72 British species were on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of endangered species in 2009, and globally that figure is thousands. Factors such as climate change, habitat loss and changes in land use are putting ever more species at risk.
Here are some of the species studied by Museum scientists that are in decline. They include well-publicised species, such as bumblebees in the UK, and those that are less well known, from snakes to fish and ferns.
Aegagrophila linnaei is a widespread filamentous green algae that has three different growth forms, including that of 'lake balls', which have led to much interest in countries such as Japan where a 3-day ceremony focuses on the balls. Find out more about this species.
Aphanius iberus (fartet, the Iberian toothcarp) is a small, sexually dimorphic species of fish restricted to the eastern Spanish coastline. The species is currently classified as Endangered and faces threats relating to its limited and isolated distribution as well as a range of threats to its habitat. Find out more about Aphanius iberus.
Asilus crabroniformis is commonly called the hornet robber fly as it resembles hornets due to the patterning of the abdomen, and the colour and size of the rest of the adults body. The hornet robber fly is found throughout Wales and the southern part of England. Find out more about Asilus crabroniformis.
Find out about the UK's great yellow bumble bee, Bombus distinguendus, how its numbers are declining and what can be done to help.
Find out more about Brahmaea europaea, the European owl moth, a relict species that has survived from the Tertiary period.
Carabus olympiae is a rare and beautiful beetle found only in one alpine valley in Italy. It was first discovered in 1855 by the 8 year-old cousin of a well known Italian entomologist - Eugenio Sella. Its beautiful iridescent markings made it highly desirable to collectors, but it is now a protected species. Find out more about the life of this rare beetle.
The Chacoan peccary, Catagonus wagneri,was discovered in the remote Chaco forest in Paraguay, in 1975. Before its surprise discovery, scientists assumed it was extinct as it was only known from fossilised remains. Find out what threatens the Chacoan peccary today and what more can be done to protect this living fossil.
The river jelly lichen (Collema dichotomum) is a rare amphibious fungus found growing on siliceous rocks in cool and clean streams across Europe and North America. European populations of this lichen are declining due to a range of threats. Find out more about this species.
Daubentonia madagascariensis, known as the aye aye, is a nocturnal primate found only on Madagascar. Its bright, shining eyes and unusual appearance give it a reputation as a bad omen. Discover how this peculiar-looking animal uses its thin bony finger to extract larvae from tree trunks, and find out what’s behind those shining eyes.
Dryococelus australis is an unusual insect that was, for a long time, thought to have become extinct from the one island from where it was known, Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia. However, it was rediscovered in the 1960s on a nearby volcanic outcrop. Find out more about the Lord Howe Island stick insect, and the conservation efforts that are underway to reintroduce it to its native island.
Elatostema fengshanense is known only from caves in south west China. It was discovered in 2008 and since then has been found in only 3 additional caves. Scientists at the Museum, together with collaborators in China, are seeking to understand why these species grow in caves and how they spread from cave to cave. Read more about this plant and its unusual flowers.
The Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, is under threat. Current estimates suggest only 30,000-40,000 remain in the wild. Find out more about this species and the important role elephants have played in many cultures for thousands of years.
Euphrasia grandiflora is a striking plant that occurs only in the Azores archipelago where it lives on other plants at the edges of volcanic larva flows and craters. Only 2,000 individuals of this species remain, and numbers are dwindling as its habitat disappears. Find out more about this delicate plant and its unique habitat.
Felis silvestris grampia is Britain’s last truly wild cat. It is affectionately known as the Scottish wildcat as the Scottish highlands are its last refuge. This cat once roamed freely throughout England, Scotland and Wales but numbers fell due to habitat loss and human persecution in the early nineteenth century. This species is now protected by law but its future is still uncertain.
The Aldabra giant tortoise, Geochelone gigantea originates from Aldabra atol in the Indian Ocean. One of the largest tortoise in the world, it is claimed the Aldabra giant tortoise can live for over 250 years. Many other species of giant tortoise are now extinct. Climate change and rising sea levels have resulted in the Aldabra tortoise being classified as Vulnerable. Find out more about this species.
Gryllus campestris is one of the rarest insects in the British Isles. Find out more about the field cricket and what is being done to save the species from the brink of extinction in Britain.
The grey seal is a protected species, and is thriving in many coastal waters, particularly around Britain. It can dive 300 metres deep for food, but also eats sand-eels and seabirds. Large groups of seals gather at ‘haul out’ sites to breed and rest. They give birth to their pups around this time of year, as autumn becomes winter. Read more about this endearing species.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta the British bluebell a symbol of spring, is one of Britain's favourite flowers. However, hybrids of the species are increasingly being mistaken for and sold as British Bluebells. Find out more about the threats to Hyacinthoides non-scripta.
New Zealand’s blue duck, Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos, is unique. It has no close relatives and lives all year round in often inaccessible locations on fast-flowing mountain rivers. Its numbers are declining largely due to habitat loss and predation by non-native mammal species. Find out more about the threats this duck faces and discover how it got its Maori name ‘whio’.
The khaosok sedge is a rare and unusual species that was first discovered in southern Thailand in 2001. It is a robust perennial with many drooping leaves and flowering stems. It lives on inaccessible, and seemingly inhospitable, limestone cliffs, where it relies on rainwater for its moisture. Read on to find out more about this sedge and the other plant species discovered recently in similar habitats.
Laonastes aenigmamus is a squirrel-like species that is the living survivor of a family believed to have been extinct for approximately 11 million years. It is largely confined to the Khammouan Limestone National Biodiversity Conservation Area in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and faces a number of threats to its survival. Find out more.
The Rennell Island sea krait, Laticauda crockeri, is a small, venomous sea snake found only in the brackish waters of Lake Tegano on the Solomon Islands. Sea kraits spend most of their time in water, but surface to breathe via lungs. Most species reproduce by laying eggs on land, but Laticauda crockeri is different. Discover what we know about Laticauda crockeri’s reproductive strategy and what else makes it unusual.
Lavatera oblongifolia is a recently described species that is only found in the arid mountains of the extreme south-east corner of Spain. It prefers mountainous, rocky locations and its restricted distribution means it is threatened with extinction. Find out more about this attractive plant and its 2-toned flowers.
Longitarsus nigerrimus is a small, black flea-beetle which is endangered in the UK. Unusually for a terrestrial plant-eating beetle, it is happy in water and feeds on an aquatic plant, the lesser bladderwort. Discover more about this beetle’s life style and how it exploits fluctuating water levels in its boggy habitat.Find out more about Longitarsus nigerrimus.
Loxodonta africana, the African elephant, is currently found in Africa, south of the Sahara, occurring in about 35 African states. Elephants are faced with a number of threats to their survival especially from hunting fuelled by the ivory trade. Find out more about the African elephant and what can be done to help its survival.
Macaca sylvanus, the Barbary macaque, is an Old World species of monkey with ancestry dating back to approximately 7 million years ago. Today Macaca sylvanus is restricted to isolated forest fragments in Morocco and Algeria and is regarded as a threatened species. Find out more.
Pangolins are scaly, shy, nocturnal animals that provide an important role as natural pest controllers. However, significant trade in the pangolin has seen it become an endangered species. Find out more about this unique animal and the threats it faces.
The Kihansi spray toad is currently extinct in the wild due a number of factors, including the fungal disease chytridiomycosis and the construction of a dam in the confined area it made its habitat. Captive breeding is underway in two United States zoos with the hope of reintroduction into the wild. Find out more.
Wendy’s forest toad is known from just one confined area in Uganda, making it one of the rarest toads in the world. While it is described as common within this small area, there are a number of threats facing its survival, some of which resulted in the extinction of the Kihansi spray toad that had lived in the same mountain ranges. Find out more about Nectophrynoides wendyae.
The jaguar is the largest and most powerful cat found in the western hemisphere. It looks like a leopard and behaves like a tiger, but is especially well adapted to hunt its prey in dense forest - wild animals often 5 times its size. Find out where you might spot a jaguar and how to distinguish it from its feline relatives.
As the Year of the Tiger begins, conservationists are taking the opportunity to highlight the plight of these magnificent animals. Most critically endangered is the South China subspecies, with less than 30 tigers thought to exist in the wild. Learn more about this once abundant animal, including what is being done to try to save it.
Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) are frequently seen around the UK coastline, where they spend much of their time in the water. Tagging devices are used to monitor and track their movements. The species is vulnerable to viral distemper which has caused mass fatalities in the past. Find out more about this species.
The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is a fast swimming animal that generally avoids boats and other human activity. It is known from cool temperate to sub-polar waters in the northern hemisphere. There are an estimated 700,000 harbour porpoises globally, therefore the species is not currently a major conservation concern. However, a range of factors, including hunting and exploitation by humans, pose a threat its ongoing survival. Find out more.
The sperm whale, Physeter catodon, is the largest toothed predator on Earth, with males over 18m long and weighing up to 50,000kg. Found in oceans across the world, hunting has made the sperm whale vulnerable to extinction. Find out more about Physeter catodon.
Indigenous people in parts of Central and South America have an unusual way of dyeing cloth - by milking snails. Plicopurpura pansa produces a thick liquid from a gland which turns a rich indigo when exposed to sunlight. Find out how the dye is harvested and why its increasing popularity has an adverse effect on snail populations.
Populus nigra the black or water poplar is Britain’s rarest native timber tree found alongside waterways in the UK. Populus nigra is under threat from disease and reduced numbers of male trees. Find out more about what is being done to help conserve this native species.
The water-soldier, Stratiotes aloides L., is an aquatic vascular plant of the family Hydrocharitaceae. S. aloides is found floating in summer and submerged in winter and its leaves display a notable similarity to those of pineapples. Find out more about Stratiotes aloides L.
The giant velvet worm (Tasmanipatus barretti) is a rare species known from north-eastern Tasmania that lives in rotting logs. The future of the species is threatened by forestry activity such as clearfelling and controlled burning. Find out more about the giant velvet worm.
Find out more about the large marine snail Turbo marmoratus, whose numbers in the wild have been depleted due to fishing for its attractive shell.
Zygodon forsteri (knothole moss, Forster’s yoke-moss) is the only autoicous (male and female organs on the same plant) European species within its genus and also the only one with smooth leaf cells. Since the advent of molecular studies it has had its generic placement questioned several times. Currently it is listed as a Vulnerable species in Europe and Endangered in Great Britain. Find out more.
Carmichaelia muritai is one of the world’s rarest plants. It inhabits windswept cliffs on a remote coast of South Island, New Zealand, and could easily disappear from the wild. However, thanks to horticulturalists who are rearing the plant in the UK, it is safe from extinction. Find out more about this rare plant and its unusual life history.
Cryptoprocta ferox is Madagascar’s largest carnivore. It is an avid climber and lives in forested areas throughout the island where it feeds on lemurs, birds insects and reptiles. It has a fearsome reputation and can emit a foul smell when aggravated. Find out more about the unusual habits of this Malagasy mammal.
The leatherback sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, is one of the world’s largest living reptiles and can weigh over half a tonne. It is a deep sea diver feeding mainly on jellyfish, and travels up to 10,000 kilometres a year. This critically endangered turtle only comes ashore to lay its eggs and bury them in the sand. Dive into the world of this giant turtle and discover what makes it unique.
Dioscorea strydomiana is a striking yam species from South Africa that has only recently been described. Like other yams it has large tubers that grow above ground, and this species is collected and used locally for medicinal purposes. Such activity is threatening its survival - fewer than 200 plants remain in the wild. Discover what efforts are underway to preserve this species.
The rhinoceros bot fly, Gyrostigma rhinocerontis is an endangered species. It depends on rhinos for its survival, and as rhino numbers decline, so too will this fly. The adult fly is the largest in Africa and lives only for a few days, but its larvae spend months developing in the rhino’s stomach. Find out more about the lifecycle of this parasitic fly.
Isoetes biafrana was first described by former Museum scientist Arthur Hugh Alston in 1956, and the type specimen is held in the Museum’s hryptogamic herbarium. It is a small aquatic plant known as a quillwort that reproduces by producing spores. Find out more about this rare plant and how it has adapted to its aquatic habitat.
Lepisorus clathratus is a fern that grows at altitude in the Sino-Himalayan region. It lives on rocks and has adapted to the hostile climate in which it lives by shedding its leaves in winter, and leaving its rhizome alive. Read on to find out more about this unusual fern and its mountain habitat.
The violet click-beetle is extremely rare in Britain and is a protected species. It lives in rotting tree trunks in pasture woodland. Find out more about this striking insect.
Navaea phoenicea is a majestic plant endemic to the Canary Islands. Its exotic flowers produce copious nectar, to attract the birds it relies on for pollination and subsequent reproduction. The Tenerife tree mallow is endangered in its natural habitat because of animal grazing and the arrival of other plant species. Discover what’s being done to protect it.
Otis tarda, the great bustard, is a majestic bird that stands over a metre tall. It was once common throughout Europe, but has been in decline since the 1800s as its habitats have disappeared. It became extinct in the UK in the 1830s. Read on to discover how conservationists are striving to reintroduce this great bird to the UK.
Rigidipenna inexpectata is a rare bird found only on a few of the Solomon Islands. It is a nocturnal species and remains hidden in forested regions, but makes characteristic whistling sounds to communicate. Read on to discover more about this typical frogmouth and the threats it faces from deforestation.
The capercaillie is a most charismatic grouse, found in Scotland’s pinewood forests. It feeds on plants, seeds and even pine needles. The birds use open spaces within the woodland to perform an unusual mating ritual called ‘lekking’. Discover more about the habits of this majestic bird and find out what conservation efforts are underway to bolster its dwindling numbers.