Yellowstone Death Valley Denali Hawaii Volcanoes Isle Royale Great Smoky Mountains Everglades National Park Grand Teton Park Acadia National Park Channel Islands Shenandoah Saguaro National Park Badlands National Park Glacier National Park

Grizzly Bear

The grizzly bear is a massive predator that can use its powerful four-inch claws to slash marks on trees up to six feet above the ground. The silvery-white tips on its dense, dark fur give it a "grizzled" appearance, and it has a large hump on its shoulders. An omnivore, the grizzly will eat almost anything, including fish, especially salmon, plants, insects, and carrion. In North America, grizzlies are found in forested areas from Canada to as far south as Yellowstone; they are listed as threatened or endangered in both the United States and Canada.


The lynx is a medium-size, solitary cat that lives in the deep forest. Its large, fluffy feet let it traverse snow without sinking, and it is a good tree climber, as well as a powerful swimmer when necessary. The lynx hunts birds and voles, and will eat carrion, but its preferred food is snowshoe hare, which makes up three-quarters of its diet. The lynx is nocturnal, secretive, and shy. Humans almost never spot them.

Photo credit: Don DeBold


The coyote is a gray or tan-colored canid (a member of the dog family). They hunt alone, in pairs, or in a pack. Their diet consists of mice, ground squirrels, other small mammals, and small birds. When hunting in a group, they can bring down larger mammals, such as deer. Like wolves, they communicate by howling and yipping. Coyotes are increasingly found near settled areas, where they scavenge for garbage, and have been known to prey on pet cats and dogs.

Photo credit: Christopher Bruno

Sagebrush Lizard

The sagebrush lizard is one of only six reptiles that live in Yellowstone's cool, dry climate. It often lives in borrowed burrows near sagebrush, or in rocks and desert scrub. The sagebrush lizard's diet consists of ants, flies, spiders, caterpillars, and beetles, and it is preyed upon by snakes and birds. The lizard can shed its tail if necessary to escape. It hibernates from mid- September to mid-May.

Photo credit: Geographer

Boreal Toad

The boreal toad is the only toad in Yellowstone; it is three to four inches long, with dry, wart- covered skin. The boreal toad prefers high-altitude, wet habitats, where it feeds on ants, worms, and insects. Females are larger than males and, unusually, the males lack a vocal sac, so they have no mating call. This toad is threatened by the chytrid fungus, which is affecting many amphibians, and is preyed upon by birds, snakes, and mammals.

Bald Eagle

The bald eagle, our national emblem, is a large, dark bird of prey with a white head, neck, and tail, and yellow legs. The bald eagle has excellent eyesight, which helps it to spot prey from long distances. It lives along rivers and coasts and feeds mainly on fish, especially salmon, although it will eat carrion. Bald eagles mate for life, though they will recouple if a mate is killed. Bald eagles were listed as threatened, but conservation programs have helped their population to recover.

Photo credit: Yathin S. Krishnappa

Northern Mockingbird

The Northern mockingbird is a gray-brown, medium-size songbird with a long thin bill, a long black tail, and a pair of white bars on its wings. The mockingbird is a great vocalist; it can imitate, or "mock," other birds' songs, and sometimes even imitates a siren or a dog's bark. Males can learn up to an astonishing 200 different songs, and are most vocal on moonlit nights. Northern mockingbirds are widespread and can be found in most of the continental United States. Mockingbirds are aggressive about territory and will chase away intruders on their turf.


The bullsnake, which can grow to be six feet long, is the largest reptile in Yellowstone, and has a wide range of habitat, from desert to forest. Bullsnakes are nonvenomous. They feed primarily on small mammals, including rats, mice, and pocket gophers; they will also eat bird's eggs and lizards. When threatened, the bullsnake will coil up, flatten its head, hiss, and vibrate its tail, so it is often mistaken for a rattlesnake, even though it has no rattles.

Photo credit: Psyon


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Old Faithful and most of the world's geysers are preserved here within 3,472 square miles. They're the main reason that the park was established in 1872 as America's first national park—an idea that spread worldwide. This mountain wild land with approximately 290 waterfalls is the habitat of grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk. The park is the core of "one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the Earth's temperate zone." Visitors can see grizzly bears, lynx, coyotes, and bald eagles—and even the Yellowstone Volcano, which is still active and one of more than 10,000 geographic thermal features found in Yellowstone, including over 300 geysers. A count at the end of 2011 found that Yellowstone had at least 98 wolves in 10 packs, plus two loners. Wolves are frequently sighted in Slough Creek, Lamar Valley, and other places.

Fun fact: Scientists estimate that the amount of water expelled by Old Faithful during an eruption ranges from 3,700 gallons (for a short duration of 1.5 minutes) to 8,400 gallons (for a longer duration of 4.5 minutes). The water temperature at the vent has been measured at 204°F, and the steam temperature has been measured above 350°F!

Explore more of Yellowstone National Park Here


The roadrunner is a large, long-legged ground cuckoo with a thick black bill and a bushy crest, a striped body, and a blue and orange patch of skin behind its eyes. A desert bird, it is common in the American Southwest. The roadrunner's body is built to run, and can race at 18 mph, though it rarely flies, as its short, round wings do not offer much lift for its long tail and body. It uses its amazing speed to catch prey—primarily lizards, snakes, birds, rodents, scorpions, and insects—though it occasionally eats vegetation. Unlike its famous cartoon counterpart, the roadrunner does not say, "Beep-beep!" It actually makes a cooing call, and sometimes rattles its beak.

Photo credit: drumguy8800

Cactus Mouse

The cactus mouse is a small, nocturnal, desert-dwelling rodent with pale silky-gray fur, large round ears, a white belly, and a long tail that may help it regulate its temperature. Cactus mice often live around cactus, and build their nests in underground tunnels and in rock or brush piles. Their diet is mainly fruits and seeds, although they will eat insects and sometimes vegetation, and they do not require water, though they will drink if rain comes to the desert. They are great climbers, primarily when they need to hunt or to escape predators. When excited, they thump their tiny feet on the ground. The cactus mouse is highly monogamous, and paired mice stay together for life.

Indra Swallowtail Butterfly

The lovely Indra swallowtail butterfly lives in the North American west, in rocky hills or mesas. It has mostly black wings with white spots, short tails, and a pattern of blue crescents. The female lays eggs (or oviposits) on the sides of plants growing out of rocky ledges; the pupal stage is a relatively long 11 months. She must be very specific as to which plants she chooses as her larvae are fussy eaters and will consume only plants that are members of the parsley family. Adult Indra swallowtails live on flower nectar. All butterflies in Death Valley National Park are protected from collectors.

Photo credit: L. Martin

Spotted Skunk

The spotted skunk is the most social and the smallest of the four kinds of skunks; it has glossy black fur with unique patterns of white spots and stripes. They are nocturnal creatures and live mostly in brushy areas near mountains. Spotted skunks are omnivorous, eating insects, lizards, and amphibians; they also enjoy fruits and berries. Like all skunks, they come equipped with a foul-smelling spray they use for defense. Spotted skunks are known for their unique spraying technique: Instead of just turning around, they turn, then stand on their front paws, flip up their tails and direct the spray, up to 20 feet away!

Mojave Rattlesnake

The Mojave rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied, aggressive member of the pit viper family that lives in the arid high desert and on lower mountain slopes. The adult Mojave rattler is four to five feet long, with the distinctive triangular head, diamond pattern, and cascade of rattles at its tail. Its color ranges from olive green to shades of brown and yellow. Its diet consists of rodents, especially kangaroo rats, and lizards, and it is viviparous, giving birth to its young rather than laying eggs. The Mojave rattlesnake's powerful venom is by far the most toxic of all the North American rattlesnakes, and as this snake is known to be irritable and unpredictable, it's best to give this species a wide berth.

Photo credit: John Wilson

Devils Hole Pupfish's

The gravely endangered Devils Hole pupfish's only natural habitat is in Devils Hole, an ancient cave filled with deep, hot (92 degrees F), salty water in Ash Meadows, a unit of Death Valley National Park. The iridescent, teal-blue fish are about an inch long and eat diatoms and algae; they have been isolated in this aquifer system for at least 10,000 years. Its lifespan is short; pupfish mature at two or three months and die at between six and nine months. The pupfish was first listed as endangered in 1967, and its population has been dropping steadily.

Mountain Quail

The mountain quail is the largest of the North American quails; it is a ground-dwelling and - feeding bird and rarely flies, though it can move quickly on its featherless legs. It has a gray breast, a brown face and back, and two distinctive crest feathers on its head. The mountain quail lives in groups of six to 10 birds, called coveys, in forest, desert scrub, and mountain chaparral. Their diet is largely plants and seeds, although quail chicks often eat insects when young. These birds like thick, brushy cover, and "freeze" when approached, their stillness and coloration making them hard to detect.

Photo credit: Quartl

Death Valley

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Death Valley National Park, which stretches across both California and Nevada, is truly a land of extremes—towering peaks, oases, and arid desert. Despite its name, Death Valley is alive with more than 1,000 species of plants, with 50 of those being endemic, which means they're found nowhere else in the world. Some have roots that go down 10 times the height of a person! The park protects a diverse desert environment of salt flats, colorful badlands, snow-capped peaks, steep canyons, beautiful sand dunes, and desert floors, and is also home to Badwater Basin, the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at 282 feet below sea level. Declared an international biosphere reserve, Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America, yet bighorn sheep, roadrunners, and the Mojave rattlesnake call it their habitat. In 1917, Death Valley recorded 52 days with temperatures over 120°F and 43 consecutive days over 120°F.

Fun fact: Parts of Death Valley were used as filming locations for the movie Star Wars, providing the setting for the fictional planet Tatooine.

Explore more of Death Valley National Park Here

North American Beaver

The North American beaver, which lives in rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, is the second- largest rodent in the world. Beavers have fine, dark-brown fur, webbed hind feet, and an insulating layer of fat that protects them from cold water. They also store fat in their wide, flat tails, and can weigh 70 pounds or more. Beavers build dams of woven sticks, often across streams to create small ponds where they live in two-chambered "lodges" with underwater entrances. Beavers do not eat fish; they consume the trees they build with, eating the leaves, inner bark, and buds of trees such as willow, birch, aspen, and maple.

Photo credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson

Snowshoe Hare

The snowshoe hare changes color with the seasons. In summer it is dark brown, and as winter approaches, its coat gradually changes to winter white. This helps it to blend in with the snow to better evade its many predators (especially the lynx, but also other large cats, foxes, hawks, and weasels). It is relatively small for a hare, weighing only about three pounds, and has large, fluffy feet that allow it to skim across deep snow, giving it the name "snowshoe" hare. It feeds on vegetation, from nuts and berries to bark, leaves, and grasses, and is primarily nocturnal, resting during the daylight hours in a log or a borrowed den.

Photo credit: Walter Siegmund


The coyote is a gray-furred canid (member of the dog family) with long legs and a bushy tail with a black tip. Coyotes are strong swimmers and equally good runners; they can both cover long distances and sprint at up to 40 mph. Their diet is quite broad and diverse; coyotes will eat rabbits, rodents, birds, amphibians, snakes, fruit, and carrion. They give birth to litters in the spring months and raise their young in underground burrows. Coyotes often vocalize at night, howling and yipping in a chorus. They are found throughout North and Central America, and their range is increasing into urban areas (coyotes have been spotted around Chicago, Washington, D.C., and even in New York City's Central Park!).

Photo credit: Yathin S. Krishnappa

Trumpeter Swan

The snowy-white trumpeter swan, known for its nasal honking, is the largest swan in the world, and one of the longest-lived: Trumpeters in the wild can live for 24 years or more, and in captivity, up to 32. Their diet is largely aquatic vegetation. They dig up underwater roots and tubers with their feet, and eat leaves and stems as well as grasses and grain. The trumpeter's nest is built on or around water, where the female lays a clutch of six or more eggs. Young swans, or cygnets, are particularly vulnerable to predation, although adult trumpeters have few threats more serious than their loss of habitat.

Snowy Owl

The snowy owl is, as its name implies, white, although it has some brownish-black feathers mixed in with the white, and the males become paler as they age. It has large, yellow eyes and is the heaviest of the owls, weighing up to three pounds. It has a wide range and prefers open, treeless areas for hunting. Unlike most owls, snowy owls are active in the daylight hours, when they hunt for small mammals, such as rodents (particularly lemmings), rabbits, and birds. Their extraordinary hearing and eyesight help them find their prey. Fun fact: In the Harry Potter films, Harry's owl Hedwig was portrayed by a snowy owl.

Photo credit: Floyd Davidson

Sandhill Crane

The sandhill crane is a large, migratory bird with a wide wingspan—almost seven feet—that helps it to soar like a hawk on thermal updrafts. Sandhill cranes are mostly gray, with a bright- red patch of feathers at the front of the head and white cheeks. They stand almost four feet tall, and are mainly herbivores, foraging for grains, seeds, and berries in shallow wetlands. Cranes in the northern regions often supplement this diet with snails, reptiles, and amphibians. Sandhill cranes are social and roost in large groups; they are found by the thousands at winter and migration sites.

Photo credit: Manjith Kainickara

Peregrine Falcon

The beautiful peregrine falcon is almost a worldwide bird, as it is found on every continent but Antarctica, and is successful in many different habitats. Peregrines are raptors that feed primarily on pigeons, starlings, jays, waterfowl, and other birds. They soar high above their hunting grounds and use their extremely keen eyesight to spot prey from above. The peregrine then dives, or "stoops," on its target, at up to a blazing 200 mph. Peregrines were threatened by DDT and other pesticides, which made their eggshells thin, but have recovered since those chemicals were banned. They generally nest on rocky ledges but have adapted well to city life and do nicely on the ledges of buildings and bridges.

Photo credit: Aviceda

Wood Frog

The wood frog is brown, with a black eye mask, and is the only amphibian found in Denali. The tiny wood frog is able to survive harsh Alaskan winters because it burrows under leaf matter on the forest floor and hibernates. These frogs manufacture a special "cryoprotectant" that lets them safely freeze solid. After they emerge from hibernation in the spring, wood frogs head for nearby ponds where the males advertise for mates by calling them with loud, duck-like sounds. Their diet is primarily insects, although their tadpoles eat algae, and they are found throughout Canada and in the northern and central United States.

Photo credit: Daniel D'Auria


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Alaska's Denali National Park is six million acres of wilderness, 9,419 square miles of relatively low-elevation taiga forest with high alpine tundra and snow-capped mountains. Towering among these, you'll find Mount McKinley, which is North America's tallest peak at 20,320 feet. Now you understand why Denali means "the high one" or "the great one" in the language of the Koyukon Athabaskan Native Americans. The wild animal residents of Denali roam its unfenced lands freely, so be on the lookout for grizzly bears, coyotes, and snowshoe hares when you visit.

Fun fact: Denali is also home to the only sled dogs in the United States who help protect a national park.

Explore more of Denali National Park Here

Hawaiian Goose

The endangered Hawaiian goose is called nene in the Hawaiian language. It is thought to echo the goose's call. It is a medium-size bird, brownish-buff in color, with black legs and bill and black stripes on the neck. Although once plentiful, predators and loss of habitat have made the nene the rarest goose in the world.

Photo credit: Eike Wulfmeyer

Red-Footed Booby

The red-footed booby is the smallest of its kind of bird. The brilliant scarlet feet that give this booby its name far outshine its plumage, which is generally a combination of black, white, and brown, although the bill and throat patch are an attractive pink and blue. They breed in island colonies and raise their young in burrowed-out nests; out of the breeding season, they spend most of their time at sea, where they dive for fish and small squid.

Photo credit: Forest and Kim Starr

Crested Honeycreeper

The endangered crested honeycreeper (or akohekohe, its Hawaiian name) is about seven inches long, making it the largest of the honeycreepers on Maui. Its preferred food is the nectar from flower blossoms, although when flowers are scarce it will eat fruit and insects. The honeycreeper is a vocal bird, and will defend its food sources from rival nectar eaters by calling and chasing them off.

Hawksbill Turtle

The hawksbill turtle is a critically endangered sea turtle primarily found around coral reefs. Its mouth is sharp and pointed and resembles a bird's beak, which is why it's called a hawksbill. These turtles eat sponges, algae, sea anemones, and jellyfish, and are migratory, covering a vast expanse of water. Female hawksbills come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand; the vulnerable hatchlings come out of their eggs and make for the sea after about 60 days.

Photo credit: Aquaimages

Yellow-Fronted Canary

The yellow-fronted canary has a striking sunshine-bright chest and the wedge-like beak of a finch. This songbird is originally from Africa and not native to Hawaii, where it was introduced in the 1960s. It is a popular pet, as it is relatively calm and has a melodic song, and is sometimes called the green singing finch.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

The black-crowned night heron (called an auku'u in Hawaiian) is a medium-size wetland bird that is found throughout the Hawaiian islands. These herons are relatively short in stature (28 inches), and hunt streams, ponds, marshes, and tidal pools, where they hunt for fish, crustaceans, frogs, and insects. Their nests are made of sticks, set in trees, and they often roost in large groups.

Photo credit: Alain Carpentier

Short-Eared Owl

The endangered Hawaiian short-eared owl is called a pueo in Hawaii. Unusual for an owl, the pueo is active during the daylight hours, and its habitat ranges from open, grassy areas to mountainous zones. Much of the owl's diet today is comprised of animals introduced to Hawaii: rats, mice, and small mongooses. The males perform flying acrobatics when courting females; this is known as sky dancing.

Photo credit: Dario Sanches

Wild Goat

The wild goats found in Volcanoes Park are not native to Hawaii; their first recorded appearance in the islands was in 1778, when Captain James Cook's sailors released goats into the wild. The goat is an extremely adaptable animal; it will consume what other animals reject and thrive in many climates, and it has had too great a success in Hawaii for the environment's good. Many efforts to control the goat population and protect rare native plants from grazing have occurred over the years; the introduction of fencing around the park to keep goats out has helped many native plants to recover.

Hawaii Volcanoes

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Hawai'i's Volcanoes National Park, located on the big island of Hawai'i, is a monument to the results of at least 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution in the Hawaiian Island–Emperor Seamount chain. Featuring unique ecosystems, the park was designed to preserve the natural setting of the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, and is a refuge for "native Hawai'ians" like the hawksbill turtle and the short-eared owl. The park's boundaries protect seven ecological life zones consisting of seacoast, lowland, mid-elevation woodland, rain forest, upland forest, and woodland, sub-alpine and alpine/Aeolian. You may also witness a volcanic eruption at the Jaggar Museum overlook and other vantage points at the summit of Kīlauea, which provide views of Halema'uma'u Crater. Halema'uma'u has been erupting consistently since the crater became active again in March 2008.

Fun fact: If you want to see carnivorous caterpillars and happy face spiders, this is the place for you!

Explore more of Hawai'i's Volcanoes National Park Here

Northern Long-Eared Bat

The Northern long-eared bat is a solitary brown bat with unusually long black ears that is found in the northern United States and southern Canada. Long-eared bats are the only mammals that can fly, and subsist on a diet of moths, beetles, insects, and flies. Their eyesight is not keen; they use "echolocation," which is similar to radar, to find their prey, and they hunt for a few hours after sunset and before sunrise. In summer, they roost during the day in hollow trees or under bridges. In winter, they hibernate in caves or abandoned mines. Females roost in "maternity colonies," and each gives birth to a single "pup," which is dependent on its mother until it can fly on its own.

Photo credit: Phil Swanson

American Marten

The American marten, a member of the weasel family, is a forest-dwelling carnivore native to northern North America. Martens weigh up to three pounds and grow up to two feet long. They have short legs and bushy tails, and range in color all the way from pale buff to near black. Their large footpads help them travel across deep snow. They can also travel beneath snow when necessary. Martens hunt and consume voles, squirrels, mice, and birds. In summer, they add fruits, berries, and other vegetation to their diet. The marten was prized in the past for its silky fur, and its curious nature often led it into traps, so its population was greatly reduced, although it is not currently listed as endangered.

Gray Wolf

The gray wolf, also known as the timber wolf, is the largest of the canids and the ancestor of the domestic dog. Wolves have exceptional hearing and communicate with howls and yips. Gray wolves form strong social bonds and live, hunt, and travel in groups of four to seven, called packs. A pack is made up of a male and a female, their pups, and other young or lower-ranked wolves. Packs require large territories, so wolves need to cover a lot of ground. They can lope for miles and sprint when hunting. Their prey includes deer, elk, moose, and caribou; they also eat smaller mammals and carrion. The gray wolf is endangered.

Photo credit: Gunnar Ries Amphibol


The moose is the largest member of the deer family. A bull moose can weigh up to 1,400 pounds and stand as high as a horse. Adults are generally dark brown, and bulls have huge flat antlers. Both bulls and cows have a large dewlap under the chin called a "bell." Their big ears enhance their keen hearing; they are strong swimmers and swift runners, hitting speeds up to 35 mph. Their habitat includes forest and swamps, where they consume aquatic vegetation and browse on plants, bark, twigs, and buds. Moose are solitary and do not live in herds.

Red Squirrel

The red squirrel has the rusty-red fur it is named for, with a white underbelly. In winter, they sport long tufts on their ears. Small, forest-dwelling squirrels, they are about the size of chipmunks. These lively animals are known for their chattering and territoriality, and also for the variety of foods in their diet: Not only do they eat the usual acorns, nuts, seeds, and berries, red squirrels also consume mushrooms, including some types that are poisonous to humans. Amazingly, these squirrels create maple sugar by biting maple trees and letting the sap evaporate to leave a tasty residue of sugar.

Photo credit: Cephas

Northern Red-Bellied Snake

The Northern red-bellied snake is nonvenomous, and has a gray-brown back with four dark stripes, and a coral to reddish-orange underside. It is viviparous, meaning it gives birth to live young. The preferred habitat is in wet woodlands, though they are also found in backyards and gardens. As their diet is largely earthworms, snails, and slugs, they are welcome garden guests. Many hawks and other birds prey upon them and when threatened, they exude a foul odor and play dead.

Photo credit: John Wilson


The mudpuppy, also called a waterdog, is a brown or gray four-legged, aquatic salamander that can grow to be 16 inches long. Mudpuppies live underwater and absorb oxygen both through their gills and their skin. Their preferred habitat is in ponds and streams that have rocks, vegetation, or logs to hide under, and their diet consists of snails, worms, crustaceans, especially crayfish, and small fish. Herons, snakes, and large fish prey upon them. The mudpuppy is said to have gotten its name because it makes a barking sound, but this seems to be folklore, as its vocalization is mostly squeaks.

Common Loon

The common loon is an aquatic bird with red eyes, a black head, and a sharp, blue-black bill; its plumage varies during breeding season. Loons can live in fresh and saltwater, and are excellent divers, plunging as deep as 200 feet. Their diet is primarily fish, although they will also eat worms, crustaceans, insects, and aquatic vegetation. Loons like to nest on islands to avoid predators, but their eggs and young are still vulnerable to gulls, crows, turtles, and other hunters. Loons are famous for their high, eerie calls, often heard echoing across the water during breeding season, when they are most territorial.

Photo credit: John Picken

Isle Royale

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Surrounded by Lake Superior, Michigan's Isle Royale is a rugged, isolated island, home to many wolves and moose. Designated as a biosphere reserve in 1981, Isle Royale is part of a program designed "to protect examples of the different ecosystems of the world and to encourage research." It was chosen for its unspoiled nature and to represent the northern lake forest biome. Isle Royale preserves 132,018 acres of land federally designated as wilderness in 1976. The park consists of one large island surrounded by more than 450 smaller islands, for a total area of 850 square miles that are perfect for hiking, kayaking, and even scuba diving. Isle Royale is also the site of an ecological study of wolves that is the longest-running large mammal predator-prey study on Earth.

Fun fact: All members of the Isle Royale wolf population are descended from a single female, who arrived on the island during the late 1940s.

Explore more of Isle Royale National Park Here

Winter Wren

The winter wren is the smallest of the wren family and the darkest in color, overall a darkish brown with barred flanks and a small white "eyebrow." It has a short tail, which it carries cocked up, and a thin beak that is useful for foraging in crevices. Winter wrens eat insects, larvae, and spiders, which they find in the undergrowth of the dense evergreen forests they prefer in summer. They are remarkable for their song, which is a long, complex, and high-pitched series of trills and buzzes.

Photo credit: Shanthanu Bhardwaj

Common Raven

The common raven is often confused with the crow, although ravens are larger and have deeper voices and heavier bills. This raven lives mainly in mountainous areas, although it is comfortable in other habitats, and can soar like a hawk and do flying acrobatics. Common ravens are primarily scavengers, and are known to raid seabird nests for eggs. Ravens are known for their intelligence.

Photo credit: David Hofmann

Mountain Lion

The mountain lion (also known as a puma, cougar, or catamount) is a large, pale-brown member of the cat family; an adult male can weigh up to 275 pounds. Mountain lions are solitary hunters and great climbers, and can jump up to 20 feet. They are carnivorous and hunt mostly large mammals, especially deer, but are not picky about their diet as they will consume anything from beavers to grasshoppers. Mountain lions have a number of vocalizations, and their mating call has been described as a caterwaul that sounds like a woman's scream. They are threatened by loss of habitat.


The hellbender is a giant, aquatic salamander native to eastern North America that can grow up to two feet in length. Hellbenders live around large rocks in swiftly moving water and subsist on a diet of crayfish and small fish. They have lungs but mostly absorb oxygen through their skin, which is why they need moving water. They are a long-lived species, reaching almost 30 years in captivity. The origin of the name "hellbender" is unclear, but they have a number of equally unusual nicknames, including "devil dog," "Allegheny alligator," and "snot otter."

Photo credit: John Wilson

Synchronous Firefly

The synchronous firefly (fireflies are also known as "lightning bugs") is essentially a beetle that is capable of bioluminescence, which is the production of light by a living organism. The fireflies flash their lights from a "lantern" on their underside, as part of a mating display. Females generally flash from a fixed position, while the males flash on the wing. While most fireflies flash intermittently, the synchronous firefly can adjust its flashing to be in unison, and is the only one in North America that can do so. Flashing occurs only during the two-week-long mating season.

Photo credit: Bruce Marlin

Northern Water Snake

The Northern water snake comes in a variety of colors, from reddish brown to black; they darken as they age, and the older they are, the darker their color becomes. The adult is about four feet long, and lives in many watery habitats, from streams and ponds to canals and lakes. Their diet consists of fish, leeches, frogs, and salamanders; they will also consume small birds and mammals, especially mice. They are preyed upon by many other animals, including raccoons, foxes, birds, and other snakes. If you pick up a Northern water snake, you are likely to regret it: not only will they bite (though they are not venomous), their defense mechanisms include releasing a foul-smelling liquid called "musk."

Photo credit: Beades

Rainbow Trout

The rainbow trout is a member of the salmon family and is a colorful, torpedo-shaped fish; the trout is generally greenish in color with a stripe of pink on its sides, a white belly, and an abundance of small black spots. Rainbows can grow as large as four feet long and weigh more than 50 pounds. Their diet consists of insects, small fish, and crustaceans, and they live in clear, cool water, mostly streams and lakes. Some, however, will swim from a river into the sea and spend a portion of their lives in salt water; these fish turn more silvery in color and are referred to as "steelheads." Rainbows are widespread in North America, and are found in all but three U.S. states.

Great Smoky Mountains

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. These ancient mountains and forests are home to diverse plant and animal wildlife and also preserve Southern Appalachian mountain culture. This is America's most visited national park. Funds to buy the land that became Great Smoky Mountains National Park were raised by individuals, private groups, and even schoolchildren who pledged their pennies. Thanks to these generous, forward-thinking people, the American black bear, mountain lion, and hellbender salamander are protected within this densely wooded preserve. In fact, Great Smoky Mountains is known as the "salamander capitol of the world," and the American black bear is the official symbol of the park. Spanning over 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, this park is the habitat where more than 17,000 species thrive. Scientists believe that an additional 30,000–80,000 species may live here as well. About 1,500 black bears can be found here (all black bears in the park are black in color, but in other parts of the country, they may be brown or cinnamon).

Fun fact: The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world, formed perhaps 200–300 million years ago.

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Florida Panther

The rare Florida panther is a shy subspecies of the cougar, and has been listed as endangered since 1967. It is a yellow-eyed cat with tan fur, a white underbelly, and black tips on its ears and tail; females weigh up to 100 pounds and males up to 160 pounds. Its current habitat is small, primarily limited to Florida's Everglades, Big Cypress National Reserve, and in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Reserve. Florida panthers are carnivores that hunt and eat animals including mice, hare, feral hogs, and white-tailed deer, and birds that range in size from geese to storks. Alligators prey on the panther; their other threats include humans (especially people driving cars) and loss of habitat. The Florida panther was named the state's official animal in 1982.

West Indian Manatee

The endangered West Indian manatee is a large, grayish-black marine mammal that lives in warm, shallow waters; it is an herbivore and spends much of its waking hours grazing on sea grasses and other aquatic plants. Adult males can weigh up to a massive 3,500 pounds. Females nurse their young underwater for up to two years. Manatees are gentle and slow moving; they are torpedo-shaped, with a pair of dexterous front flippers, and they propel themselves by undulating their bodies. They are frequently injured by boat propellers and are gravely threatened by loss of habitat and collisions with boats.

Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron is a large, long-legged wading bird, and stands up to 54 inches tall, making it the largest of the North American herons. Despite its size, the great blue tips the scales at only five to six pounds, because its bones are hollow. Its plumage is a striking bluish-gray, with a black stripe near the eyes and a black-and-white striped crown; its beak is long and strong. This heron has a wide habitat and is found throughout North America but is always found near water, salt or fresh, where it hunts primarily for small fish, although it will also feed on crabs, shrimp, insects, frogs, and even small rodents, reptiles, and birds.

Photo credit: Alan D Wilson

Nine-Banded Armadillo

The nine-banded armadillo is the only North American mammal with armor-like plates; it was given its name by Spanish conquistadors, who described it as a "little man in armor." It grows to weigh about 17 pounds and has nine (or fewer) bands around its body that allow it to curl into a ball when threatened. The armadillo lives in burrows and can dig quickly; it can also swim when necessary and even walk while underwater. The armadillo digs in rotting logs and vegetation for insects; it also consumes crayfish, amphibians, bird and reptile eggs, and sometimes carrion. Relatively little is known about the solitary Seminole bat. It is a small mammal, less than five inches long, with rounded ears, and has chestnut-brown fur with a light silver frosting. The Seminole bat is found where Spanish moss grows, and it often roosts in the moss or in pine trees during daytime, hanging three to five feet above ground in a downward position. It hunts at twilight, and its diet includes bugs, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, crickets, and dragonflies. It is found mostly in the American Southeast.

Great Egret

The great egret, which can grow to be more than four feet in height, is one of the largest and most impressive of the wading birds. It is a silvery-white bird, with black legs and feet and a yellow bill. A migratory bird, the great egret generally flies south in winter, where it roosts in colonies and builds large nests made of sticks. It uses its long bill as a spear and will stand motionless in shallow water waiting for its prey to swim within reach. Its diet consists of fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally insects and small reptiles.

Photo credit: Googie Man

American Crocodile

The American crocodile is a large, gray-green reptile with a yellow-white underside. Males can grow to a whopping 20 feet in length, and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They eat widely, and their diet includes fish, turtles, snakes, crabs, and small mammals. Females lay 20 to 60 eggs in large nests; incubation takes about 85 days. Crocodile hatchlings are able to hunt for themselves in a short time. American crocodiles are found in Florida, Mexico, some Caribbean islands, and South America, and have a lifespan of between 50 to 70 years.

Photo credit: Tomás Castelazo

Red Snapper

As its name implies, the red snapper is a bright red or dark-pink fish, with red eyes to match; it turns a silvery-white on the lower body. It can grow up to three feet in length, though is generally smaller than that, and is found in deep water over rocky bottoms and near caves and crevices. It feeds on mollusks, crabs, small fish, octopus, and shrimp. The red snapper is regarded as a delicious fish and thus has been a victim of overfishing; it is hoped that instituting catch limits and cutting down the length of the fishing season will help its population to recover.

Everglades National Park

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Famed as "the River of Grass," Florida's Everglades National Park is nearly 1.5 million acres in size, and the habitat for rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther. Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and also holds the largest continuous stand of saw-grass prairie in North America. White-tailed deer, apple snails, muskrats, and alligators are just some of the species of Florida wildlife that utilize the saw grass to survive. Less than 100 Florida panthers are estimated to live in the wild today.

Fun fact: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who gave the park its "River of Grass" moniker, was a famed journalist, suffragist, and environmentalist who took an important role in the conservation and protection of the Everglades when she was 79 years old, fighting against efforts to drain and reclaim the land.

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Army Cutworm Moth

Though they're only about 1 inch long and 2 inches wide, the army cutworm moth plays a vital part in Grand Teton's ecology. The moths feed on and pollinate park flowers; however, it is their role in the grizzly bear's diet that is perhaps its most essential. Each summer, the moths migrate from the meadows to the much cooler alpine forests of Grand Teton in search of flower nectar, feeding by night and resting under rocks in the heat of the day. During their feeding season, the army cutworm moths' body-fat stores more than double, making them a nutritious protein-filled meal that helps grizzlies prepare for hibernation. In late summer, grizzly bears can spend most of their days eating these moths, gorging for more than a month. It is thought that grizzlies consume nearly half their yearly calories during these moth-filled feasts.

Army cutworm moths have a one-year lifespan. Adult females lay eggs in the soil in late fall, where the larvae undergo several life-stage changes (called instars) underground over the winter. Army cutworm caterpillars are considered pests, as they emerge briefly in early spring and band together in an organized fashion (like an army) to feed on commercial crops like alfalfa, barley, and wheat. The cutworm larvae return to the ground to pupate, emerging as adults in early summer, then migrate to the alpine forests to begin the cycle anew.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado

Carrion Beetle

Their livelihoods are far from glamorous, but carrion beetles provide a valuable service within Grand Teton. As the name suggests, these beetles dine on dead and decaying animal carcasses, hastening the decomposition process and returning minerals from the animal's body to the earth, making the soil more nutritious for new plant life and the animals that feed on it. This natural sanitation crew also helps keep the fly population in check. As carrion beetles feed on carcasses, they dine on the fly larvae deposited in the body, too. Also known as "burying beetles," these insects often bury their meals, wiggling under carcasses with their flat, flexible bodies, eventually removing the soil underneath then covering the carcass. This not only helps the beetles save a meal for themselves, but it gives their eggs, which they lay in the carcass's flesh, a greater chance of survival. Carrion beetles come in a variety of colors, ranging from a plain black or brown to having a black body and light green shoulders adorned with a black spot or a black tip with a red stripe running across the middle of its body. They have a powerful sense of smell. Using olfactory organs on their antennae, they can hone in on a meal from more than a mile away after only an hour of death. In the absence of an animal meal, carrion beetles will also dine on dead insects and fungi.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, James Lindsey's Ecology of Commanster Site


Ospreys are the pescetarians among the raptors—99 percent of their diet is composed of fish. Not surprisingly, they're excellent fishers, thanks to a special foot anatomy: Their curved claws, reversible outer toe, and barbed sole pads help them catch and grip slippery fish seemingly midflight. Often mistaken for bald eagles, ospreys have dark brown feathers on top of their bodies with pure white feathers underneath and have an M-shaped wingspan. Ospreys live near water and like to build nests of large sticks on manmade structures like telephone poles, duck blinds, and channel markers. These powerful birds can log as many as 160,000 migration miles over their 15- to 20-year lifespan, as they fly to and from their wintering grounds in South America.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Hans Stieglitz

Snake River Cutthroat Trout

Sport fishing is world renowned in Grand Teton, thanks to the wide variety of fish in the park's waters, but it's the trout fishing that really brings the anglers and fly-fishers in. Of the five trout species living in Grand Teton, only the cutthroat is native to the park. Named for the reddish-orange slash under its jaw, the cutthroat trout has a brownish-yellow body with a greenish-bronze sheen and is covered with fine, dark freckles. It survives on a diet of plankton and aquatic insects, and even small fish and crawfish. Snake River cutthroat trout spawn in smaller streams and tributaries during late March to early July, repopulating their numbers depleted in the fishing season via natural reproduction.

Photo credit: Pat Clayton, Fish Eye Guy Photography

Trumpeter Swan

Weighing in at nearly 30 pounds with wingspans of 6 to 8 feet, trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl native to North America. Male (known as cobs) and female (called pens) swans form pairs by four years old and often mate for life. Named for their honking, bugle-like sound, these birds were once hunted for their skins, and their large flight feathers were prized as high-quality writing quills. By 1935, only 69 individuals were known to exist—but the population has steadily increased, thanks to recent conservation efforts. You can find them in the waters near Oxbow Bend, Flat Creek, and the aptly named Swan Lake, feeding on submerged aquatic vegetation and invertebrates. Each year, adult trumpeter swans lose all their feathers for one to two months, usually during July and August. During this molting process, the birds cannot fly.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Dick Daniels

Uinta Ground Squirrel

Resembling a small prairie dog, the Uinta ground squirrel is one of the most common animals spotted in the park—but only for a short time in the summer. These brown, furry creatures spend nine months of the year hibernating, surfacing from their meadow and grassland burrows in the spring to mate and gather essential nutrients needed for their long annual rest. Uinta ground squirrels feed mostly on vegetation and seeds but will also eat the occasional insect or morsel of meat. They stock their hibernation burrows with seeds. These members of the rodent order live in large, matriarchal colonies, and males keep clear of female ground squirrels' territory after mating season. The Uinta ground squirrel is prey for many animals in the park, such as badgers, weasels, and raptors.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Mscalora

Wandering Garter Snake

Because of the cold temperatures in Grand Teton, there are very few reptiles that live in the park—one species of lizard, the sagebrush lizard, and three species of snake: the rubber boa, the valley garter snake, and the wandering garter snake. Like other garter snakes, the wandering garter snake is riparian, or lives near lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. However, the wandering garter is not as dependent on water as other garter varieties, perhaps giving rise to its name. These snakes have a relatively subdued palette—usually gray, brownish, or greenish—with one center-back and two dorsal stripes in a light yellow. Wandering garter snakes are active in daylight and have a varied palate, dining on amphibians and their eggs, fish, birds, small rodents and snakes, as well as lizards, slugs, and snails. They have toxins in their saliva that are lethal to prey but aren't harmful to humans. Wandering garter snakes can give birth to as many as 20 young in late summer or early fall.

Photo credit: Public Domain, James Bettaso

Western Tanager

If you'd expect to find such a brightly colored bird in the tropics, you'd be right—western tanagers spend their winters in central Mexico and sometimes as far south as Costa Rica and Panama. However, each summer, you can find these finchlike birds in the alpine and coniferous forests of Grand Teton, up through Alaska and western Canada, for their breeding season. Western tanagers are monogamous breeders, producing three to five eggs each year, which the female incubates for two weeks. Both parents care for and feed their young. A male western tanager has a bright yellow body with a red head and black wings with light yellow stripes. The female has a bit more subdued yellow, olive, and black palette. Their diet is composed of fruits, berries, and insects.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Kati Fleming


Fierce and fearless, wolverines are solitary creatures and prefer a large, undisturbed home range in alpine and boreal habitats, as well as tundra and open grasslands. Males mark their territory with their scent, and though they will sometimes share it with females, they'll defend it against trespassing males. Wolverines are opportunistic feeders, dining on whatever food is available—from plants and berries to carrion leftover from a larger hunter's kill. (Their scientific name Gulo-Gulo comes from the Latin word for "gluttony.") They do have a taste for meat, though, and, despite being no bigger than a medium-size dog, wolverines will take down animals as large as caribou if they appear weak or are mired in snow, thanks to forceful, semi-retractable claws and powerful jaws. Wolverines also have a keen sense of smell, and will occasionally hunt hibernating animals in their burrows during the winter. Sometimes referred to as a "skunkbear," this largest member of the weasel family is active all year round. Indeed, it is well equipped to tolerate the cold climates it prefers: Its short legs and wide paws help it navigate snowy terrain without sinking, and its thick, glossy pelt insulates it against freezing temperatures. In fact, wolverines were once hunted for their furs, drastically reducing the population. Despite conservation efforts, it is thought that only as few as 300 wolverines reside in the United States.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Zefram

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

This large burrowing rodent in the squirrel family (Sciruridae) is closely related to ground squirrels and prairie dogs. Sometimes called a "rock chuck" or groundhog (yes, Punxsutawney Phil is a type of marmot!), these furry, roly-poly creatures live in open habitats like meadows and pastures, digging their burrows more than 3 feet deep into the soft grounds. Marmots are herbivores, dining on grasses, herbs, grains, and legumes, and hibernate from September to May. Marmots dig their hibernation burrows much deeper than their regular habitats—up to 22 feet deep—to help insulate them against the cold. Marmots have a harem-polygynous system, where males defend and mate with a group of females, who then raise their offspring jointly within the harem. These diurnal (or active by day) animals also have a social alarm system: They chuck, whistle, and trill when alarmed by predators. These calls alert other marmots in the area to danger and tell them to return to their burrows for safety. The faster marmots trill, the more alarmed they are.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Yathin S Krishnappa

Grand Teton Park

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Wyoming; Established 1929 (mountain peaks and foothills) and 1950 (adjacent valley floor); 310,00 acres

Part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, Grand Teton's 310,000 acres is situated in the northwest corner of Wyoming, a little over 60 miles south of its more famous cousin to the north, encompassing Jackson Lake and part of the town of Jackson Hole. More than 60 species of mammals, 300 of birds, and countless insects make their home in the park's sagebrush, meadow, alpine, wetland, and forest communities. You can see some of the west's most iconic creatures here: Bison, moose, coyotes, black and grizzly bears roam the park, as well as herds of ungulates (or hooved) animals, such as elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.

Established in 1929 (the mountain peaks and foothills) and again in 1950 (the adjacent valley floor), Grand Teton's landscape is lovely and dramatic, with the jagged Tetons rising above morainal, or glacial, lakes. Even though the granite and gneiss (a type of metamorphic rock) that make up the Teton Range are some of the oldest in North America, the mountains themselves are among the youngest in the world. Visitors can explore the park's nearly 200 miles of trail, including the 40-mile Teton Crest Trail, as well as hike, backpack, boat, and ride on horseback. Grand Teton is renowned for its fishing, drawing anglers from around the globe to fly fish for trout on the Snake River.

Fun Fact: The coldest temperature ever recorded in Grand Teton is negative 63 degrees! Winters are long and snowy, and the park's mountains receive more than 400 feet of snow annually.

Explore more of Grand Teton National Park Here

American Kestrel

The smallest of the raptors (or birds of prey), the American kestrel is only about the size of a dove or blue jay, but far more powerful. This member of the falcon family is a graceful flyer and swift hunter, snatching small rodents, such as mice and voles, from the ground and pounding on large insects, such as moths and cicadas, in the air. Kestrels will sometimes hide extra food in tree cavities or among bushes, saving it for a later meal. The American kestrel is a lovely, colorful bird: The male has a slate blue head and wings with a rusty, black-spotted back and light cheeks (females do not have the blue feathers). They prefer to live in open woodlands with short grasses and nest in tree cavities, building crevices, or holes in land banks. Acadia has a HawkWatch location on Cadillac Mountain, where migrating kestrels and other raptors can be observed as they head to warmer areas in the fall.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Double-Crested Cormorant

These striking colonial waterbirds have black-brown feathers, with vibrant yellow-orange faces, aquamarine eyes, and a bright blue mouth interior. These gull-like birds spend half their days on the water, diving deep underwater to hunt for the fish and occasional insect or crustacean that comprise their diets. Cormorants are heavy-boned birds with powerful webbed feet that help them chase their meals underwater. The other half of their days is devoted to rest. Cormorants are often seen perched on shore and on docks and channel markers, holding their wings open to dry in the sun. They have less preen oil than other waterbirds, which causes their wings to get saturated with water. Though it seems like a disadvantage, this adaptation is thought to help them dive more effectively. During breeding season, adults develop a double crest of black or white feathers on their heads. Cormorants are monogamous and the breeding pair works together to build and maintain the nest, as well as incubate and care for the young.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, cuatrok77

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern chipmunks look as cute in real life as they do in Disney's Chip 'n' Dale cartoons; however, they do behave differently. While chipmunks are excellent climbers, they spend most of their time on the ground, where they forage for food and keep their burrows. These diurnal, or active-by-day, creatures forage for nuts, berries, acorns, seeds, and grains, as well as insects and mushrooms, hiding from predators among brush, rocks, logs, and other ground cover. They do not eat where they discover food, but stuff their finds into their large cheek pouches to carry to their burrows and add to their stockpiles, called caches. Eastern chipmunks' burrows are a series of underground chambers connected by tunnels: One chamber is reserved for sleeping and the others for food storage. These small creatures spend most of their days gathering food, especially in late summer and autumn. Though they are not true hibernators, Eastern chipmunks overwinter in their burrows, spending much of their time sleeping, but waking occasionally to feed from their cache. They do not put on additional fat stores before winter like true hibernators do. Eastern chipmunks live in open deciduous forests and the edges of woods, preferring beech and maple forests. They are solitary, territorial, and stick close to their burrows, which is usually in the center of their range.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Oleksii Voronin

Eastern Milk Snake

The Eastern milk snake is a nonvenomous constrictor that preys primarily on rodents and, occasionally, smaller snakes. These snakes are frequently found around barns. It is thought that these snakes get their name because they're often found around barns. It is sometimes rumored that they feed on milk from cows. This is not true. Eastern milk snakes frequent barns because that's where rodents are plentiful. These reptiles also live in fields, meadows, woods, and marshes, though they can also be found in older suburban and city environments. These slender snakes are generally about 2 to 4 feet long with a pointed tail. It has a beige-gray body with black-edged brick-red splotches along its back and sides and a black-and-white checkerboard underbelly. They often have a light-colored Y- or V-shaped mark on their heads. Eastern milk snakes are mostly nocturnal, especially in warm weather, though they are more active during the day as the weather cools.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Trista Rada

Harbor Seal

These pinnipeds (or fin-footed animals) are the most common seal species and can be found in shallow coastal waters throughout the northern hemisphere. They prefer cold though not freezing water, and are covered in a dense, slick fur that insulates their bodies and protects them from sun when on land. Harbor seals spend much of their time in water, fishing and diving for fish, squid, crustaceans, and mollusks. These seals are fast and agile: Their streamlined bodies help them move through water with ease and dive as deep as 1,400 feet. Harbor seals are mostly solitary; however, they do come together in large groups when they haul out, or move from water to rest for extended periods on shore. The seals haul out to rest, regulate their body temperatures, give birth, and molt, and it is thought that they do so in large numbers to protect themselves against predation. Harbor seals can grow as large as 300 pounds and 6 feet long (males are bigger than females) and can live as long as 30 to 40 years in the wild. Harbor seals are a protected but not a threatened species. The main dangers to the harbor seal population include commercial fishing gear entanglement, ship strikes, and increasing environmental pollutants present in the water.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Andreas Trepte

Northern Flying Squirrel

Nor ordinary city squirrel, this silky gray- and brown-furred member of the sciuridae family "flies" through the air with the aid of a fleshy flap of skin, or patagium, connected from their front wrists to their back ankles. Flying squirrels use this membrane to glide from tree to tree in the coniferous and deciduous forests where they make their homes. To make these spectacular moves, northern flying squirrels jump and catch air in these special membranes by stretching out their legs, using their tails as rudders to guide their course. An average trip can be as much as 60 feet! These nimble creatures are nocturnal, and use their very large eyes and excellent senses to help guide them in the dark, mainly among the treetops, as they rarely travel over ground. Northern flying squirrels dine on nuts, acorns, lichen, fungi, fruit buds, and sap, with the occasional insect or bird egg.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Red Fox

Vulpes vulpes is the Latin name for the red fox, which is the largest and most common of the vulpes species. They live in a wide variety of habitats, from forest, prairie, and tundra to deserts, mountains, and even more urban areas, and make their home on almost every continent. These resourceful and flexible creatures are omnivorous. They'll eat insects and fruit, but will also hunt, often pouncing high atop their prey. Red foxes mate in the winter and are often but not always monogamous. Sometimes, females (called vixens) will mate with a number of males but choose only one as a partner, or they will form breeding groups with one male and multiple females. This male will provide food for the mother and their young after they're born in early spring, though it never enters the maternity den. Red foxes raise young under a cooperative care system, with both parents and older siblings pitching in. Pups remain with their mothers until late autumn then strike out on their own. Despite this family structure, red foxes are mostly solitary creatures. They hunt alone and choose their territories, where they remain for life. Red foxes use a system of vocalizations, facial expressions, and even tail movements to communicate.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Daniel Hsia

Snapping Turtle

These solitary creatures live in fresh and brackish (a mix of salt and fresh) waters. Though they can tolerate extended periods on land, they spend most of their time in water, preferring muddy river, canal, and lake beds. They bury their bodies in the mud to conceal themselves from prey and wait until a tasty morsel happens by—then, snap! These prehistoric reptiles are omnivorous, dining mostly on aquatic vegetation, but also fish, amphibians, small birds, insects, and carrion. Snapping turtles have long necks and tails and webbed feet that they use to bounce along the bottom of waterways (they do not swim). They have smaller shells than other turtles so are unable to take shelter inside them as well as their brethren. It hardly matters, though, as snapping turtles are very aggressive and have few predators beyond the hatchling stage. Snapping turtles can become vicious if removed from water, but are generally very docile and shy once returned. They can live up to 30 years in the wild.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Lee J Cooper

Spring Peeper

True to their name, these 1 1/2-inch amphibians announce the arrival of spring with their chorus of nighttime peeps, which can be heard up to a half mile away. The males are solely responsible for this music. To make their signature sound, males inflate the vocal sacs under their chins until they resemble balloons. The peep is made when the air escapes the vocal sac. Male peepers will establish territories but compete in groups of three, with the deepest-voiced frog starting the competitive chorus. The louder and faster the peeps, the more attractive, though females do tend to prefer the larger males. Females lay their eggs in shallow ponds—laying as many as 800 to 1,000 eggs at a time. Native to eastern North America, spring peepers are tan or olive-brown with dark lines that form an X shape on their backs. They have large suction cup–like toe pads, which help them climb, though they prefer to stay aground, hiding in grass and bark piles. The frogs are quiet come summer and fall, and hibernate under logs or behind loose tree bark in winter.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Star-Nosed Mole

Its strange, octopus-like nose isn't the only extraordinary feature of this underground dweller. Star-nosed moles are nearly blind, but they're the fastest mammalian foragers on Earth, identifying and grabbing up prey within a quarter of a second. These unique creatures dine on invertebrates, from insects and their larvae to small fish, leeches, and mollusks, though it prefers earthworms. They find these delicacies by pressing their hairless snouts to the ground at a rate of nearly 12 times per second. The outermost of its nose's 22 fleshy appendages help it feel for prey, and the inner sensors help it determine whether it will make a good meal. The star-nosed mole is an incredibly accurate hunter. They're able to detect particles as small as a grain of salt in the soil, thanks to the sensory receptors and nerve fibers (called Eimer's organs) that cover its nose. These organs help it "see" underground by organs transmitting a 3-D picture of what it touches to its brain. Native to eastern North America, the star-nosed mole prefers semi-wet areas, such as marshes, peat lands, and coniferous and deciduous forests. It also lives near stream, lake, and pond banks, and can even sniff for prey underwater by rapidly blowing out air bubbles and sniffing them in again at five to 10 times a second. These animals have a stout, round body and strong, short forelimbs with long, curved claws, which help it dig and move through tunnels of moist earth with ease. When burrowing, this mole folds its nose tentacles inward to prevent soil from getting into its nostrils.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Acadia National Park

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Maine; Established 1919; 49,600 acres

The first national park to be established east of the Mississippi (in 1919), this coastal park located near Bar Harbor, Maine, encompasses 49,600 acres of forests and woodlands, meadows and marshes, lakes and ponds, and miles of rocky coast on Mount Desert Island. The granite peaks that rise above the mixed coniferous-deciduous forest tell of ancient times, when glaciers carved the landscape. Indeed, everywhere you look in Acadia, the past seems to be alive. Historic carriage roads cross Mount Desert Island, which was named by French explorer Samuel Champlain, who landed there in 1604. There are 17 original stone bridges, each with a unique design.

Though Acadia is one of the smaller national parks, it is one of the most frequented, especially during the summer. Visitors can hike some of its 120 miles of trails, bike along historic carriage roads, and climb cliffs to take in the park's spectacular vistas. The park also offers excellent bird-watching. You can find peregrine falcon nests among the cliffs or see migrating birds at HawkWatch on Cadillac Mountain's North Ridge Trail. Or explore Acadia by boating or visiting Isle au Haut, Cranberry Isles, or other offshore islands, or cool off in the brisk waters at Sandy Beach.

Fun Fact: Acadia is home to the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast, Cadillac Mountain, which is 1,530 feet high. The native peoples were called Wabanaki, meaning "people of the dawn," as it was thought that the sunrise reached Cadillac Mountain before anywhere else in the United States.

Explore more of Acadia National Park Here

Ashy Storm-Petrel

There are a small number of ashy storm-petrels in existence (only about 10,000), and the Channel Island National Park is home to half the world's population of them. (Others can be found nearby on islands off the southern Pacific coast of the United States and Baja Mexico.) The park's isolated location makes for an excellent breeding ground for these sensitive birds that are susceptible to environmental pollutions. Ashy storm-petrels are prey for rats, cats, and foxes, as well as larger birds, such as gulls, hawks, and owls. To limit their exposure to predators, these small seabirds only leave and return to their nests under cover of night. They feed on squid, small fish, and krill that rise to the water's surface after dark. Ashy storm-petrels make their nests in cliff crevices, rock burrows, and sea caves of offshore islands, congregating in colonies. They are listed as a species of special concern by California Department of Fish and Game, and conservation efforts have included the elimination of nonnative black rats that once lived on the islands.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Duncan Wright

Baja California Tree Frog

These color-changing amphibians are the only frogs native to the Channel Islands, living mainly on Santa Cruz, Catalina, and Santa Rosa islands, though they are also abundant throughout California and the western United States. These frogs change color based on fluctuations in heat and humidity, ranging from a bright green to cream, tan, brown, and reddish. It is thought that these palette fluctuations help camouflage the frog from its predators. The Baja California tree frog has minimally webbed feet with suction cup–like toes, which helps it climb trees. It lives in a wide variety of habitats, from forests and pastures to streams and woodland, even straying far from water outside of breeding season. However, these frogs need water to breed, as eggs are laid, fertilized, and incubated in the water, generally from November to July. Males begin the season by heading to water and calling for mates. Often, one male will act as a "chorus master," starting his calls, with others joining in to create a full chorus to lure females.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Kjfmartin

Channel Islands Slender Salamander

This endemic amphibian is found only on all the Channel Islands, except Santa Barbara. Resembling a dark worm with a tiny head and legs, this salamander is lungless, meaning it breathes through its skin. Because of this, Channel Islands slender salamanders require moist and humid (though not wet) environments to survive, making the Channel Islands, which are moderately cool most of the year and foggy in the summer, perfect for these creatures. The Channel Islands slender salamander feeds on a variety of invertebrates, including earthworms, slugs, millipedes, beetles, ants, and caterpillars. They live in burrows underground but cannot dig their own. They must use those abandoned by other animals, as well as manmade tunnels and natural crevices. Like other salamanders, these soft-skinned creatures can drop their tails if caught by predators and regenerate them.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Kaldari

Giant Black Sea Bass

This gentle fish truly lives up to its name: The largest among the giant black sea bass can grow up to 7 feet long and as heavy as 750 pounds. Fisherman once prized them as trophy catches, and the population reached dangerously low levels. In 1982, California banned both commercial and sport fishing of these spectacular beasts, and their numbers have steadily increased. They are known to be relatively docile, and will allow divers to approach them. Giant black sea bass dine on smaller fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. Adults are a dark brown-black with spots, and it is thought that they can alter their spot pattern at will.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Aquaimages

Island Fox

You'll only find the island fox on six of the eight Channel Islands, and each island represents a unique subspecies of this rare fox. Though the animal is the largest native creature to the Channel Islands, at 12 inches high and no heavier than 4 pounds, it is among the smallest canids (such as foxes, wolves, and jackals) in existence. Active by day and night, these relatively solitary creatures have few predators, so spend much of their time hunting, foraging, and scavenging for food. Island foxes are omnivorous, eating everything from prickly pear cactus, sea figs, and other fruit to insects, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals, such as deer mice. (Their preferred diet largely depends on which island they inhabit.) These foxes are relatively docile, perhaps because they have such limited exposure to humans. It is thought that these foxes were sacred to the native Chumash tribes. The foxes are featured in the Chumash folklore as pets of the sun and as dream helpers. These Native Americans also used fox pelts as part of their ceremonial dress.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Island Night Lizard

Despite their name, studies have shown that the island night lizard is most active at midday, feeding on insects and plants. These medium-size lizards are endemic to the Channel Islands, living only on Santa Barbara (the only island within park bounds), San Clemente, and San Nicholas. Unlike other lizards, the island night lizard has a very low metabolic rate. It grows and matures slowly but is particularly long lived—approximately 25 years. Island night lizards occur in a wide variety of patterns, ranging from mottled (the most common) to blotched, striped, oscillated, and plain. These markings help camouflage the lizards among the lichen-covered rocks and dense vegetation where they live. These lizards spend most of their time resting and, due to their low metabolisms, require little food. The island night lizard does not reproduce often, but when it does, the females give birth to live young, whereas most reptiles lay eggs.

Photo credit: Gary Nafis and

Island Scrub-Jay

The entire population of this brightly colored jay lives on Santa Cruz Island—the smallest range of any North American bird species—making it particularly vulnerable. It is thought that island scrub-jays have been endemic to Santa Cruz for more than 28,000 years. This curious, intelligent bird is similar to the western scrub-jay but is slightly larger with more vivid plumage and a big, sturdy bill. These landbirds make their nests among the chaparral and in the live oak forests of Santa Cruz and feed on everything from insects and snakes to mice and other birds' eggs. In the winter when food is scarce, island scrub-jays feed on and collect caches of acorns. These birds are territorial, rarely leaving their home ranges, and mate for life.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Bill Bouton

Scripps's Murrelet

Among the world's rarest seabirds, about a third of the world's population of Scripps's murrelets call the park home, primarily on Santa Barbara Island. These Pacific seabirds are related to auks and puffins, and, like their cousins, Scripps's murrelets dive and swim underwater to catch small fish and larval anchovies and sardines with the aid of powerful wing movements. These small black-and-white birds spend most of their lives in the deep waters of the Pacific past the continental shelf, coming ashore only to breed. When they do, they make their nests in rock crevices, but once their young are born, they rear them entirely at sea. The Scripps's murrelet is classified as a vulnerable species—but numbers have been rising, thanks to the eradication of black rats and feral cats on the Channel Islands.

Photo credit: Tommy Pedersen

Sea Lion

The protected shores of the Channel Islands are important breeding grounds for four species of pinnipeds (or fin-footed animals): northern fur seals, harbor seals, northern elephant seals, and California sea lions. Sea lions are smart, playful, curious, and social, making them engaging creatures to watch. They can often be seen on jetties, buoys, and piers, making a racket with their barking calls. California sea lions feed on fish and squid, grabbing them near the surface, though they can dive quite deep—up to 500 feet. Unlike harbor seals, sea lions have external ear flaps. Males can grow up to 8 feet long and as heavy as 1,000 pounds. Females are much smaller, topping out at 220 pounds. California sea lions are polygynous. During breeding season, which lasts from May through June, males set up territories and gather harems. They defend them strenuously, not even leaving to get food. Males will migrate as far north as British Columbia after breeding season, though females generally stick close to their home territories.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Calibas

Sunflower Star

Juvenile sunflower stars start off life with five arms, looking like most other sea stars. However, as they mature, they can develop up to 24 arms and grow more than 3 feet in diameter. These large, striking sea stars have soft, spongy bodies in a range of colors, including orange and purple. Unlike other starfish, which have a gridlike skeleton, sunflower stars' skeleton is made up of disconnected parts, which allows them to open their mouths wide to dine on prey. This skeletal adaptation is a boon to the greedy sunflower star. It is an active predator and one of the fastest-moving sea stars: It is able to move more than 3 feet in a minute, thanks to its 15,000 tube feet. This echinoderm (meaning spiny skinned) related to sea urchins and sand dollars lives near shore on the rocky bottom of the Pacific. It dines on sea creatures like cucumbers, urchins, and snails, as well as crabs, clams, and other sea stars, as well as dead fish and cephalopods. The sunflower star has relatively few predators, mainly king crabs and sea otters. Like other sea stars, when caught, the sunflower star can drop that limb and regrow it. An entirely new starfish can regenerate if the arm comes off with part of the central disk attached.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Sam Wilson

Channel Islands

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In the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California; Established 1980; 249,354 acres

Channel Islands National Park encompass five of the eight channel islands off the southern coast of California: Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa. Altogether, the park covers nearly 250,000 acres and the surrounding mile of ocean. (The Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary, established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, protects the 1,110 square nautical miles of ocean that surround these pristine islands.) Similar to the Galapagos Islands, Channel Islands National Park's isolation provides safe habitat for a wide variety of life. More than 2,000 species flourish in the park, 145 of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Indeed, some species of plants and animals are endemic to only one of the islands, such as the Anacapa deer mouse or Santa Barbara's orange-crowned warbler and horned lark. However, the park also has more endangered species that live within its borders than in any other national park.

This isolation from the mainland makes it one of the least visited national parks—visitors can only access the islands by boat or small plane—but the Channel Islands offer much in the way of wildlife watching and history. The park is the site of the oldest human remains in North America—the Arlington Springs Man, who lived some 13,000 years ago—and other important archaeological finds—in 1994, a complete pygmy mammoth fossil was excavated on Santa Rosa Island. It was also home to the Chumash Native American people, who have lived on these islands for more than 10,000 years. Visitors can also camp, dive, snorkel, and whale watch, or just take in nature's spectacular beauty in a quiet uninterrupted atmosphere. Whether you visit Anacapa, home to the largest breeding colony of brown pelicans in the world, explore Santa Cruz's Painted Cave, the world's largest known sea cave, you'll be forever transformed by the park's natural beauty.

Fun Fact: Channel Islands' waters are a great place to spot Earth's largest animal, past and present: the blue whale, weighing an average of 200 tons and growing as long as 100 feet. Park and sanctuary waters are home to the largest population of blue whales in the world—approximately 10 percent of the world's population gathers here in summer.

Explore more of Channel Islands National Park Here

American Black Bear

The American black bear is the only bear species living in Shenandoah (park officials believe they number in the hundreds). Unlike grizzlies, their burlier cousins, black bears have longer ears and a straighter muzzle and profile. Nor do they have prominent humps on their backs, like the grizzly. These forest dwellers are generally solitary creatures, though they will congregate at feeding sites and meet to mate. Mother black bears will also live with and care for their cubs for nearly two years, after which time the cubs establish territories of their own. Cubs are usually born in January or February, when their mother is dormant for the winter. Newly born cubs are near helpless, but they nurse as their mother sleeps and are ready to roam with her by spring. Black bears are most active at dawn and dusk, when they forage for berries and grasses, the fruit of oak and other forest trees—called mast—and herbs. They also dine on insects, fish, and a small amount of animal matter, mostly carrion. (They are not active predators but opportunists.) Bears will also seek out meals in garbage cans and campsites, driven by their keen sense of smell; this can be dangerous to both humans and bears, as man is their primary predator. During fall, black bears eat so intensely they gain one to two pounds per day.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Blacknose Dace

A member of the minnow family, these 2- to 3-inch fish can be found in freshwater streams throughout Shenandoah, feeding on insects, larvae, algae, mites, and worms. Though they are too small to be a sport fish, blacknose dace play an important role in the park's ecology. They are a major part of the brook trout's diet, but perhaps more critically, the presence of blacknose dace is an indication of stream health. Declining populations signal a change in the water's pH levels (they cannot tolerate low pH). Blacknose dace spawn in shallow, gravelly pools during late spring to early summer in nests the males and females make of pebbles. Females can lay up to 9,000 eggs. They exhibit little in the way of parental care once eggs have been laid.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Brian Gratwicke


The reclusive bobcat can be found all over the United States and Mexico—population estimates number 1 million in the U.S. alone. These solitary, territorial cats are well adapted to a variety of habitats, from deserts to swamps and forests to more urban environments, making their dens in hollow trees, rock crevices, or thickets. They are nocturnal, stalking the night for the rodents, rabbits, reptiles, larger ground birds, and poultry that make up their carnivorous diet. Bobcats, which get their name from their short, clipped tails, are relatively small cats—roughly double the size of a house cat—but are powerful predators. They can pounce on prey from a distance of nearly 10 feet, delivering a deathblow with a decisive bite to the back of the neck. Females give birth to about three kittens per litter, which they care for until they're just under a year. During that time, mother bobcats will bring their kittens live mice to give them hunting practice.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Forest Wander

Box Turtle

One of the five turtle species living in Shenandoah, this terrestrial reptile lives in marshy meadows, moist pastures, and open woodlands, often near streams and ponds. Box turtles—popular as household pets—are most identifiable by their colorful, high-domed upper shell, or carapace, in varying patterns of orange, brown, tan, and olive. Their lower shell, or plastron, is hinged, allowing it to close completely around the turtle, making it impenetrable to predators. These diurnal creatures spend their days lounging in the sun and foraging for flowers, berries, mushrooms (often poisonous), and catching slugs, worms, lizards, frogs, and snakes. Box turtles are primarily carnivorous when young but become increasingly herbivorous with age. During the summer, they restrict their activity to the cool morning, seeking refuge from the heat under logs, in mud, or in animal burrows. Those living in colder climates will hibernate from October through April, digging burrows into loose earth, sometimes alone, sometimes in a group. Females lay several clutches of eggs per season. The gender of the offspring is temperature dependent: Cooler nests yield male offspring, while slightly warmer nests make for females.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Cottontail Rabbit

With their gray-brown fur and white cottony tails, cottontail rabbits are the quintessential picture of a "bunny." These lagomorphs live on the edges of open fields and meadows. They're also found around farms and adapt well to more suburban environments. Solitary cottontail rabbits are herbivores, existing on a diet of grasses and produce, though they eat twigs, bark, and buds when fresh grass is scarce. They are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (active at night), spending their days napping and grooming while hidden among the brush. Rabbits have a short life span in the wild—only about three years. Their predators are hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, and humans, which they try to avoid by running from in a zigzag pattern called flushing. Cottontail rabbits are fast runners for their size, reaching speeds of up to 18 miles per hour.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Ragesoss

Downy Woodpecker

The downy woodpecker is the smallest and most common of all the woodpecker species. They're only 6 to 7 inches long with a 10-inch wingspan, and have white breasts and black-and-white backs that appear almost checkerboard. Males have a red back of the head. They are often confused with the hairy woodpecker, which looks very similar but is larger with a longer bill. Downy woodpeckers live in the open deciduous forests of Shenandoah year-round, preferring them to denser-growth forests. The woodpeckers in Shenandoah do not migrate, though they will change their home ranges with the seasons, often seeking out yards and suburban areas where there is suet to eat in the winter. (Downy woodpeckers are one of the few woodpecker species that will visit bird feeders.) In the wild, downy woodpeckers primarily eat wood-boring insects, bark beetles, and grubs, which protect the forests in the park from these damaging bugs. They supplement their insect diets with fruits and seeds. Woodpeckers are most distinctive for their drumming habit, seen in males. They peck into trees with their beaks to create a nesting cavity, find insects under bark (females will pry bark with their beaks rather than drum), and as a way for males to establish territory and maintain it. Woodpeckers are built for such heavy work: They have a built-in shock-absorption system to protect their brains as well as heavier skulls to withstand the impact.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Rodney Campbell

Shenandoah Salamander

The Shenandoah salamander is only found in Shenandoah National Park; in fact, it is only found on three mountain peaks within it: the Pinnacle, Stony Man, and Hawksbill. This federal- and state-declared endangered species live high (above 3,000 feet) in these cool, moist, and rocky peaks, spending much of their time hiding under leaves, stones, and fallen trees on the forest floor and coming out on damp nights to feed on insects and invertebrates. The Shenandoah salamander is a member of the Plethodontidae family of lungless salamanders that breathe through their skins. Thus, they require a damp, misty atmosphere. Though small, this rare amphibian plays an important role in the park's ecosystem: It helps keep insect populations in check, aerates the soil by burrowing, and provides a food source for other forest dwellers. Increasingly acidic soil and forest defoliation are among the main threats to the Shenandoah salamander population.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Brian Gratwicke

Timber Rattlesnake

One of the 18 snakes that live within the park, timber rattlesnakes belong to a group of snakes called pit vipers. These reptiles have heat-sensitive organs on the sides of their heads that are sensitive to radiant energy and body heat, making them incredibly accurate hunters even in the dark. Timber rattlers dine on small mammals, such as rabbits, voles, mice, and chipmunks, which they catch by striking to deposit venom. Like most snakes, timber rattlesnakes will swallow prey whole and digest it with the aid of enzymes. These rattlers are diurnal in the cooler spring and fall months but primarily nocturnal in the summer heat. Like all cold-blooded creatures, timber snakes depend on external factors to help regulate their body temperatures, so they must hibernate when the weather becomes too cold, generally from October to April. Timbers will hibernate in dens with other snakes—sometimes up to 60 in one! These snakes' rattles are actually loosely fitted scales at the end of the tail, which they shake when startled or to warn predators away. Timbers do not like to draw attention to themselves but instead prefer to remain hidden. Their venom is harmful to humans, but they will rarely attack unless provoked.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Rkillcrazy


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Virginia; Established 1935; 197,411 acres

Established in 1935, this nearly 200,000-acre park is dominated by the moody Blue Ridge Mountains of central Appalachia. This thickly forested range gets its name from the haze that enshrouds them—a result of oxygen given off during photosynthesis. The Blue Mountains are one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, and the once high and jagged peaks have eroded to rolling vistas over the billion years since their creation. More than 300 square miles of the Blue Mountain range lies within the park, and visitors can explore the mountains as well as the park's streams, wetlands, marshes, and swamps by hiking some of the park's 500 miles of trails—over 100 of which are part of the Appalachian Trail.

Shenandoah is an important stopover point for migratory birds. There are more than 200 resident and transient species found in the park, making it a haven for birdwatchers. The park's dense forest provides homes to more than 50 mammal species—such as black bears, deer, spotted and striped skunks, bobcats, raccoons, and groundhog—to over 51 reptile and amphibian species, including the Shenandoah salamander, the only federally endangered species in the park, which is found nowhere else in the world. History buffs will also find a lot to love about Shenandoah. Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson used his knowledge of the Blue Ridge Mountains to his tactical advantage, hiding among them and traveling lesser-known passages to conceal his troops' movements. And President Hoover's summer vacation home, Rapidan Camp, is open for visitors to explore.

Fun Fact: Skyline Drive is the only public roadway that goes through Shenandoah National Park. The 105-mile thoroughfare bisects the park, meeting up with the 470-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. These roadways connect Shenandoah with Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Explore more of Shenandoah National Park Here

American Badger

This member of the Mustelidae family (which includes skunks, otters, and weasels) is built for digging. Badgers can maneuver well in small spaces and have short, strong legs with larger front feet ending in backward-curved claws, a design that helps these carnivores burrow rapidly into the ground, primarily in pursuit of prey. Badgers dine on small rodents, such as ground squirrels, gophers, and prairie dogs and ground-nesting birds, by capturing them in their homes. It is thought that badgers hunt cooperatively with coyotes: Badgers dig for prey and coyotes chase and capture those that are flushed out. These otherwise solitary creatures sleep in the underground burrows they dig, and are not particularly territorial, moving from burrow to burrow often. Badgers prefer to live in dry open grasslands, fields, and pastures, and are becoming an increasingly rare species in Saguaro due to habitat loss outside the park's boundaries.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Jonathunder

Antelope Jackrabbit

Found only in Mexico and Arizona, the antelope jackrabbit is the largest hare in the western hemisphere. They get their name from the antelope-like way they move when running from predators, bounding and running in a zigzag pattern at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour and flashing a white patch of fur on either flank, which is meant to confuse. Antelope jackrabbits are nocturnal and crepuscular, spending the heat of the day resting in whatever shade they can find, usually in the shadow of a cactus or a bit of tall grass. These hares are well adapted to the hot, dry climate they inhabit. Antelope jackrabbits' fur is reflective and insulated to help deflect sun and heat, and their hairless, almost comically large ears (more than 6 inches high) function as a thermostat—they increase or decrease the blood flow to their ears as needed to help regulate body temperature. Antelope jackrabbits also require little to no water, getting all they need from the cacti, succulents, and other plants they eat. Jackrabbits can stand upright on their hind legs to forage for leaves, buds, and bark.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Nehrams2020

Cactus Wren

At about 8 inches, the cactus wren is the largest wren in North America and the state bird of Arizona. This brown bird with black and white markings is well adapted for its desert habitat. It requires little water, as these ground foragers get most of what they need from the insects, spiders, and fruit it eats. Cactus wrens also use the harsh plant life to their advantage, making their nests in spiky cactuses and thorny desert bushes. These clever birds protect their young by building decoy nests. Both the male and female wrens construct the breeding nest and, while the female incubates the eggs, the male busies himself building at least one other nest, which the adults will use only for roosting. If the breeding nest is disturbed, cactus wrens will vigorously defend it by pecking the potential predator.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Brent

Elf Owl

The world's smallest owl at no more than 6 inches long, this nocturnal creature can sometimes be seen at dusk, peeking from its nest made in former woodpecker holes or high in saguaro cactus cavities. Elf owls have excellent hearing and night vision and are nearly silent in flight, thanks to soft feathers on the edges of their wings. This makes the task of catching meals much easier. This diminutive creature eats insects, such as beetles and moths and spiders, which it catches both in flight and on the ground, and will occasionally dine on lizards and mice. Elf owls are prey to hawks, larger owls, and snakes. If captured, they will play dead in an attempt to let danger pass. Elf owls spend their springs and summers—primary breeding time—in the States, and migrate to southern Mexico to winter, from October to March.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, (on branch) Dominic Sherony and (in tree) BBODO


Also known as collared peccaries, javelinas look similar to pigs but are of an entirely different family. These coarse-haired creatures have long, sharp canine teeth, which can be seen sticking out from under their upper lips, and a lighter ring around the neck that appears to look like a collar. Javelinas live in large family groups, defending their territory—both sleeping and eating areas—together, increasing their chances of survival against predators like mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and humans. They have scent glands on their lower backs, which they use as an odiferous "how do you do." When two javelinas meet, they rub against each other head to tail, communicating via smell and sounds. These creatures are primarily herbivores, dining on cactus fruit, agave, prickly pear, tubers, seeds, mesquite beans, and occasionally on carrion. They are nocturnal in summer, extending activity into day during cooler months.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Wing-Whi Poon

Kangaroo Rat

Kangaroo rats are neither rats nor mice, but are closely related to pocket gophers. However, they do resemble the more familiar rodents, with small bodies, rounded ears, big eyes, and long tails. Kangaroo rats' back feet are fairly large, which helps them bound away from predators like their namesake kangaroo, leaping up to 9 feet. This member of the heteromyidae family has many adaptations that help it thrive in its desert environment. Kangaroo rats have very efficient kidneys to reduce water waste, concentrating their urine to a crystal-like substance. Nor do they require much water, if any, as they get the moisture they need from the food they eat, mostly mesquite beans and grass seeds, with the occasional small insect. Kangaroo rats forage for and collect seeds at night, stuffing their cheek pouches like chipmunks do, and bring them back to their burrow caches, where the seeds absorb up to 30 percent more moisture.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Mountain Lion

Also known as a cougar, puma, or catamount, these powerful cats blend into the desert landscape with their dun-colored coats. Mountain lions are fearsome predators that patiently stalk and pounce on prey from more than 20 feet away. Their main food is white-tailed deer and other ungulates, but they will also eat small- to medium-size mammals. Mountain lions deliver the deathblow with a bite to the back of the neck. Their jaws are so powerful that they can bite through something as tough as a tortoise shell. These crepuscular and nocturnal creatures will stash larger kills under brush and leaves, returning to it night after night to feed. Fiercely territorial, solitary, and shy, mountain lions need a large undisturbed home range.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Malcolm

Sonoran Desert Toad

Previously known as the Colorado River Toad, this 7-inch toad is one of the largest native to North America. Characterized by its smooth olive-colored skin, these toads have large parotoid glands behind their eyes that secrete defensive toxins when threatened. These toxins can paralyze and even kill an animal the size of a dog if not treated. Sonoran desert toads live in creosote bush desert scrub, grasslands, and oak-pine woodlands and are most active from May through September. They're nocturnal in summer and will hibernate in rodent or other underground burrows in winter. Sonoran desert toads feed on insects, mainly beetles, but also small animals and even other toads. They can live more than 10 years, and often double that time.

Photo credit: Public Domain

White-Nosed Coati

Also called a coatimundi, this member of the raccoon family has a long, ringed tail (used for balance) and a strong and flexible elongated snout, which it uses to turn up soil to find the snakes, lizards, grubs, and other invertebrates that make up its diet. Coatis are diurnal creatures, spending their days in the mountain and canyon oak and sycamore forests where they make their homes. They're excellent climbers, and will forage in treetops for berries and nuts, as well as bird eggs. Female coatis and their young will travel in large bands, sharing care for the young equally; males are primarily solitary.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Leofleck

Saguaro National Park

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Arizona; Established 1994 (first established as a national monument in 1933); 91,445 acres

Situated in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, this national park, established first as a national monument in 1933 and as a national park in 1994, is named for the largest cactus in North America. The park is divided into two districts, lying to the east and west of Tucson. To the east is the Rincon Mountain District (RMD), which, at 67,000 acres, is the larger of the two. RMD is a bit higher, wetter, and cooler, encompassing impressive saguaro forests, dense oak and pine woodlands, and mountainous terrain. The highest point in this eastern section is Mica Mountain, which is covered in a pine, juniper, fir, and aspen forest. Visitors can drive, bike, hike, or explore the RMD on horseback, sometimes spotting the bears, coati, and cougars that call it home. The Tucson Mountain District to the west covers 24,000 acres of more traditional desert landscape—hot and dry with sparse plant life. Still, it offers plenty for visitors to see and do, from viewing hundreds of ancient petroglyphs (or pictorial rock carvings) at the Signal Hill Picnic area, hiking desert trails, or learning more about saguaros at the Red Hill visitor center.

Spring is a popular time to visit Saguaro National Park, when the desert landscape shows off its more colorful side after the winter rains. Prickly pear, torch, and many other species of cacti put on a show—including the saguaro, which flaunts its waxy white and yellow blossoms spring nights from April through June—intermingling with desert poppy, lupine, larkspur, thistle, and many more. It's also a great time to glimpse the surprising array of animals that have adapted to living in such hot, dry conditions, from coyote, bats, and quail to roadrunners, tortoise, and black bear. The Mexican spotted owl calls this park home, as do unusual reptiles, from the gila monster to the regal horned lizard, plus rattlers and king snakes.

Fun Fact: The average lifespan of a saguaro cactus is 150 years, though they can live up to 200, with a 20-foot-tall saguaro weighing as much as one ton! There are more than 1 million of these giants growing within Saguaro National Park.

Explore more of Saguaro National Park Here

American Bison

This symbol of the great American west, bison, which were once so plentiful, nearly became extinct due to overhunting and habitat loss during the 19th century when settlers moved west. An estimated 80 million bison once roamed the Great Plains, and it is believed that by 1900, there were only 500 left in all of North America. Though the population is only a shadow of what it once was, these massive creatures' numbers have rebounded to the low hundred thousands. Often mistakenly called buffaloes (a related animal that lives in Africa and Asia), these massive mammals are the heaviest land animals native to North America, weighing in at around one ton and topping 7 feet tall. Despite their size, they are fast and nimble, running up to 40 miles per hour and jumping up to 8 feet high. Bison are ruminants—hooved, grazing animals that feed on grasses, shrubbery, and twigs, then regurgitate their food and chew it again. They're covered with a thick, wooly coat, which helps insulate them from below-freezing temperatures. Males and females live in separate bands but come together in large herds for the summer mating season. Bison's main predators are grizzlies, wolves, and humans. The best place to spot bison in Badlands is along the Sage Creek Rim Road.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

Named for their barking calls, these ultra social members of the squirrel family live in complex communities that are almost city-like in structure. Prairie dogs dig extensive underground burrows called towns or colonies, which often cover half a square mile—sometimes far more. These impressive compounds, accessible by holes in telltale mounds of earth, have many interconnected tunnels and rooms that have designated purposes, from nurseries to sleeping areas. Towns are divided into wards (like neighborhoods) and coteries (like houses). A family unit of a male, up to four females, and their young lives in a coterie. These diurnal creatures pack their days full of activity, alternately foraging for grasses, roots, and herbs; maintaining the burrow; and keeping watch for predators, such as critically endangered black-footed ferrets, as well as coyotes, bobcats, eagles, and falcons. When the lookout sees danger on the horizon, he will alert the community with a sharp barking sound, signaling all prairie dogs in the area to retreat to their burrows until an all-clear signal is given. Prairie dogs do not hibernate, but they do spend long amounts of time underground when the weather is cold. Once found in massive numbers, prairie dogs are considered a keystone species whose presence is critical to the park's ecology. They serve as prey to a number of species; many other animals use their burrows for shelter—from black-footed ferrets to snakes and burrowing owls—and they encourage habitat diversity by keeping vegetation growth in check. When the prairie dog population declines, the effects on the species that depend on them are readily apparent.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Chadh

Blotched Tiger Salamander

At around 9 inches, the blotched tiger salamander is the largest land-dwelling salamander. It is wide ranging and is one of the few salamanders that can tolerate Badlands' arid climate. These amphibians are brown, greenish, or gray with yellow splotches and live in burrows nearly 2 feet deep near ponds, lakes, and streams. Tiger salamanders dig their burrows themselves, as opposed to other species, which borrow other animals' former burrows. They hibernate from about October to April and prey on insects as well as small invertebrates and amphibians.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Carla Isabel Ribeiro

Cedar Waxwing

The cedar waxwing is a lovely bird with a silken appearance. Its stomach is yellow, as is the tip of its wing tail, with fawn-colored head and wings, a black mask, and bright red tips on the ends of its secondary wings that look as though they're sealed in wax. These social birds are colonial nesters and are almost always found in flocks, chattering and gregarious, in the open woodland habitats they prefer. Cedar waxwings are also known for their gluttonous appetites. A flock will descend on a cedar heavy with fruit and pick it clean in less than two days. Adults store food for their young in a special throat pouch, sometimes fitting up to 30 berries. They also eat insects and can catch flies on the wing. Cedar waxwings' social, playful behavior has been observed during these massive feedings. Sometimes, the birds will pass berries from one to another, up and down a row until one eats the fruit.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Minette Layne

North American Porcupine

There's no mistaking a porcupine for another animal. These prickly creatures are covered in tens of thousands of sharp quills—a unique defense against predation. These quills are intermingled with soft hairs and lie flat until the animals are threatened; then they bristle and stand on end. This member of the rodent order (the second largest in North America, next to the beaver) cannot shoot their quills, but they do detach easily—from the porcupine, at least. Unfortunate opponents that tangle with them aren't so lucky. The quills have barbed ends that make them difficult to remove. Porcupines can regrow quills that fall out. These herbivores are good climbers and have a taste for wood, bark, and stems, as well as fruit and leaves.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Mattnad

Prairie Rattlesnake

This 4-foot-long rattler is the only venomous snake living within Badlands National Park, and just one of nine reptile species that call the park home. These grayish-green or olive-brown snakes that have brown blotches on their backs have rattles, which are actually large, loose scales on the ends of their tails that sound a warning when shaken. Prairie rattlers are not especially aggressive and would rather avoid confrontation whenever possible. Still, they are deadly accurate hunters. A type of pit viper, prairie rattlers have a heat-sensing organ on their heads that helps them strike accurately, even in pitch-dark. Their fangs hinge to lie flat against the tops of their mouths. When a rattler strikes, it opens its mouth at a particular angle to engage its fangs, and then it strikes and injects its prey—usually small rodents—with venom, killing them quickly. As do other snakes, prairie rattlesnakes "smell" with their tongues, waving them in the air to transmit smells to an organ in the roof of its mouth called the Jacobson's organ. They give birth to live young (as opposed to laying eggs) and live in communal dens, often in other animals' burrows, such as those belonging to prairie dogs.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Ltshears

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

This large mountain sheep species is distinguished by the male's massive curling horns (females have short, spiky horns). These are not shed, like antlers, but continue to grow throughout the sheep's lifetime, reaching their fully curled shape by about 7 years of age. Males with the largest horns usually win mating rights with females, and many fights between males occur during mating season. Two rams will run at each other at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, and the clashing of their horns can be heard up to a mile away. These diurnal herbivores are well adapted to their rocky, mountainous habitat. They have split hooves with flexible soles to help them balance and climb, as well as excellent eyesight and hearing. Similar to bison, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were once widespread and populous, but numbers declined due to hunting and territory loss during westward expansion in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bighorn sheep populations also suffered as a result of diseases borne by the domestic sheep that ranchers introduced.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Townsend's Solitaire

This gray songbird found in the western mountains feeds almost exclusively on juniper berries, as well as the occasional insect. Junipers are so important to these birds that they will stake a claim to a particular tree by singing in it all fall and winter—peak feeding time—and viciously defending their territory against others. This member of the thrush family nests in the ground, along banks, or in hollow trees.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Jonathan Jongsma

Turkey Vulture

They're not pretty and the sight of them usually means something dead is nearby, but turkey vultures actually provide a valuable service. They feed exclusively on carrion, roadkill, and spoiling food from dumpsters, and by doing so reduce the amount of disease-causing rotting food and carcasses. Also called buzzards, these unglamorous birds are often mistaken for raptors on the wing. They're large, with a 6-foot wingspan (only eagles and condors are bigger) and can be seen circling above woods, farms, and countryside using their keen senses of smell and sight to guide them to their next meal. However, you can distinguish them from birds of prey by the slight V-shaped way they hold their wings when seen head-on, as well as their wobbly flight patterns. Turkey vultures rarely flap their wings, but instead ride thermals, or columns of warm air, to conserve energy. Their outstretched wings also appear to be two-toned wings when seen from below, due to their silvery secondary feathers.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Ingrid Taylar

Badlands National Park

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South Dakota; Established 1978; 244,300

Covering more than 244,000 acres of South Dakota 50 miles east of Rapid City, Badlands National Park is a living monument to the history of Earth and its inhabitants. Once the bottom of a sea bed 69 million years ago, the dramatic buttes, ravines, cliffs, and spires were built up by shifting environments—from sea to tropical landscape to open woodlands—until about 28 million years ago. They have been reshaped by constant erosion ever since. These lands boast one of the most plentiful collections of mammal fossil deposits in the world, dating from the Eocene and Oligocene Epochs (from 55.8 to 23 million years ago). Fossils such as camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats, creodonts, oreodonts, land and sea turtles, and a variety of marine mammals have been unearthed here. The Badlands are sacred to its original inhabitants, the Oglala Lakota (or Sioux) nation, which co-manages the South Unit (also known as the Stronghold District). It is home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; to Stronghold Table, where the last known Ghost Dance of the 19th century took place; and to Wounded Knee, the site of a tragic Native American massacre.

Called "mako sica" by the Lakota (translated as "land bad") and described by French trappers as "bad lands to travel across," Badlands was first established as a national monument in 1939 and later as a national park in 1978. Badlands weather is a story of extremes, so visitors should be prepared for searing summers, brutally cold winters (with little snow because of the arid climate), high winds, and sudden storms. However, visitors are rewarded by it beauty, and can explore the dramatic hills and surrounding mixed-grass prairie by hiking, biking, driving, or riding horseback. Roadways and hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous traverse the North Unit of the park, offering sweeping views from openings in the Badlands Wall, called the Door and the Window, or a high-soaring perspective from the Notch, which overlooks the White River Valley.

Visitors can learn more about the park's geology by traversing the Fossil Exhibit Trail or taking a guided ranger tour. Backcountry camping is also available, or guests might choose to delve deeper into the Lakota culture and history in the undeveloped South Unit. There's plenty to see in the way of wildlife, too: Bighorn sheep scale mountains and cliffs, while coyote, bobcat, bison, and porcupine roam the prairie. Prairie dogs are plentiful in the open grasslands. Badlands is also home to the black-footed ferret, a critically endangered species that is among the rarest in North America. Black-footed ferrets, along with bison, bighorn sheep, and swift fox, once lived here in great numbers but vanished from these lands. All have been reintroduced and populations are rebounding. Extended stays in and around Bandlands can include trips to nearby Mount Rushmore, Black Hills National Forest, and Crazy Horse Memorial.

Fun Fact: All the water in Badlands National Park is full of sediment. These particles have a slight electric charge, causing them to repel one another and therefore remain suspended in the water.

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Black Swift

Scientists are still discovering the habits of these elusive birds, but they do know that they nest in colonies on cliff and canyon walls and in caves behind waterfalls. They prefer a cool, moist climate and construct their nests out of moss. Black swifts lay just one egg per breeding season, and both the male and female care for their young. Spectacularly acrobatic flyers, these insectivores catch bugs on the wing, which they forage for from dawn to dusk and save in special throat pouches. They return to their nests at night to rest and feed their offspring. Swifts have been known to follow a swarm of insects for days. During that time, it is thought that the young goes into a state of torpor in which it lowers its metabolic rate so much that it all but appears to be dead. This helps the baby survive long periods with no food without starvation. It is believed that black swifts winter in South America, possibly Brazil.

Photo credit: Public Domain

Bull Trout

Not a true trout but a type of char in the Salmonidae family, the bull trout is native to Glacier National Park's west side. This sensitive fish requires cold waters of no more than about 58 degrees, even in summer, as well as large, pristine, unblocked, and connected waterways in which to migrate and spawn. Climate change, pollution, and nearby logging (which may block or shift waterways) are all threats to bull trout's sensitive environment. Indeed, the bull trout is considered threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Glacier's bull trout face competition from many nonnative fish (especially lake trout), which may have come in through migratory river paths or may have been introduced to draw sport-fishing enthusiasts. This grayish-olive fish with yellow speckles feed mostly on invertebrates and small fish. They spend their entire lives in the same water system, spawning in small streams and moving to larger open waters for the winter. The well-being of the overall bull trout population can serve as an indicator of the health of the park's waterways.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Jim Richmond


Also called Wapiti, a Native American word meaning "light-colored deer," these large ungulates are related to deer, moose, and caribou. Male elk, called bulls, can grow up to 6 feet tall, with their antlers reaching up an additional 4 feet. Bulls lose their antlers each March and regrow them by late summer, priming them for early autumn mating season by rubbing the protective "velvet" that covers new antlers off on trees. During mating season, bulls will compete for mating rights to a harem of females, or cows, by clashing and locking their antlers to establish dominance. These ruminant herbivores (grass eaters that chew cud) used to be plentiful across North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but their numbers declined due to habitat loss and excessive hunting. The majority of elk in the United States are concentrated in the northwest of the country.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Peter Massas

Harlequin Duck

Sometimes called "clown ducks," the male of this species appears to be elaborately painted with black-edged white bands and splotches over a deep slate-blue body with rusty red flanks. This hardy waterfowl lives primarily on fast-moving mountain streams and coastal waters, easily navigating and diving among the rough waters to find the insects, fish, mollusks, and other marine invertebrates that make up its diet. Though the males' coloring seems like it would make them conspicuous, their white spots actually help them blend in with the swift white-capping waters. Harlequin ducks communicate with an unducklike "eek-eek" type of squeak. These uniquely marked seabirds are listed as a species of concern in Montana, as their small numbers are easily affected by climate change and there is limited habitat within the state. Most that live within Glacier National Park can be found on McDonald Creek.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Darklich14

Mountain Goat

These majestic animals are not really goats, though they are closely related. Mountain goats are members of the antelope family and are native to North America. They are well adapted to their sheer and rocky mountainous territory, as well as the bitter cold they must endure. These powerfully built creatures have strong forelegs, which help them climb, and special flexible, split hooves with soft, rubbery soles that provide superior grip. They are covered with a woolly fur that becomes long and shaggy in winter and keeps them well insulated. Both sexes look similar (though females, called nannies, are smaller), with bright white coats and relatively short horns that curl back slightly, which they use to fight for mating rights and defend against predators. These crepuscular herbivores will travel good distances to find mineral licks in early summer, where they go to replenish the minerals lost over winter and spring grazing. In Glacier National Park, groups of mountain goats gather at the aptly named Goat Lick Overlook near the southwest corner of the park, where they will lick the exposed rock and clay for hours at a time.

Pygmy Shrew

This diminutive creature is thought to be the smallest North American mammal, weighing less than an ounce, or about as much as a dime. It has a pointed snout that helps it feel along the forest floor, where it spends most of its time looking for food. Though they may be tiny, pygmy shrews have large appetites. These crepuscular insectivores eat the equivalent of their body weight daily, digging in soft, moist soil for beetles, grubs, ants, and earthworms or tunneling in burrows made by other creatures.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, lil' big world (flickr)

Tailed Frog

Considered one of the most primitive frogs in North America, this amphibian's small, roundish "tail" is actually the male's reproductive opening, or cloaca, which occurs on the outside rather than on the inside of the body as in other frogs. These frogs are nonverbal, making no calls during mating season, and the tadpoles, which don't change into adults until the age of three or four, have large suction cup–like mouths. It is thought that these peculiar characteristics are actually adaptations, which help them thrive in the cold and swift high-elevation mountain streams where they make their habitats. It is unlikely that mating calls would be heard over the rushing waters. Similarly, tadpoles might be washed away in rapid waters if not for their ability to cling to rocks with their mouths. These amphibians do not migrate, and they feed on terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates.

Photo credit: Copryright ©1997-2005 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlif

Western Painted Turtle

Though the smooth dark green top shell, or carapace, of the western painted turtle appears somewhat drab, its lower shell, or plastron, really puts on a colorful show with its vivid red and orange markings. These omnivorous reptiles are the largest and most intricately patterned of all the painted turtle subspecies, spending their days scavenging for small fish, crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and aquatic vegetation in the slow-moving, murky-bottomed ponds, rivers, and lakes where they make their homes. Like other reptiles, western painted turtles are cold-blooded creatures that regulate their body temperatures through external means, so they spend great stretches of their days basking on partially submerged logs and rocks, soaking up sun. These sunbaths also help kill fungi and parasites the turtles pick up in the water. Western painted turtles do not migrate but hibernate in the winter, burying their bodies in mud, often under the ice.

Photo credit: Public Domain

White-Tailed Ptarmigan

This small grouse (a chicken-like bird) is the only type of ptarmigan with an all-white tail, hence its name. The white-tailed ptarmigan lives in alpine habitats and is well adapted for these brutally cold climates. It has feathered toes to help insulate its feet and seldom flies in the winter in order to conserve energy, instead roosting in snowbanks. In fact, warm summer weather seems to be harder on these birds than severe winters, and they do not migrate to southerly climes. White-tailed ptarmigans change their plumage seasonally, becoming mottled brown and gray to blend in with summer grasses and autumn leaves (though always with a pure white tail), and becoming completely white when the snows begin.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Footwarrior

Glacier National Park

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Montana; Established 1910; 1,013,572 acres

Called "Crown of the Continent" and "Backbone of the World," Glacier National Park is situated in the northwest corner of Montana, along the spine of the northern Rocky Mountains near the Continental Divide. Established in 1910, Glacier is the country's 10th national park, comprising more than 1,000,000 acres of alpine forests and meadows, mountains and lakes, wetlands and swamps, and active glaciers. The park borders Canada to the north, and together with Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park, they make the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, an international biosphere reserve and World Heritage Site. Much scientific research takes place here: Its intact ecosystem makes it perfect for conducting studies in a sustainable way.

Glacier National Park welcomes more than 2 million visitors annually who come in all seasons to enjoy this undisturbed swath of wilderness. Summer brings fields of wildflowers and is the most popular time to visit Glacier. The park has 13 campgrounds and more than 700 miles of trails for guests to hike, backpack, or explore on horseback. There are 131 named lakes (and possibly hundreds more) in the park for boating and fishing, and cyclists may bike up Going-to-the-Sun Road, which winds 50 miles through the park's wild interior. Though winters can be harsh, the park remains open for skiing, snowshoeing, and other cold-weather activities. But winter weather can come at any time of year—a snowfall of 8 inches over a night was recorded one August!

Glacier National Park also borders the nearby Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and St. Mary's Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the area's Blackfeet (who controlled this territory for most of the 18th and 19th centuries), Salish, and Kootenai tribes. Wildlife is abundant, with more than 60 mammal, 270 bird, and countless insect species (but only six species of amphibian and three confirmed species of reptile due to the cold). Visitors might glimpse bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, mountain goats, deer, moose, wolverine, gray wolf, lynx, elk, rare woodpeckers, osprey, and falcons.

True to its name, Glacier National Park is home to 25 functional glaciers (on at least 25 acres), far less than it once contained. Some scientists think that by 2030, no glaciers will remain in the park due to climate change. The park is also threatened by nearby strip mining, logging, and oil and gas exploration. However, conservationists are making great strides to preserve this pristine wilderness.

Fun Fact: Glacier National Park has had cameos in at least 35 movies, including Forrest Gump.

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