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Kentucky’s Rare Invertebrates

The Cobblestone Tiger Beetle is a rare species occurring on the cobble bars and beaches of a single Kentucky Wild River Corridor. Previously known from only two cobble bars, KNP biologists recently located the beetle on three others. Due to range-wide declines, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is assessing the status of the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle to  determine whether it may warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act. KNP biological assessments will  be critical in the recovery of this species.

Unlike tiger beetles, the Monarch Butterfly is one of our most well-known insects. Famous for their long distance migrations and reliance on milkweed plants, this backyard icon is in decline due to habitat loss. KNP worked with the Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources and others to draft the Kentucky Monarch Conservation Plan in 2017. Implementation of this plan will conserve monarch habitat and reduce the likelihood they become federally listed as threatened or endangered.

In 2019 KNP began an inventory of terrestrial molluscs, or land snails, on natural areas throughout the commonwealth. Land snails are important invertebrate species critical to the functioning of a healthy ecosystem.  Though mollusks rank as one of the most numerous and speciose groups of organisms on Earth, they remain largely unstudied. Land snails, like most invertebrates suffer from a conservation "blindspot" with little known of their importance in the function of healthy ecosystems. In Kentucky, as elsewhere, land snails and their significance have frequently been overshadowed by more charismatic wildlife. A plethora of organisms depend on land snails for food, as a source of calcium, and even as habitat. Land snails can be used as indicators of forest health in much the same way that mussels can be used to determine the health of freshwater aquatic systems. With this project KNP hopes to greatly increase the available information on this imporation bio-indicator in the state. To participate, just check out our citizen science page.

Kentucky's Rare Aquatic Wildlife

Kentucky ranks fourth nationally in aquatic biodiversity with approximately 245 native fishes, over 100 different kinds of freshwater mussels, and nearly 60 species of crayfish. The Cumberland and Green rivers, both part of the Kentucky Wild Rivers System, are two of the most biologically diverse. KNP has worked in these drainages on several projects recently to document, protect, and   conserve imperiled species.

Monitoring the Green River

The Green River as it flows through central Kentucky and Mammoth Cave National Park has been ranked fourth nationally for its aquatic diversity. In 2017, KNP biologists discovered a new localized population of 16 federally endangered clubshell mussels (Pleurobema clava). The species was once widespread in numerous Kentucky rivers, but now exists only within this section of the Green River.

Following the removal of Lock and Dam #6 on the Green River in 2017, KNP biologists collected the initial biological and physical data from approximately 25 km of the Green and Nolin rivers that were impacted from LD6 for a long-term monitoring project. Mussels, macroinvertebrates, fish, riparian vegetation, in-stream and riparian zone habitat data were collected. Initial findings indicate that the river sections furthest from the footprint of the dam are the most biologically diverse areas and habitat improved. The substrate size further from the dam increased and was more representative of flowing conditions. The mussel fauna was fairly diverse with 27 species, including the federally-endangered fanshell (Cyprogenia stegaria) and sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus). The fish fauna was diverse with 58 native species. We believe that over time, the river habitat will change with the restored free-flowing conditions and the biology will respond and eventually represent a community reflective of flowing conditions. Only time will tell; monitoring will continue for several more years.

Relocating rare mussels

Relocation and reintroduction of imperiled species into suitable habitat are growing conservation efforts, and KNP has recently been involved with a couple of these projects. In the Cumberland River above Cumberland Falls, KNP biologists have been surveying and monitoring the Cumberland Papershell (Anodontoides denigrata) in hopes of preserving the few remaining populations of this small (2-3 inch long), state-endangered mussel endemic to the Upper Cumberland River Basin in Kentucky and Tennessee. There are less than ten small populations remaining in the wild. Moore Creek in Knox County has one of the best remaining populations, but the population is at risk. In an effort to preserve genetic diversity, KNP biologists worked with our partners from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources to relocate 115 individuals in five age   classes into a neighboring stream. The relocation process involved finding, tagging for future    monitoring, and placing the mussels into their new home.  Monitoring of the existing Moore Creek population and the newly transplanted population will occur for several years.

Restoring the Buck DarterBuck darter in hand

KNP biologists have also contributed into a reintroduction project involving the Buck Darter (Etheostoma nebra). Endemic to Buck Creek in Pulaski County, it is one of the most imperiled fishes in the state. The species was once widespread in the upper sections of the stream, but the only populations that remain occur within two small spring fed streams. The Buck Darter is unique in that it belongs to a group of darters called the bar-cheek darters, where the cheeks of nuptial males actually mimic eggs. It is believed that the egg mimicking is a way for the male to attract a mate for spawning and to signal to the female that he is a worthy mate.  In addition, the male will       provide a level of parental care and guard the cluster of eggs after the female lays them.  KNP   collaborated with our partners from USFWS, KDFWR, Eastern Kentucky University and the nonprofit Conservation Fisheries Inc. to release approximately 100 individuals in a seperate small tributary of Buck Creek. 

Ongoing conservation efforts include monitoring, working with landowners, and propagation with   the hope of future reintroductions. KNP is collaborating with USFWS and our other partners to help conserve this imperiled Kentucky fish.

Blackside Dace Streams

Blackside DaceThe maps and data available from links on this page represent known blackside dace populations as of September 2009 and are not meant to represent every stream in which the species may occur. The blackside dace is known to occur in streams throughout much of the Cumberland River watershed primarily above Cumberland Falls in the Wild River corridor. A few disjunct populations are also known from the North Fork of Powell River watershed (Lee Co., Va.) and Staunton Creek watershed, Clinch River system (Scott Co., Va.).

Project Partners

This project is a cooperative effort by the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Data sources

KNP Natural Heritage Database
USFWS Endangered Species Database
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Natural Heritage Program Database
Tennessee Valley Authority Natural Heritage Project Database

Explore the Data

The blackside dace data is available in the following formats:
Google Earth - KMZ file - blackside_ge.kmz (get Google Earth here)
ArcGIS Online - Interactive ArcGIS map
PDF maps:

Additional Information 

NatureServe Explorer - Blackside Dace species account

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