic diversity. For the first time ever in Ohio, this project will now involve the translocation of sub-adult woodrats from Pennsylvania to the preserve in an effort to provide genetic reinforcement. We will continue to research and monitor this population and also protect its habitat in this region.

A female Karner blue butterfly lands on a leaf.
Karner Blue Butterfly A female Karner blue butterfly lands on a leaf. © Angie Cole

Karner Blue Butterfly  (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)

The Karner blue is a relatively small butterfly, averaging around one inch in wingspan. Males’ wings across the top are silvery blue to dark blue with narrow black margins; females are grayish brown with bands of orange inside the blade border. Found around the Great Lakes and the northeast United States, the Karner blue typically inhabits semi-shaded areas with sandy soil. It is a fairly sedentary creature, rarely venturing farther than 300-600 feet from its hatching place.  The main threat to the species has been habitat loss and degradation, because the larvae feed only on wild lupine. Wild lupine needs a specific soil type to thrive.

Over twenty years ago, the Conservancy began helping Karner blue populations reclaim areas where it was previously extirpated. In 1998, the Kitty Todd Preserve was selected as the first location for the reintroduction of the Karner blue butterfly. Kitty Todd Preserve is located in the globally unique region of the Oak Openings which contains prime habitat for these butterflies. Eight species of butterflies are listed as endangered in Ohio. Four of these are only found in the Oak Openings region in NW Ohio. Programs to re-establish stands of blue lupine have been successful in helping bring back the Karner blue, Persius duskywing and frosted elfin butterflies. TNC continues to grow the preserve, protecting and managing this special habitat and rare species.

Rarely seen in Ohio except for a few areas in southern Ohio.
Green Salamander Rarely seen in Ohio except for a few areas in southern Ohio. © Ashley Tubbs CC by ND 2.0

Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus)

Known populations of this species are limited to only a few counties in southeastern Ohio (Adams, Scioto and Lawrence) near the Ohio River.  Our Edge of Appalachia Preserve System in Adams County is one of those places with the salamander's preferred habitat of forested areas with rocky outcroppings and crevices. Green salamanders are about 3-5 inches long. Their green and black mottling is unlike any other Ohio salamander and helps to camouflage them.  It is a secretive species which usually stays hidden during the day.  This might contribute to why it is rarely seen, and leaves hope for more populations to be found. It emerges at night to hunt for food including beetles, ants and spiders.  This species is likely more habitat-specific than other Ohio salamanders, so it is important to have protected areas with this type of habitat. Threats to this species include habitat destruction due to aggressive logging around the rocky outcrops and development of these lands. TNC continues to protect this type of habitat in southern Ohio and grow the preserve in a way that provides a buffer to these habitats.

A Painted trillium plant blooms in the forest.
Painted trillium A Painted trillium plant blooms in the forest. © Sheldon Community Forest/Creative Commons

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

Trilliums in spring are always a welcome sight.  It means the cold winter days are numbered and the sun will shine more often.  The name trillium derives from the fact that this plant has parts in 'threes' such as three petals and three leaves. Ohio has eight species of native trillium. This particular trillium is one of our state’s rarest species. This species needs cool, moist, acidic soils in forested areas.  Ashtabula County, which is in the most northeastern part of the state, is the only place in Ohio with known populations of this species. Our Morgan Swamp Preserve in Ashtabula county is home to this type of trillium. The biggest threat to this species is loss of habitat.

At nearly 2,000 acres, Morgan Swamp Preserve is one of the largest privately protected forested wetlands in Ohio. This is perfect habitat for painted trillium and a rich diversity of many other plants and animals. The preserve is home to an abundance of wetlands including swamps, bogs, beaver ponds and vernal pools. These wetlands are critical to the health of the state-designated “Wild and Scenic” Grand River that runs through the preserve and is an important tributary to Lake Erie, which is a source of drinking water for millions of people. Our work to protect and manage these lands is not only good for the painted trillium, but also good for people.

A group of Indiana bats huddle in a cave.
Indiana Bat A group of Indiana bats huddle in a cave. © Andrew King, CC BY 2.0

Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis)

This species has been federally listed as endangered since 1967 and has been declining in numbers ever since.  These bats are similar in appearance to several other species, especially little brown bats. One way scientists are able to tell them apart is that Indiana bats have toe hairs, little brown bats do not.  Also, each individual hair of an Indiana bat is tri-colored.

Indiana bats migrate to caves for hibernation in the winter.  In Ohio, this is primarily in southern counties.  In summer, the bats migrate out to wooded areas.  Female bats form maternity colonies of 100 bats or more under loose tree bark. Males generally roost alone or in smaller groups.  They forage for food (different kinds of insects) at the edges of forested areas.

Threats include human disturbance to caves and habitat loss of summer roosting areas. Pesticide use has also reduced the number of insects available for food. The Nature Conservancy has been working on mapping areas in Ohio in order to locate where habitats are conducive to Indiana bats. Staff, along with partners, have performed acoustic surveying using special equipment to verify our mapping data.  We were excited to find evidence of the Indiana bat and other woodland bat species on our Edge of Appalachia Preserve. It continues to be a priority of ours to protect quality habitat that would support winter and summer populations of Indiana and other bat species.  

Sandhill Crane and Chick.
Sandhill Crane and Chick Sandhill Crane and Chick. © Lawrence Crovo

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

Sandhill cranes are large birds. They can grow up to about 3 or 4 feet tall and have a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet. Brownish-gray feathers cover the birds except for a red bald patch at the top of their heads. A unique feature of these birds is that they dance with each other.  This is most often seen during courtship ceremonies, but it can also be seen other times throughout the year.

These large birds are dependent upon large wetland areas for food and shelter. Sandhill cranes are abundant in other areas of the U.S. but are listed as endangered in Ohio due to lack of suitable habitat. They can often be seen in a few areas of Ohio during spring and fall migrations. The number of breeding pairs in Ohio has been increasing slightly in recent years due to wetland conservation and restoration projects facilitated by TNC and other partners.

A pair of sandhill cranes has been seen using Snow Lake and surrounding wetlands at the Lucia S. Nash Preserve in northeast Ohio.  The fact that they are utilizing our preserve shows us that we are providing the right type of quality habitat for them.  A recent project to restore retired farmland back into wetlands in the Oak Openings region in northwest Ohio has also shown evidence of a visiting pair of sandhill cranes. We've named this area, which is part of our Kitty Todd Preserve, 'Sandhill Crane Wetlands' in hopes that it will someday be home to several nesting families of these birds. Our work continues as more restoration and land protection projects are underway in these regions.

A timber rattlesnake curled up in a tight coil with its head and tail showing from the center.
Timber Rattlesnake A timber rattlesnake curled up in a tight coil with its head and tail showing from the center. © Jacob Ian Wall, CC BY-NC 2.0

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

the timber rattlesnake is one of three venomous snakes in Ohio.  The average size of these snakes is three to four feet long.  They are beautiful creatures with dark and light brown bands running the length of the snake with a rattle at the very end of the tail. The head is triangular in shape and the eyes have a vertical pupil; both of these characteristics help identify it as venomous in Ohio.  Luckily, most timber rattlesnakes try to avoid human contact and rarely strike when not provoked.  Timber rattlesnakes are now known to only occur in seven counties. Historically, they had been found in up to 25 counties in Ohio. 

In August 2019, TNC staff along with Cincinnati Museum Center staff successfully located a timber rattlesnake on protected land within the Edge of Appalachia Preserve System. Staff had been working a specific survey site for several months. During this survey effort, a timber rattlesnake was captured, tagged with a radio transmitter and released back to where it was originally located. This process is absolutely critical for locating the hibernaculum where the local population of this endangered species spends the winter.  Staff hope to locate many more timber rattlesnakes since young return to the same hibernaculum year after year. This research will be helpful in learning more about these elusive woodland snakes and how The Nature Conservancy can best help them thrive.

Lark Sparrow sitting atop a rock in a prairie.
Lark Sparrow Lark Sparrow sitting atop a rock in a prairie. © FrankDLospalluto, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)

Lark sparrows generally are only seen in Ohio during spring and summer when they are nesting and raising their young.  They migrate to the very southern U.S. and Mexico for the winter after their young have left the nest. They prefer to nest in grassy fields with shrubby areas. In Ohio, they are typically only seen at our Kitty Todd Preserve and within the Oak Openings region.

Lark sparrows are very interesting and have several unique traits.  The species is known to walk while it is foraging for food, unlike many other sparrows who prefer to hop. Lark sparrows have longer tail feathers than most sparrows. Males will display their tail feathers in order to successfully court a female. If the female likes the male's display, she will give him a stick or twig to show that she has accepted his courtship. They build their nests low to the ground. They have been known to lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, such as thrashers or mockingbirds. The don't just move in and take over, though, they will then share the nests with that other species.

These are endangered in Ohio, but efforts in the Oak Openings region and our Kitty Todd Preserve to restore oak savanna habitats might help their numbers increase. Prescribed burning is one management practice that is helping improve this type of habitat. Conservancy staff are also leaders of the Green Ribbon Initiative. This initiative aims to educate and encourage landowners to manage their properties in such a way that helps these birds and the many other unique species of the region.