It is estimated that over 99 percent of all species that have ever lived on this planet have gone extinct. That accounts for over five billion species that have been completely wiped off the earth. The number currently existing today is between 10 and 14 million, and only 1.2 million of them have been documented. That leaves just over 86 percent that have yet to be labeled.
Mass extinctions are a rarity, however solo extinctions are a relatively common event. Quite recently, scientists have started to record extinctions and have been shocked to learn the extremely high death rates. Most of these species were never properly documented previously. Scientists now are predicting that by 2100 close to half of all animal and plant species will go extinct.
Typically, it takes about 10 million years from when a specie arrives, until it becomes extinct - with the exception of what is called living fossils. For millions and millions of years, they survive almost no morphological change. We can see these living fossils in the forms of alligators and crocodiles today, they have been here since the time dinosaurs roamed the planet. This is hopefully good news for humans, as we have only been here for around 180,000 years. A species will be wiped out when a higher up species depletes them, or when living conditions can no longer support their life. Or, in the very rare instance, a disease will kill them off.
Here are some diseases that have totally diminished species, or have been close to wiping them out…
9 Sylvatic Plague
The bubonic plague was the worst epidemic to ever devastate human life. It killed off about 25 million lives, as it spread through fleas on mice. Now a similar disease has arrived called sylvatic plague. It has attacked various prairie dog populations in towns on the Fort Belknap Reservation, and has now infected over 3,000 acres.
Not only has it reaped havoc over prairie dogs, it is now significantly affecting predators that hunt them. Take the black-footed ferret for example, gophers are their number one food source. If their food source disappears, so will they. And to add insult to injury, the black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered species on earth already.
8 PBFD Virus
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PDFD) victims are lovebirds, cockatoos, parrots and macaws. PDFD virus also attacks even more seriously endangered species of all sorts of tropical birds. For instance, the New Caledonian Rainbow lorikeets, which can easily spread the disease to other nearby species.
7 Sarcoptic Mange
6 Chronic Wasting Disease
Chronic wasting disease (CWD), is life threatening to elk and deer populations. In 1957, in Florida, the key deer species was down to just 27 due to CWD. Now their population has risen to approximately 800. The Virginia white-tailed deer is now endangered thanks to CWD, along with car collisions and human interactions. It will not be long before they are completely gone.
Europeans arrived in Australia back in 1788, in an attempt to colonize the continent. At the same time, they brought rabbits with them. By the 1920s, the population of wild rabbits skyrocketed to over 10 billion. These rabbits destroyed Australia’s natural ecosystem by gobbling massive amounts of food which forced other animals away.
We think of parasites as the ones that are carrying the deadly diseases, although not all of them are these death carriers. Scientists believe that some actually help build a stronger immune system in some animals. There are some parasites that when exposed to young animals, will help them become immune to them later in life. And those animals that are not exposed young can become vulnerable when they mature.
Chytridiomycosis or “chytrid”, is a deadly fungus that has preyed upon salamander and frog species. In just the last three decades, it has put over 200 amphibian species into a cataclysmic decline, and has made some face extinction. Since the early 2000s, chytrid has drove 30 species to extinction, and five of them had never been previously seen.
The fungus can be found on all continents with the exception of Antarctica. It damages the outer layer of a salamanders' and frogs' skin. These amphibians use their skin to absorb water and to take in nutrients, but this fungus will suffocate them to death. Scientists continue to research for a cure.
2 Sea Star Wasting Syndrome
Sea star wasting syndrome first appeared in the 1970s. The last plague began in 2013 and it startled scientists at how fast it spread. Starting on the pacific coast of Mexico, it quickly made its way up to Alaska. The disease affected 19 species of sea star, and has caused three species to go extinct. By 2014, 87 percent of places surveyed had become infected. It was the biggest disease outbreak in recorded marine history.
Wasting disease spreads through physical contact while attacking the immune system. Sea stars then suffer an infection that leads to abrasions, which leads to arms falling off. Finally, they turn to mush. It only takes two days for death to occur after the lesions set in.
It was first discovered in 1976, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa. Scientists believe it may have started in bats then carried over to other animals. It is easily spread from human-to-human through bodily fluids. We have recently seen epidemics of Ebola take place, especially in Africa, wiping out many people.
Early symptoms are a fever and a sore throat, which soon leads to more serious symptoms, such as organ failure of the liver and kidneys, both internal and external bleeding, and finally death. Not only has it devastated human populations, it has also hit other species close to our own kind. There is a huge variety of primates that call Africa home, especially the big populations of gorillas and our closest relatives, the chimpanzee. In just 40 short years, Ebola has overpowered close to a third of the planet's species, putting gorillas on the endangered list. Thanks to frequent epidemics, entire populations have vanished.
Sources: bbc.com, nytimes.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, nwhc.usgs.gov, petmd.com
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