Nevares Spring naucorid bug Ambrysus funebris
ESA status: candidate for listing
Death Valley National Park, the hottest, driest place in the United States, might seem like an unlikely and difficult place for an aquatic insect to survive. But fortunately for the Nevares Spring naucorid bug, there are some places in Death Valley where water is available year-round. This insect lives in one of those places, the Travertine-Nevares Springs Complex, which includes approximately 34 springbrooks.
The Nevares Spring naucorid bug is a tiny predator, about the size of pencil eraser. These insects are “true bugs,” meaning they have a special arrangement of piercing and sucking mouthparts. They use those mouthparts to prey upon small aquatic insects and crustaceans. They are quite picky about their habitat, and prefer streams with moderate flow that is fast enough to wash away silt and sand, but not so fast that it scours the coarse, gravelly streambed.
Unfortunately, their pickiness is causing the naucorid bug some problems. Changes in water velocity or streambed characteristics can eliminate the insect, and things are changing in the springs complex. The complex is affected by several water collection systems that provide water for commercial and domestic uses within Death Valley, particularly Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort, which appropriated 92 percent of the water collected locally between 1987 and 2000. Most of that water was used to irrigate the ranch’s golf course and fill the flow-through swimming pools. Golf courses and swimming pools in Death Valley? Yes, even at the risk of extinction for rare native species. Much of the naucorid bug’s aquatic habitat has shrunk or disappeared since the water collection systems were constructed. There are eight other invertebrates endemic to the Travertine-Nevares Complex, but the naucorid bug is the rarest. The areas it occupies, if combined, would cover only a single acre.
Protecting the Nevares Spring naucorid bug under the Endangered Species Act would reserve it and the other native animals that live at the Travertine-Nevares Springs Complex a rightful share of limited water. WildEarth Guardians is working to ensure that these rare invertebrates and their spring-fed environments don’t disappear forever.
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photo credit: University of Missouri