Nashville-specific endangered species

The streamside salamander | Photo provided by the Nashville Zoo

It’s National Endangered Species Day, and while animals considered endangered are classified differently, we’re breaking down four Nashville-specific species in danger in our own backyards + ways the community can get involved in their conservation: 

Streamside salamander

The Streamside salamander is closely related to the small-mouth salamander, only clearly differentiated by its range and habitat. 

  • Cause: Deforestation + development around streams used for breeding
  • Role: The salamanders eat insects and their larvae in forests, streams, and agricultural fields.
The Nashville crayfish | Photo provided by the Nashville Zoo

Nashville crayfish

The Nashville crayfish is one of 600+ species of crayfish and is the only animal specific to the Nashville area, populating Mill Creek.

  • Cause: Damage + pollution to habitat waterways
  • Role: The crayfish serve as food to predators + their burrows are used as homes by other creek dwellers. 
The Eastern hellbender | Photo provided by the Nashville Zoo

Eastern hellbender

The hellbender is Tennessee’s largest salamander, growing up to 20 inches long. They populate in clear, fast-flowing rivers.

  • Cause: Stream impoundment + pollution of habitat waterways
  • Role: Due to the hellbender’s choice of habitat, they are often indicators of good water quality.
The alligator snapping turtle | Photo provided by the Nashville Zoo

Alligator snapping turtle

The Alligator snapping turtle is the state’s largest turtle, ranging in size up to 25 inches long. 

  • Cause: Unregulated harvesting + habitat loss
  • Role: The snapping turtles often regulate populations of the species they consume.

The zoo’s efforts

We spoke with Jim Bartoo, the Nashville Zoo’s director of marketing and public relations, about the efforts the team is enacting to preserve and restore these endangered species’ population counts. The zoo is ACA accredited, allowing it to participate in captive breeding programs.

In fact, the zoo’s Eastern hellbender breeding program is breaking new grounds after artificially inseminating a female using cryopreserved semen. This process allows for worldwide conservation efforts by allowing female and male species to be in separate habitats.

Yesterday, officials took a group of ~16 hellbenders that were raised in captivity to a river out west with a low hellbender population and released them into the wild.

Community involvement

Bartoo asks that residents pay attention to what kind of pesticides and fertilizers they are putting on their lawn and to use them sparingly. These chemicals eventually make their way into streams, causing algae to bloom and microbes to die off.

If residents wash their cars at home, he suggests using an environmentally-friendly soap + washing the car on grass versus pavement. This will prevent runoff from traveling down into the city’s drainage system.