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Arapahoe Snowfly candidate for endangered list: What are other contenders?

The Arapahoe Snowfly is so small that you wouldn't notice if you inhaled it. At just .2 inches long, it's certainly not the kind of cuddly creature that appears on birthday cards and computer backgrounds. (Like mine, which just so happens to feature an effing adorable photo of two Denver Zoo polar bears spooning. Shut up.) But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife thinks this bug is worth saving, and they've put it on a list of endangered species candidates.

That's right, candidates. You see, the Fish and Wildlife Service only has so much money per year to help save endangered animals, so some end up on a sort-of waiting list (though they don't call it that), riding the pine while more important animals like jaguars, pumas and sperm whales play in the game. Not all animals on the endangered species list are fuzzy, however, as evidenced by the fact that a hideous thing called a tooth cave spider -- which Wikipedia says has six "obsolescent" eyes -- made the cut.

The Arapahoe Snowfly joins 252 other animals on the candidate species list. Each animal is given a priority rating of one to twelve (one is the highest priority) that determines how quickly the scientists evaluate them for possible placement on the actual list. The Arapahoe Snowfly is a five, putting it solidly in the middle of the pack. But there's a catch, says senior listing biologist Justin Shoemaker. Because of a recent lawsuit settlement, the feds must give priority to animals that were on the candidate list in 2011, when the settlement occurred. Those who sued were concerned that animals were languishing in endangered-species purgatory for too long.

So what are the fly's prospects? Shoemaker isn't sure. "I'm not saying this thing has to sit on the back burner for the next five years," he says. "There's a chance it could get done within that period, but it depends on funding and priorities. If something happened and the species took real nose dive, we could take more immediate action."

The Arapahoe Snowfly likely lives in just one stream in Colorado: Elkhorn Creek, which is a tributary of the Cache la Poudre River. It used to live in another stream too, but it hasn't been sighted there since 1986. So why is the fly worth saving? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, flies like this "are typically found in cold, clean, well-oxygenated streams and rivers. They are sensitive to most types of pollution. Therefore, their presence can be an indication of a healthy stream ecosystem."

Sounds important to us -- but it's clearly not level-one important. Flip the page to see five animals rated higher on the candidate species list than the Arapahoe Snowfly.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Level 3

Here are some deets from Wikipedia: "Common folk-names for this bird in the southern United States are Rain Crow and Storm Crow. These likely refer to the bird's habit of calling on hot days, often presaging thunderstorms. ... This bird has a number of calls; the most common is a rapid ka ka ka ka ka kow kow kow. ... These birds forage in dense shrubs and trees, also may catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, especially tent caterpillars and cicadas."

Slabside Pearlymussel

Level 2

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: "The slabside pearlymussel is a moderately sized mussel, with mature individuals reaching lengths of 85 mm. The shell is moderately compressed and generally subtriangular in shape (but may exhibit considerable variability in shell shape), with very solid, heavy valves that are moderately inflated." (Note: I'd be super pissed if anyone ever described me as having "solid, heavy valves that are moderately inflated." Don't even try it.)

Yellow-Faced Bee

Level 2

There are actually seven species of yellow-faced bees on the list, including the easy yellow-faced bee (he never tells you to buzz off; get it?!), the longhead yellow-faced bee and the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all seven species are part of a family "known as plasterer bees due to their habit of lining their nests with salival secretions." They must not have many visitors.

Black Pine Snake

Level 3

The above video is a little scary, but it's not as disturbing as some others we found. (Apparently, there's an audience for snake-eating-mouse videos set to weird music. Or porn. We swear there was a TV playing porn in the background of one of the videos.) According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, black pine snakes are non-venomous. "When disturbed, the Black Pine Snake will inflate and rear its forebody off the ground while hissing very loudly. It feeds primarily on pocket gophers, which it pursues by forcing its way into their underground burrows."

Pocket Gopher

Level 3

Speaking of pocket gophers, they're on the candidate list too -- eight species of 'em. Here's the 411 from Wikipedia: "All pocket gophers are burrowers. They are larder hoarders, and their cheek pouches are used for transporting food back to their burrows. ... They also enjoy feeding on vegetables. For this reason, some species are considered agricultural pests. They may also damage trees in forests. Although they will attempt to flee when threatened, they may attack other animals, including cats and humans, and can inflict serious bites with their long, sharp teeth." Ouch.

More from our Environment archive: "Civil unions stalemate: Fallout affects small businesses, poor, others."

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