The Kretschmarr Cave mold beetle, a cave invertebrate protected by the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, is not exactly the most charismatic animal on the Endangered Species List. This small, eyeless insect lacks the majestic beauty of the whooping crane or the ‘cute and cuddly’ appeal of the black-footed ferret. It lives far from the public eye in underground caves, surrounded by total darkness and buried in silt. However, the mold beetle is the perfect example of the many reasons why all endangered species should be protected.

Existence. This is the simplest reason for preserving biodiversity—all species have a right to exist. The mold beetle evolved and adapted over millions of years to the unique habitat of cave systems, and it is not our place to step in and destroy it. In addition, the existence of biodiversity serves as a unique and natural heritage for future generations.

Knowledge. The amazing range and abundance of species provide a foundation for scientific education and the continued pursuit of knowledge. There is also the more practical argument of applied research for economic, agricultural, and medicinal purposes. For example, the Pacific yew tree was considered a non-commercial weed species until an anti-cancer drug known as taxol was developed using the bark of the tree.

Balance. Every species is an integral part of a larger interdependent web known as an ecosystem. For instance, the Kretschmarr Cave mold beetle helps to decompose organic matter and control populations of tiny insects called microarthropods. When a strand of the ecosystem web is altered or removed, such as the loss of a species like the mold beetle, it affects the natural balance of the whole ecosystem. Over time, as more strands are lost, the web begins to weaken and unravel, which can cause the entire ecosystem to come apart.

Warning. This is often called the “canary in the coal mine” argument. In years past, miners would take a canary down into coal mines because canaries were more sensitive to toxic and explosive gases. If the canary stopped singing, the miners knew that the gases had reached a dangerous level and they had to leave immediately. Likewise, species that are sensitive to pollution levels can function as an early warning system for declining air or water quality in an area. This can help to identify deteriorating ecosystems as well as human health risks.

Open Space. One of the primary purposes of the Endangered Species Act is “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved.” This means that the preservation of endangered species like the Kretschmarr Cave mold beetle also protects the surrounding ecosystem—providing beautiful and interesting areas of open space like the Bull Creek Nature Preserve to enrich and inspire us.