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10 Endangered Species In Oklahoma

Are there any endangered and threatened species in Oklahoma? Which are they, and what is the State government doing about it? Read on to discover more.

‘endangered species‘ refers to animals and plants at a high risk of extinction. According to National Geographic, over 20,000 different types of animals and plants are in danger of extinction.

Different factors are driving these species to extinction, including natural phenomena and human activities. If we do nothing, we might lose some species forever.

To begin with, endangered species need to be identified, protected, and restored. A lot of awareness also needs to be created. For example, recognizing the National Endangered Species Day has been a significant step. The Endangered Species Act also helps to protect wildlife species from extinction.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is a federal agency that protects fish, wildlife, and plants. It also manages the National Wildlife Refuge system. The US Fish and Wildlife Service works in partnership with state agencies to conserve threatened and endangered species and recover endangered species.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) is the state agency that helps with wildlife conservation. The ODWC manages over 2 million acres of land for wildlife habitat and has over 100 wildlife management areas. The ODWC works with the USFWS to protect and conserve threatened and endangered species in Oklahoma.

The federal government’s creation of endangered species lists has greatly helped protect these wildlife species. It has also empowered the agencies working with endangered species to play a greater role.

Most Endangered and Threatened Species in Oklahoma

There are several endangered animals in Oklahoma. They include:

1. Winged Mapleleaf

winged mapleleaf

The winged maple leaf is an endangered freshwater mussel. Years ago, it could be found in over 13 states including Oklahoma. Today, it is only found in limited areas of about five known rivers.

The primary habitat of the winged maple leaf was the rivers and streams that drain into the Mississippi River. But with pollution and environmental degradation, the quality of rivers has been greatly compromised. This destruction of their habitat led to their inclusion on the list of endangered species of Oklahoma.

Also, the introduction of invasive species has been a problem. The zebra mussels, native to Europe, have been a menace to the winged maple leaf. They have taken over the rivers in the region, which were the primary habitats of the winged maple leaf.

That is why most conservation efforts today focus on keeping zebra mussels away from those rivers and lakes.

See Related: Endangered Species in Florida You Need to Know

2. Oklahoma Cave Crayfish

endangered species in oklahoma-Cave Crayfish

Oklahoma crayfish is one of the most critically endangered species in this state. It is only known to occur in three cave systems in Oklahoma and nowhere else. The Oklahoma cave crayfish inhabits cave streams and springs. Because it is blind, it gets its food by sensing movement in the water.

Their primary diet is water plants. But they also supplement it with isopods, amphipods, bat guano, and salamander larvae. Very little information is available about their breeding habits. But spring floods seem to play a big role in spawning.

The Oklahoma cave crayfish is another endangered species due to pollution. The contaminants in groundwater are slowly destroying their habitats.

The sealing of caves has also affected cavefish because it interferes with the food supply to the cave ecosystem. Overcollection from the wild also poses a serious threat to their existence.

See Related: Is a Fish an Animal? Here’s What You Need to Know

3. Ozark Big-Eared Bat

Ozark big-eared bat

The Ozark big-eared bat is medium-sized and has relatively large ears. It also has prominent lumps on both sides of the face. The Ozark big-eared bats live in caves throughout the year. Most of these caves are in hardwood forests.

They hibernate in winter and mating occurs during this time. By spring, the females move to warm maternity caves where they give birth to only one offspring. Three weeks after birth, these young ones are capable of flight.

Moths are the primary diet of Ozark big-eared bats. They also eat beetles and other flying insects, The Ozark big-eared bat was recognized as an endangered animal in Oklahoma in 1979. The main cause of endangerment was human beings’ infringement of their habitats. Today, these areas have been given greater protection and the population is recovering.

4. Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America. Being a migratory bird, it can be found in different places at different times of the year.

The bird was almost driven to extinction because of two major factors: habitat loss and hunting. Its primary habitat is the wet shortgrass prairies in the Midwestern states of North America.

However, most of these areas have been turned into farmlands, denying them their main breeding grounds. Because they are big birds, they were hunted left, right, and center for their meat.

From a population of about 700 in the 19th century, it had declined to about 20 in 1947. Because of this, the whooping crane was recognized as an endangered species in Oklahoma in 1967.

Measures like this have helped to shore up the numbers, but more needs to be done.

See RelatedRed-Crowned Crane

5. Interior Least Tern

The interior least tern is a member of the gull and tern family. It is a long-lived species, with some birds living for twenty years. Interior least terns have a wide variety of habitat types. They range from rivers and lakes to ponds and wetlands. Naturally, their major diet is fish.

When it comes to nesting, they have very specific habitats and habits. They prefer open areas of sand and gravel that are largely devoid of vegetation. Unlike other birds, they usually build nests on the ground, and both parents are responsible for caring for the offspring.

Over the years, most of their foraging and nesting habitats have been destroyed by human activity. Many river systems and sandbars have been destroyed during the construction of large reservoirs. As a result, the interior least tern was listed as a threatened species in Oklahoma in 1985.

6. Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

red-cockaded woodpecker- endangered species in oklahoma

The red-cockaded woodpecker occurs in forests with mature pine trees. They prefer mature trees because they are easier to excavate.

These birds have a complex social arrangement. They live in small groups of a mated pair, their current offspring, and several helpers. The helpers help incubate eggs, feed the young, excavate new cavities, and defend the territory from other birds.

This bird was listed as an endangered species in Oklahoma due to its rapid population decline. Habitat destruction, which has significantly reduced the size of older pine forests, was the major cause of this.

In addition, the remaining forests are highly fragmented. This means the birds can no longer comfortably forage and breed.

7. Ouachita Rock Pocketbook

This is a freshwater clam found in southeastern Oklahoma and Southwestern Arkansas. You can differentiate it from other clams just by the appearance of the shell, which is moderately inflated.

The Ouachita rock pocketbook inhabits the backwaters and side channels of certain large creeks and rivers. It likes stable stream bottoms with gravel, sand, or other substrate materials. In these environments, it coexists with a wide range of mussel species.

Adult Ouachita rock pocketbooks feed on algae, microscopic animals, bacteria, and other protoctists in their environment. Their offspring have a parasitic stage, during which they must attach to a suitable fish host for development to occur.

By 1991, it was considered a seriously endangered species in Oklahoma due to pollution and the subsequent degradation of its habitats. Other threats include competition and predation by invasive aquatic species and extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.

8. American Burying Beetle

American Burying Beetle

The American burying beetle initially used to occur in over 35 states. But by 1989, their range was limited to Oklahoma and Rhode Island, making it one of the endangered species in Oklahoma.

Historically, the beetle inhabited open oak-hickory forests with native grass cover. Some were also found in closed-canopy forests and prairie habitats.

The diet of the American Burying Beetle consists of the carcasses of dead animals, such as small birds and rodents. These carcasses are usually buried in the soil in preparation for the breeding season.

Their decline has been attributed to habitat destruction and interference by human development. Invasive species like the red fire ant have also contributed to the decline in their population due to predation and competition for prey.

Changes in animal communities have also reduced carcass availability putting the American burying beetle in grave danger.

9. The Mexican Gray Wolf

Mexican Gray Wolf

The Mexican wolf is among the most endangered wolf species in the world. It bears a striking resemblance to the Great Plains Wolf. However, it is smaller and darker with a yellowish-gray hue.

This wolf species is native to North America. It occurred widely in the United States, but by 1970, none existed in the wild.

The Mexican gray wolf’s main habitats were pine-covered mountains, oak woodlands, and neighboring grasslands above 4,000 feet. In these habitats, there was enough prey consisting of small to midsized animals to support a significant population of wolves.

Human beings have been their greatest threat. They have been killed in droves by ranch owners who considered it a threat to their cattle.

And although it was recognized as an endangered species in Oklahoma, its recovery process has been very slow.

See related: Leatherback Sea Turtle

10. Arkansas River Shiner ( Notropis Girardi )

Arkansas River Shiner swimming in water

This is a small fish that is endemic to the United States. It is found only in the Arkansas River drainage basin.

The fish was initially proposed to be included in the federal endangered species list by the USFWS in 1994 (USFWS). It was officially listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (USFWS 1998) on November 23, 1998, the AR shiner became. 

This fish is typically less than 3 inches long and has a slender body shape. The coloration of its body can vary, but it is generally silver or light gray on the sides with a pale white or cream-colored belly. The Arkansas River shiner has two dorsal fins; the first is usually smaller than the second.

This fish is found in quiet, slow-moving waters such as creeks, small rivers, and ponds. It prefers habitats with sandy or muddy bottoms and plenty of aquatic vegetation.

The Arkansas River shiner is a predatory fish and feeds mainly on small invertebrates like insects, crustaceans, and snails. It is also known to eat other small fish.

The Oklahoma Wildlife Department has listed this fish as endangered since 1984. The primary threat to its survival is habitat destruction caused by human development and water pollution.

The Arkansas River shiner is an important part of the aquatic ecosystem in its native range. It controls the population of small invertebrates and is also prey for larger predators.

Despite being listed as endangered, the population of this fish has remained stable in recent years. However, it is still at risk of extinction and more needs to be done to protect its habitat.

Are Bison Endangered Species?

The bison, also known as the American buffalo, used to occur widely in vast herds throughout North America. But by the 19th century, the numbers had reduced significantly to just a small fraction of their 18th-century population. A 1905 census showed only about 800 bison in the wild and about 250 in captivity.

The bison became an endangered species due to poaching and the spread of bovine diseases from cattle. Also, as ranches expanded, more land was needed for domestic cattle, which meant encroaching on the bison habitats.

Many conservation efforts were made to save bison from extinction. For example, sanctuaries and parks were established as safe havens for bison. A national reserve for Bison was also established in 1907 in Oklahoma.

Today, there are over 350,000 bison. Therefore, they are no longer considered endangered.

Are Eagles an Endangered Species?

endangered species in oklahoma

Like bison, eagles were once threatened with extinction due to hunting and the use of pesticides. One of the biggest victims of this eagle purge was the bald eagle.

People often shot these eagles for fun or their feathers. Others, especially farmers and fishermen, considered them a threat to their livelihoods and, therefore, killed them in large numbers.

The introduction of DDT in farming seriously affected the eagle population. These chemicals ended up in waterways, contaminating water and fish, which were eagles’ primary diet. As a result, thousands of eagles died.

Fortunately, protective measures were put in place to save eagles from the threat of extinction. The bald eagle, for example, was also recognized as an endangered and threatened species in Oklahoma and nationally, which played a great role in its recovery. By 2007, the eagle was no longer endangered and was taken off the list.

Pros and Cons of Protecting Endangered Species


  • Balanced ecosystem: Because species are interdependent within an ecosystem, the loss of one may trigger the loss of others as well.
  • Healthy environment: A balanced ecosystem also ensures that humans can breathe clean air, water, and food. An imbalance anywhere may threaten human health and survival.
  • Economic benefits: Many communities and entire nations depend on wildlife for revenue through tourism and other related activities.
  • Medicinal value: Many prescription drugs in pharmacies are derived from plants or other natural products. Yet only about five known plant species have been tested for medicinal value. The rest need to be protected for their medicinal potential.
  • Environmental monitors: Many animal and plant species, such as the air and waterways, are used to monitor the quality of the air environment. They warn us of environmental contamination. Without them, we may not know about these contaminants until too late.


  • Very expensive: Millions of dollars are spent each year on research, land surveys, and funding conservation efforts, all of which are taxpayer dollars.
  • Curtail development: Worldwide, the availability of land has fueled rapid development in industries, infrastructure, and other areas. However, conserving endangered species puts some very strict restrictions on land use, which may slow development.
  • Some endangered species are a threat to human welfare: Not all animals and plants are harmless and safe. Some are capable of causing great harm to human beings and their welfare. Some pests, for example, can render huge tracts of land useless.


When did the Whooping Crane become endangered?

The Whooping Crane is an endangered bird species native to North America. Its population began to decline in the late 1800s due to hunting and habitat loss. By the 1940s, only 16 known individuals were left in the wild, making it one of the most critically endangered bird species in the world.

What was the issue with whooping cranes?

The issue with whooping cranes is their vulnerability to extinction. Once on the brink of extinction, the population of whooping cranes has slowly increased due to conservation efforts. However, they still face habitat loss, hunting, and climate change threats.

What is the habitat destruction, Whooping Crane?

The Whooping Crane is a critically endangered species of bird that is primarily threatened by habitat destruction. This destruction refers to the loss or degradation of the wetland habitats that the cranes rely on for breeding, feeding, and migration. The main causes of this habitat destruction include human development, climate change, and changes in water management practices.

What are the limiting factors for the Whooping Crane?

The Whooping Crane is a species of bird native to North America. Its limiting factors include habitat loss, hunting, and predation. Habitat loss due to human development and climate change has reduced the number of suitable nesting and feeding grounds for the Whooping Crane. Hunting and predation by animals such as coyotes and bobcats also pose a threat to the species’ survival.