THE “LITTLE” INHABITANTS OF YELLOWSTONE
When you think about the animals that call Yellowstone “home” your thoughts typically go to the bison (or buffalo), grizzly and black bears, elk, deer, moose and wolves and mountain goats. You think about the larger animals that you visit Yellowstone to get a glimpse of (hopefully).
However, there is a whole other world of Yellowstone animals. These are the smaller, and seldom seen, inhabitants of the park. Let me tell you about some of them.
There are those considered to be in the weasel category. These are aggressive carnivores and include badgers, fishers, martens, mink, river otters, skunks, long-tailed weasels, short-tailed weasels and wolverines. These all belong to the weasel family. However, two members of this family, the striped skunk and the wolverine, are a little shy and are rarely seen in the Park.
Rodents and Shrews make up the largest group of small mammals in the Park. These include beavers, two kinds of chipmunks, yellow-bellied marmots, four types of squirrels, northern pocket gophers, two types of mice, muskrats, six kinds of voles, bushy-tailed woodrats, five types of shrews and porcupines. These animals have constantly growing rootless incisors that require a lot of powerful gnawing to keep them shortened.
You will also find snowshoe hares, white-tailed jackrabbits, desert cottontails, mountain cottontails and pikas. The snowshoe hare runs on top of the snow. It lives in pine forests and it is nocturnal. Their fur changes color with the seasons. They are often seen in the Norris Geyser Basin area. The cottontails live in the scrublands and jackrabbits prefer grasslands. The Pikas – which is a short stout rodent-like animal – live at the higher elevations in the rocky crags of Yellowstone.
The species of bats that live in Yellowstone include big brown bats, fringe-tailed bats, hoary bats, lone-eared bats, long-legged bats, silver-haired bats, western small-footed bats, Townsend’s big-eared bats and Yuma bats. The western small-footed and Yuma bats are shy creatures and are rarely seen by visitors to the Park.
Raccoons and foxes also call Yellowstone “home.” The raccoons can be found residing in the Park near the cottonwood forests and rivers. According to the National Park Service these small mammals are rarely seen. The very shy red fox is the smallest canine that lives in the park. They can be seen in the meadows in the Park and often hunt rodents in the grasslands at down or dusk.
When you think about it, Yellowstone is home to a wide variety of animals. From the bison and grizzly to the mice and rodents. There is a vast array of wildlife in the Park. Not all of it is large and easily seen. To see some of it takes a bit of patience and searching but, if you are successful, the time and effort are well worth it.
AUTHOR: SUSIE KNAPP
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK / NATIONAL PARK SERVICE