One-of-a-kind wildlife: Endemic species in Canada

One-of-a-kind wildlife

Endemic species in Canada

One-of-a-kind wildlife

Endemic species in Canada

By Emily Jerome, Digital Engagement Assistant, National Environmental Treasure

There are hundreds of wildlife species only found in Canada. Learn about five endemic species to help celebrate Canadian biodiversity.

While the loon, caribou and beaver are found on Canadian coins, there are hundreds of other wildlife species that perhaps better capture our unique biodiversity. In 2020, the Nature Conservancy of Canada released the report, “Ours to Save”, shining a light on the 308 plants, animals and fungi species that are only found in Canada. When a species only occupies a specific geographical area such as a country, it’s referred to as an endemic species. While we’re spotlighting five such species in Canada, it’s important to note that the lands upon which Canada lies go by many other names. Many First Nations know this land as Turtle Island and other Indigenous communities hold names for their lands that aren’t often reflected in today’s geography.

Hairy Braya

On Cape Bathurst Peninsula, the Hairy Braya (Braya pilosa) lives at the cusp of the Northwest Territories and Arctic Ocean. This extremely rare endemic plant may seem unremarkable but its history is anything but. The Hairy Braya can only be found in 250km² of this harsh landscape, an area roughly twice the size of the City of Vancouver. This small plot of Hairy Braya habitat escaped the effects of the last ice age that ended 11,700 years ago

The Hairy Braya was first documented by John Richarson, an explorer on the Sir John Franklin Expedition in 1826. From 1850 to 2004, the Hairy Braya went under the radar and it was unknown whether these delicate and aromatic white flowers would ever be seen again. But, it was rediscovered by Jim Harris, a professor at the University of Utah, through tracing Richarson’s writings in century old journals. Currently listed as endangered, the fragile existence of the Hairy Braya teeters on the edge with storm surges, melting permafrost and climate change increasing the damaging effects of coastal erosion.

hairy braya white flowers
Hairy Braya. Phoyo by Springlake1 (CC BY-NC)

Newfoundland Marten

Once endangered, this elusive weasel has made leaps and bounds across Newfoundland. During the 1970’s and 80’s, the Newfoundland Marten (Martes americana atrata) reached a low point due to deforestation and accidental snaring. But, conservation efforts and a change in snare practices, have allowed the population to increase to approximately 1,000 to 1,500 individuals. This endemic marten is one of only 15 mammals living the Newfoundland island life and its integral role in the ecosystem can’t be overstated. The Newfoundland Marten helps control prey populations through their feverish appetite for red-back voles and other small scurrying mammals.

newfoundland marten in tree
Newfoundland marten. Photo by Bailey Parsons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Lake Louise Arnica

In the Rocky Mountains along the border of Alberta and B.C., the drooping yellow flower heads of Lake Louise Arnica (Arnica louiseana) bloom. Although this flower may look flimsy and delicate, it’s actually quite hardy. It grows in high elevation alpine meadows and rocky slopes, enduring the chilly temperatures and mountainous winds. According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Lake Louise Arnica has only been observed in about 20 locations. If you’re hiking in July and August, keep your eyes peeled for this beautiful endemic flower brightening up the alpine!

lake louise arnica yellow flower
Lake Louise Arnica. Photo by Tab Tannery (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Lacs des Loups Marins Harbour Seal

We often picture harbour seals lounging along the docks of Victoria or the rocky outskirts of Nova Scotia. But, not all harbour seals live in the salty waters of the ocean. One endemic population of harbour seals actually live in the freshwaters lakes of Nunavik, northern Quebec. This harbour seal subspecies is called Lacs des Loups Marins Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina mellonae), also known as achikunipi in Cree culture and as qasigiaq in Inuit culture.

Similar to the Hairy Braya, the Lacs des Loups Marins Harbour Seals were isolated from marine harbour seals during the most recent glaciation. Their time apart was enough to make the Lacs des Loups Marins Harbour Seals genetically distinct from it’s ocean-bound relatives. This population is currently listed as endangered with climate change as its main threat.

Lakes in Nunavik northern Quebec
Lac Nedlouc, a lake near Lacs des Loups Marins in Nunavik, northern Quebec. Photos of the Lacs des Loups Marins Harbour Seals were unavailable. Photo by Lkovac from Wikimedia Commons.

Dwarf Coastal Maidenhair Fern

If there were a prize for the highest number of endemic species in a province or territory, British Columbia would easily take the cake. Of the 76 endemic species only found in B.C., many live on Vancouver island, Haida Gwaii and other islands that likely acted as a safe haven during the last ice age. Along the west coast of Vancouver island, one such endemic species, the Dwarf Coastal Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum aleuticum var. subpumilum), grows along salt sprayed cliffs. Although it may look like the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” version of its larger cousin, the Western Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum aleuticum), this stubby fern is its own subspecies. Dwarf Coastal Maidenhair Fern’s small fronds are specially adapted to withstand strong winds and the splash of Pacific waters.

dwarf coastal maidenhair fern
Dwarf Coastal Maidenhair Fern. Photo by Tab Tannery (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

How can you help endemic species?

1. Check out the NCC report, “Ours to Save,” and discover the endemic species in your province or territory.

2. Become a citizen scientist and record your observations of endemic species on phone apps like iNaturalist and Merlin ID.