This is second part of what I hope will be a three-part look at identifying common animals in the Rocky Mountain region. This furry friends range from wolves to squirrels. At a later point, I plan on doing a list with birds, snakes, and other non-mammals. All photos from this post are borrowed from Wikipedia except the yellow-bellied marmot, prairie dog, and golden-mantled ground squirrel. Those ones are mine. Hope you enjoy!
Wolves are found in small patches throughout North America. The main areas in the Mountain West are the Yellowstone area and the Four Corners region. Like most of these animals, they were once much more widespread before the arrival of Europeans. Wolves are closely related to domesticated dogs. They have a face similar to a German shepard’s but with longer, shaggy hair. Color can range from white to black. They almost always travel in highly structured packs. If you see a wolf, chances are good that more are nearby. In fact, they can travel in packs of more than 20 at times. Wolves are carnivorous, but rarely attack humans. They will often travel 10 to 20 miles in one night to hunt. They usually live in forested areas.
Coyotes have spread across North America. They were once only in the West, but humans killing off wolves led to coyotes being able to move in and replace wolves in many places. Coyotes usually range in color from yellow to grey. They are usually smaller and sleeker looking than wolves. They are usually less than two feet tall, while adult wolves are usually taller than that. Coyotes have a more pointed snout. While wolves have smaller, rounded ears, coyotes have pointy ears that are bigger in comparison to head size. Unlike wolves, coyotes usually stay within a three-mile area unless to establish a new range or find new food sources.
Red foxes are found in almost every state. This may be because they are pretty good at avoiding hunters and predators. Foxes are renowned for their cunning. Foxes usually live on the edge of forests and open country. They are carnivores, like other canines. They are pretty unique in appearance and hard to confuse with other animals. A fox’s cheeks and throat are both white and the rest of the fur can range from yellow to a deep orange-red. Most foxes only weigh an unbelievable six to fifteen pounds. A common question is, “What does the fox say? Will we ever know?”
One of the most (mistakenly) feared wild animals in North America, along with bears and wolves, the Mountain Lion also boasts more names than perhaps any other animal. It has about 40 names in English alone, with the more common ones including puma, cougar, American lion, panther, and catamount. The mountain lion is found across the West and South, but has moved a bit into other regions recently. It was once found across North and South America. A full-grown adult can be seven to nearly 10 feet in length (including the tail). It has yellow eyes surrounded by black and has black on the muzzle with white around the mouth. Cubs have spots that disappear with age. The mountain lion is a solitary animal, except for a female and her young, and hunts at dusk, night, and dawn. They can have an individual range of up to 70 miles. Mountain lions are known to stalk prey stealthily. They can leap 15 feet up a tree, can sprint at up to 50 miles an hour (which is why you NEVER run from one), and can bound up to 40 feet while running. If you or someone in your group is being stalked by a lion, or if one approaches you, the protocol is very different than for a bear. Do not play dead. Stand your ground. Maintain eye contact. Try to look as tall and big as possible. Slowly wave your arms and talk loudly and firmly. Allow the animal time to retreat. If it does attack, fight back. Being killed by a mountain is extremely unlikely if you are an adult in good health.
The lynx is found in swathes of the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest states. An adult is usually well under four feet in length and about two feet tall. Its fur ranges from grey to tan. It has a large and pointy facial ruff (pointy fur on the sides of the face). Although the lynx looks very similar and is very closely related to the bobcat, it normally has longer legs and larger paws in proportion to its body, no spots on its body, longer ear tufts, and a black tip on its tail. Its feet are furry and make it hard to see the toe pads. Its feet act like snowshoes, allowing it to walk on top of snow. It prefers to hunt at night..
Bobcats are found all over the US except in swathes of the Midwest and inland South. The bobcat has shorter legs and smaller paws than the lynx, its coat is shorter and spotted, and it has a striped tail with a white end. It hunts most actively at night. Like the lynx, the bobcat is carnivorous. It has excellent eyesight and can move extremely fast.
The badger is found across the US except in the South and Eastern Seaboard. It is related to wolverines, weasels, otters and ferrets. It prefers grasslands and digs for its prey. It has huge claws, a stocky body, and is known for its “badges,” or black and white streaks on its face. The rest of the body is brown, white, and black.
North American River Otter
The river otter is found along waterways and coasts in the western and eastern states, but is absent in the Great Plains. It is an excellent swimmer and also hangs out on land. It lives in a burrow close to the water’s edge. It is carnivorous. It has brown fur, thick whiskers, a broad muzzle, stocky legs, and a long tail.
The beaver is found throughout most of the country and is easily recognized by its flat tail and webbed hind feet. It is mostly nocturnal. It’s common to see wood that has been worked by beaver teeth into a point. They commonly build dams. The beaver fur trade of the nineteenth century had a huge impact on the exploration and settling of the West by Europeans and Euro-American pioneers.
A few other common species include:
Related to weasels and minks, which are also common.
Also known as a “rock chuck.” Found in rocky areas and meadows of mountains.
The largest North American ground squirrel, found near the tree line in mountains. Also called the “whistle pig.”
Common ground squirrels that live in burrows in grassland environments.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
Notice the stripes do not continue on the top of the head like a chipmunk’s.
Uinta Ground Squirrel
American Red Squirrel