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Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park 

In the heart of the American West, a vast 2.2 million acres of pure wilderness stretch across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Imagine lush meadows, dense forests, alpine tundra, and steaming thermal basins all coming together to support a variety of wildlife. These natural marvels captivate visitors and play a crucial role in sustaining the park’s unique ecosystems. Buckle up for an adventure through one of the planet’s most captivating natural wonders!  

Yellowstone is unparalleled as a wildlife haven. It is one of the few places in the United States where you can witness large mammals roaming freely in their natural habitat. The park is home to one of the largest bison herds in North America, providing a glimpse into a time when these majestic creatures dominated the Great Plains.  

Yellowstone boasts the largest concentration of fauna in the lower 48 states, featuring nearly 300 species of birds, 16 species of fish, five species of amphibians, six species of reptiles, and 67 species of mammals, including seven native ungulate species and two bear species. This vibrant ecosystem thrives thanks to the diverse contributions of smaller mammals, reptiles, and numerous insect species. Beyond this impressive variety of small animals, Yellowstone stands out for its intricate predator-prey relationships among its large mammals, including eight ungulate species and seven formidable predators. Now, let’s dive into Yellowstone’s animal inhabitants organized by trophic levels.  

Fox walking

(Adam Brubaker – Tied to Nature)

Carnivores of Yellowstone  

Yellowstone National Park is home to a fascinating array of carnivores, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. Badgers are burrowing predators that primarily hunt small rodents. The park hosts two species of bears: grizzly bears, known for their strength and size, and black bears, which display colors from black to brown. Among the elusive cats are the bobcat, the Canada lynx, and the cougar, the largest cat species in the park. Coyotes are abundant, while gray wolves, reintroduced in 1995 after a 70-year absence, roam freely and play a crucial role in the park’s ecosystem. The long-tailed and short-tailed weasels (ermine) are known for their seasonal color changes. The marten and the river otter are members of the weasel family, with the latter being the most aquatic. Red foxes, the smallest of the park’s canid species, are known for their adaptability. Finally, the wolverine, a mid-size carnivore, is a rare and intriguing resident of Yellowstone’s remote areas. 

Black wolf

(Adam Brubaker – Tied to Nature)

Ungulates of Yellowstone 

Also known as hooved herbivores, they are present in Yellowstone National Park, showcasing the park’s rich diversity of wildlife. Among these herbivores, all native species found in Yellowstone are even-toed, while the odd-toed horses can also be spotted. With their massive size and iconic presence, Bison display behaviors reminiscent of their ancient ancestors. Bighorn sheep, known for their majestic curled horns, are primarily migratory within the park. Elk, the most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone, are known for their impressive antlers and distinctive bugling calls. Moose, the most prominent members of the deer family in Yellowstone, can be observed alongside their wet-nosed calves. While mountain goats are considered non-native, they still contribute to the park’s ecosystem, often spotted on rocky pinnacles. Mule deer, or the blacktail deer, are the exclusively western species in the park. The pronghorn, the surviving member of a group of animals that evolved in North America over millions of years, is another notable ungulate found in Yellowstone. Finally, white-tailed deer are more common on the East Coast and rarely seen within the park, adding to their allure and mystery in this unique ecosystem. 

Bison herd

(Adam Brubaker – Tied to Nature)

Rodents of Yellowstone 

Rodents play a crucial role in the Yellowstone ecosystem, serving as a primary food source for many of the park’s predators. Characterized by their continuously growing incisors, rodents maintain their teeth through constant chewing. The beaver is one of these rodents that significantly influences habitat structure by damming and diverting streams. Golden-mantled ground squirrels, often mistaken for chipmunks, are widespread throughout Yellowstone. Chipmunks are the least common in the park, while montane voles are an essential prey species. Pocket gophers are highly active burrowers, and red squirrels in the woodlands are frequently spotted. Uinta ground squirrels are known for their lively behavior and grassy burrows, while yellow-bellied marmots hibernate for eight months and are adept climbers among rocky terrain. 

Beaver in lake

Small Mammals of Yellowstone 

Hares, rabbits, and pikas, belonging to the order Lagomorpha, are similar to rodents but exclusively feed on plants and possess four incisors in their upper jaws. Among them, the pika serves as an indicator species for detecting the ecological effects of climate change, often seen carrying vegetation in its mouth. With its brown-colored fur, the snowshoe hare is a common sight in Yellowstone, while the white-tailed jackrabbit adapts to seasonal changes by altering its coat color. In addition to these lagomorphs, Yellowstone is home to bats, the only mammals capable of flight, with 13 species residing in the park.  

  Pika in rocks

Birds of Yellowstone  

Bald eagles are typically found in the Hayden Valley and Madison River areas during the summer. The tallest birds in the park, about 4 feet high, have gray and rusty brown feathers and a distinctive red patch on their forehead. Osprey migrates to Yellowstone in spring to hunt fish. Builds stick nests close to water and lays 2-3 eggs in May or June. Learned to fly and hunt in summer and fall, migrates south in fall, and returns to Yellowstone in spring. Last but not least, the great gray owl, a majestic and elusive resident of Yellowstone, is a sight to behold. With its impressive wingspan and piercing yellow eyes, this formidable hunter silently navigates the park’s dense forests in search of prey. 

Great gray owl on tree

(Adam Brubaker – Tied to Nature)

Yellowstone’s special landscape and status as a wildlife sanctuary provide a safe haven for many species and a place for scientists to study nature. Join us for an amazing wildlife tour to experience Yellowstone’s beauty and wildlife up close. With our expert guides, you’ll explore this stunning area and see animals in their natural habitat. Don’t miss out – book your tour now! 

 

 

Sources:  

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/mammals.htm 

https://destinationyellowstone.com/wildlife-of-yellowstone/ 

https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/connect/yellowstone-hot-spot/ten-animals-you-may-or-may-not-see-in-yellowstone/#:~:text=Yellowstone%20Animals,roaming%20freely%20throughout%20the%20park. 

 

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