CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- From the beaches to the forests, the Lowcountry is bursting with biodiversity.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are a total of 1,268 endangered species in the United States, with 39 believed to be in South Carolina.
In honor of National Wildlife Week, here are 6 endangered species you can find in the Lowcountry.
1. Red Cockcaded Woodpecker
This member of the woodpecker family is the second smallest woodpecker in South Carolina, measuring just about 7 inches in length. Similar to other woodpeckers, it has a chisel-like beak used to drill holes in trees. Both males and females have black heads with white cheeks, but only males have a red streak of feathers (cockade) behind their eyes. The cockade is nearly invisible, so it can be hard to spot. Only approximately 3% of the population remains, but recovery efforts in the state have been successful in regrowing the population.
2. Shortnose Sturgeon
The shortnose sturgeon resembles a cross between a catfish and a shark and is typically found in the brackish waters of the Lowcountry, unlike their relative the Atlantic sturgeon. Shortnose sturgeons resemble a cross between a shark and a catfish with dark coloring on top and light coloring on the bottom. Typically no larger than 3 feet (although some have reached upwards of 4.5 feet), the shortnose sturgeon has no teeth and instead uses fleshy barbs for bottom-feeding. Once hunted for their meat and eggs, the severe decrease in population has been attributed to over-harvesting in the 19th and 20th centuries.
3. North Atlantic Right Whale
The massive North Atlantic right whale can reach up to 52 feet in length and 140,000 pounds. They have stocky black bodies, sometimes with white patches on the underbelly, no dorsal fins, and a “V” shaped blowhole. Each winter, North Atlantic right whales travel from the waters off of Canada and New England to the southeast, where they give birth in the warm waters off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It is estimated there are fewer than 350 remaining North Atlantic right whales in the wild.
4. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
Although Kemp’s ridley turtles are typically found in the Gulf of Mexico, they have been spotted off the coast of Beaufort too. Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest sea turtle, reaching up to 2 feet in length and weighing between 70 and 100 pounds. This turtle has a triangular-shaped head with a slightly hooked beak and is typically a grayish-green color on top with a yellowish bottom shell. The population once reached as low as 200 nesting females, but has since grown to between 7,000 and 9,000.
5. West Indian Manatee
Lowcountry residents might just get lucky spotting a West Indian manatee out in the water during warm months. Nicknamed, “peaceful giants,” these mammals can weigh up to 1,400 pounds and are the closest living relative of elephants. Similar to elephants, West Indian manatees have tough, grey skin and a shorter “trunk-like” nose. It is rare to spot a manatee off the Charleston coast, but not impossible as they have been recorded traveling as far north as Massachusetts. It is unknown exactly how many West Indian manatees are left, but recent estimates indicate a few thousand.
6. Carolina Gopher Frog
The elusive Carolina gopher frog is primarily nocturnal, spending most of the day underground and only coming out at night to eat and ocassionally breed. The frog is about 2 to 4 inches in size with a gray or brown-colored body and dark brown, irregular spots. This particular species lives mostly in fire-maintained, longleaf pine-wiregrass habitats, but needs seasonal, isolated wetlands without predatory fish during breeding season. The frog used to be common n the Sandhills and Coastal Plains regions of the state, but now is only found in three locations, one being the Francis Marion Forest. The Carolina gopher frog is listed as “at risk” on the federal endangered species list, but is considered endangered in South Carolina.