Across the history of our world, from the beginning to this day, life has not had a good run. Sure, the planet is teeming with it, but relatively speaking it’s the barest hint of what has been. 99.9% of all life that has ever existed has gone extinct. We’re holding onto a tiny sliver of what life has to offer.
Evidence shows humans have contributed to many of those species going extinct. There are a lot of animals that died before we ever arrived, but there are also some that could and should still be here today as their extinctions wouldn’t have been too hard to prevent.
10. A Shrimp Species Went Extinct To Make Way for Land Development
There aren’t a lot of “good” reasons for a species to go extinct but there are reasons we can at least wrap our heads around. When an animal is hunted to extinction, for instance, we can understand how that happened even if we think it’s horrendous. And maybe it’s because it’s a process, a group of people going out and killing them until there are none left, it makes sense. But a species that goes extinct overnight by accident is another matter altogether.
The Florida fairy shrimp is a little creature you have probably never seen or heard of. They are presumed extinct right now. It used to live in a single pond near Gainesville, Florida. Just the one pond, as far as anyone knew.
Unfortunately for the fairy shrimp, someone wanted to develop that land so the pond was destroyed. The shrimp species is presumed to have died out with it.
9. We Killed Off the Condor Louse While Trying to Save Condors
Humans have developed an almost unspoken hierarchy for animal life. While it’s maybe not true for all of us as individuals, humans clearly value certain animals more than others. House pets rank highly as do horses, lions, elephants, pandas and all your cuter zoo favorites.
Way down the list of life forms humans care about are bugs. We actively eradicate them in our homes and few people ever want them around. That’s probably why, on some level, the extinction of the condor louse wasn’t considered a big deal.
The condor louse used to feed on the California condor. The California condor, one of those more majestic animals, was nearly driven to extinction itself. In the 80s, only 22 of the birds were still in the wild.
Conservationists captured the animals and took them into captivity to help preserve the species. Part of the process of helping the birds involved making sure they were healthy, so they were deloused and their parasites were killed. Except the lice only lived on California condors so when those last birds were deloused, the entire lice species went extinct in what turned out to be a conservationist oops.
You could make the argument that lice are parasitic and gross and it’s no big loss, but some could say if you can make that argument for a creature you don’t like, what’s stopping someone else from making it for a creature you do like?
While the louse is gone, the California condor population has risen to nearly 600 birds.
8. Nearly 100 Bird Species Went Extinct in Hawaii
It’s no secret that human action, intentional or otherwise, has taken a great toll on nature. We kill off species sometimes but you usually only hear about it in the singular, like the shrimp and lice we already covered. But then, in the interests of efficiency, we can head to Hawaii where humans have killed off close to 100 different species of birds to get a better look at the breadth of the devastation.
Hawaii was once home to 142 different species of birds that exist nowhere else on Earth. That was before the arrival of humans to the islands. After that, 95 of those species went extinct. Of the remaining bird species, 11 of them have had no confirmed sightings in decades, meaning they are likely extinct as well.
Most of the extinctions in Hawaii can be traced to just a handful of causes. Destruction of habitat is obvious, but many are also killed by invasive predators that humans brought to the island. That includes mosquitos that carry avian malaria which never existed on Hawaii before.
7. Farming May Have Wiped Out North America’s Most Abundant Insect
It’s rare that a species goes from numbering in the tens of millions to vanishing entirely, but that’s what happened to the Rocky Mountain locust. These grasshoppers were considered a literal plague in North America. In 1874 the swarms were said to be so bad they blocked out the sun and they ate everything in sight. Imagine the sky so thick with grasshoppers you couldn’t see anything else as millions of them devour all your crops and even the clothing you’re wearing as you try to get away from them.
The species went from swarms of billions that were over 100 miles wide and 1800 miles long to nothing at all within just a few years. For years there was no explanation to the species’ disappearance that made any sense when it was examined more closely.
It’s since been theorized that the species went extinct thanks to the expansion of farming and homesteading across America. River valleys were all converted to farmland, irrigation was set up diverting streams and rivers, and all the habitats once used by the grasshoppers for breeding went away. Because the species is so vulnerable in those early stages of life, they didn’t stand a chance.
6. Habitat Loss, Hunting, and Genetics Wiped Out Passenger Pigeons
People still consider pigeons a nuisance to this day. They are one of the few birds that have adapted incredibly well to living in urban areas amongst humans. But humans and pigeons have a long history of poor interaction dating back to the passenger pigeon.
Back in the 1800s the passenger pigeon population numbered around three billion. Deforestation and hunting pigeon meat eventually did the birds in while the world sat back and watched, convinced it wasn’t happening.
In 1857, someone introduced a bill to protect the birds in Ohio. A senate committee responded by saying no protection was needed because “no ordinary destruction could lessen them,” while waxing poetic about how the world was the passenger pigeon’s playground. The last pigeon was believed to have died in 1914.
Part of the problem with the pigeons was that, despite an enormous population, there was relatively little genetic diversity. Combine hunting and habitat loss with breedings issues and you have a species going extinct in just 50 years.
5. Carolina Parakeets Went Extinct in Part Because of the Hat Trade
What would you say is the stupidest reason a species could go extinct? If your answer doesn’t involve hats, try again. Hats are partially responsible for the demise of the Carolina parakeet.
The only parrot species that was native to the area, you could find the Carolina parakeet in the Eastern US until well through the 1800s. The last captive bird died in a zoo in 1918.
Like many extinct species, habitat loss took a big toll as their forests were removed to make way for human cities. But more than that, the birds fell victim to human whims for colorful things. Because they were brightly colored like many parrots, people wanted them as pets. Once captured and kept in a cage they obviously weren’t breeding prodigiously anymore and that wasn’t doing the species any favors.
Some people wanted the pretty feathers without the birds and that’s where the hats come in. The birds were hunted so their feathers could be used in the manufacture of ladies’ hats. In 1866 it’s believed 5 million birds of different species were killed just for hats. Others were killed just because people found them to be a nuisance and the entire species suffered for it.
4. Turnspit Dogs Were Replaced By Machines
If you’ve never heard of a Turnspit Dog, it’s probably because they went extinct around 1900. But the dogs were fairly popular starting in the 16th century onward and their claim to fame is part of the reason the SPCA exists today.
Turnspit dogs were used to turn the spit in a kitchen. The small dogs would run on a wheel like a hamster, stuck high on a wall and connected to the cook fire, turning a spit to cook meat over the open flame. They did this every single day, except maybe Sundays. The work started in Europe when someone bred them as a replacement for boys who used to do the same job.
In America, large hotels used to use the dogs and mistreat them terribly which is how the SPCA is linked to them. The founder of the SPCA saw them in Manhattan hotels and was disgusted. When technology could replace the dog, people stopped breeding them and eventually the breed vanished completely.
3. The Dodo Went Extinct Because It Had No Fear of Predators
For a long while the dodo bird has been synonymous with stupidity. This was an idea bolstered by old Warner Brothers cartoons that featured a stupid dodo bird. The notion stems from their discovery on Mauritius by man in the 1500s. The birds had never experienced predators before and thus had no fear of being hunted.
Humans could herd them right onto boats with no effort at all so they could eat them while they traveled. This made the sailors mock the birds for being so stupid they wouldn’t save their own lives when, in reality, they just had never been given reason to believe some aquatic jerks were rounding them up for a slaughter.
This innate lack of fear led to the species’ extinction. It wasn’t just the humans themselves; it was the pigs that Dutch sailors brought with them, along with rats and cats. Once free on the island, the animals destroyed the nests of the earthbound birds, eating eggs and young. Along with deforestation, the birds didn’t stand a chance, and the species vanished in just 80 years from the time they were discovered.
2. Atlas Bears Were Hunted for Roman Games
The Atlas bear used to live in parts of Europe and Africa once upon a time. It’s described as being smaller than a modern grizzly but stockier than a North American black bear. Their name came from the Atlas mountain range which they called home.
Like many species there are a few reasons that contributed to their decline. As parts of Africa that they called home were consumed by desert they lost some of their habitat. In addition, modernized hunting techniques, such as the creation of firearms, made killing them much easier. But a significant reason for their decline can be traced back much earlier, to the time of the Roman Empire.
Atlas bears were a favorite of the gladiatorial games put on in Roman times. Hunting the bears to be used in sport has been attributed to the downfall of the species. The bears would have been captured, brought to an arena, and forced to fight against arm combatants in the ring. Their species could never recover from the losses.
In the wild, the last bear is believed to have been killed by hunters in the 1870s.
1. Cats Have Destroyed Over 60 Species
There are an estimated 58.3 million cats in America. Concrete figures on a world population are scarce but some estimates go up to 600 million. Next to dogs they’re definitely the most popular pet but that is also proving to be an issue on a global survival scale. Cats are killers, and they’ve been blamed for the extinction of over 60 species so far. This includes birds, reptiles and mammals.
One study in Canada, which has far fewer cats than America, suggested that if owners kept their cats indoors, it could save the lives of up to 200 million wild birds every year. In the United States cats are blamed for killing 2.4 billion birds per year.
The problem is even worse for birds that live on populated islands. Cats are invasive predators in these environments and bird populations are at a much higher risk of predation. Cats, even cats that are fed regularly, hunt because of instinct not need. Most cat owners have had their cat bring them a dead mouse or bird in the past which proves this. The cat didn’t want to eat it; it was more of a prize. Unfortunately, dozens of those prizes were the last of their kind.