Wednesday, January 27, 2016


This week we leave the world of mammals, birds and other cute and cuddly creatures, and enter the creepy and somewhat slippery world of amphibians. We will also stay close to home (Northeastern U.S.), with an amphibian that has an unusual name and is considered endangered by the U.S. Government. It wasn’t until 2005, that a decline in the populations of this extraordinary amphibian was noticed. 

Meet the Hellbender!

There are two varieties of Hellbender, the Eastern Hellbender and the Ozark Hellbender. The Ozark variety has been labeled as endangered and the Eastern Hellbender is considered a species of concern. Hellbenders range from New York State into Arkansas. They live in clear and cold, swiftly running streams, and are judged to be a barometer for the health of a stream’s ecosystem.

They can grow to a length of twenty-four inches long and are the largest salamander in North America. The largest salamander in the world is the Chinese salamander, which is critically endangered (see below image).

When I was younger, I loved walking through the woods, turning over rocks alongside a stream looking for salamanders. The ones I saw were never more than a couple of inches long. I’m sure I would have been shocked if I found this creature. My search would have stopped then and there. The Hellbender looks similar to a rock and has ‘fins’ running along its sides. Those fins increase its body surface. The increased body surface is the Hellbender’s way of drawing in oxygen. That’s really important because the Hellbender breathes through its skin.

The tiger salamander, pictured on the extreme left in the below image, is a sample of the type of salamander that I used to pick up on my way home from school. It was a far cry from the appearance and size of the Hellbender, which is pictured in the middle.

Image credit: National Geographic

Salamanders, generally speaking, are very dependent on a clean ecosystem. This is why they are in danger. The polluting of habitats in which the Hellbender can survive is a cause for concern not just for the salamanders, but also for humans. Again, we find that we have created a problem, not just for life around us, but also for ourselves. Pollution is everyone’s problem, especially polluted water systems.  

“’Imagine if you're in a river, and you're dragging your lungs around behind you—things are not going to go well if that river is polluted or muddy or murky,’ said Kim a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., who studies hellbender immune systems.”(National Geographic)

Photo credit: Rebecca Jacobson

Continued surveys and monitoring of existing populations will be necessary to ensure the survival of this species of salamander. Education is important as well. Fishermen need to understand that this amphibian in no threat to other fish, and are not poisonous as some may have thought them to be.

To learn more about the Hellbender, visit any one or all of the following sites:

Also, the following two videos, produced by Virginia Tech, show the Hellbender in its own environment and contain a great deal of interesting information.

The Hellbender thanks you for stopping by. Do stop by again next week for a look at another very unusual animal.

Jeanne E. Rogers
Award Winning Middle-Grade Fantasy
Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


When we’re on a beach we don’t think about much except lounging in the sun, listening to the waves crashing against the shore, or perhaps the drink with the little umbrella that we're holding in our hand. The importance of the ecosystem surrounding you may not be on your mind, but this week we’re going to talk about the importance of a little creature that is a part of a beach ecosystem. Ecosystems are everywhere, including the beach.

Before I introduce this week’s special guest, let’s just go over what an ecosystem is. An ecosystem is a biological community of organisms that interact with each other and the environment in which they live. These organisms are important to human life as well. Any particular system may provide people with clean water, air, food, and fuel. Disturbing an ecosystem, or a keystone species occupying an ecosystem, can be disastrous for all life forms within and around the system. 

We have defined keystone species in previous blog posts, but let’s recap. A keystone species is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. If a keystone species is removed from an ecosystem, the system would drastically change.

Although this week’s guest is not considered a keystone species of its ecosystem, it is nevertheless important within its ecosystem as a food source for owls and snakes. Also, the mouse is an integral part of a thriving dune ecosystem. The mice collect and distribute seeds that help to maintain the dune system. The plants from those seeds grow and are important in stabilizing the dunes. 

So now let's meet the adorable St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse. 

Photo credit: Joel Sartore

The St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse is one of seven subspecies of mice, which make their home along the beaches in Florida and Alabama (Alabama Beach Mouse). Our friend the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse lives on a twenty-mile stretch of beach on the Florida panhandle. It can grow to a length of 5.5 inches, with a tail of approximately 2 inches. 

Photo credit: USFWS (

The coloring of beach mice will match the color of their surroundings. These nocturnal mice have large ears and eyes. They live in the dunes along the beach, and are always very busy digging burrows, and eating seeds, and insects. Unlike their cousins, the field mice, they do not seek out human buildings to dwell in. They prefer surf and sand. 

Unfortunately, both the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse, and the Alabama Beach Mouse are considered endangered. 

Photo credit: USFWS (

The St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse was declared endangered in 1998 under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species act of 1973. The main threat is both human encroachment and natural occurrences. Continued human coastal development for residential and commercial purposes is taking its toll. However, erosion from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, is also adding to the problem. 

Photo credit: Florida State Park Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has a recovery plan in place for the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse. The plan includes the following; “restoring dune systems on public lands, investigating and possibly controlling non-native predators, and working with partners to evaluate dune crossovers” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife). To read the plan, click here:

Dune Crossover

Let’s hope that the recovery plan will work and that this little U.S. native mouse will continue to inhabit the dunes along the Gulf Coast.

To read more about the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse, or The Alabama Beach Mouse, visit any or all of the following sites:

To read more about the importance of keystone species, visit the following web page:

Thank you for taking the time to visit, and read this week’s blog. I hope you will return next week.

Jeanne E. Rogers, Award Winning Author
The Sword of Demelza and The Gift of Sunderland
Middle-Grade Fantasy Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!