Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Small gold, brown, and black salamander rests on someone's hand in GTNP

Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

The highest diversity of salamanders is found in Southeast United states, but Wyoming is unique to have their only native salamander as their state amphibian, the tiger salamander. These salamanders have several different color variations within the species, subspecies, and region, but typically are dark grey, brown or black with brownish markings (nwf.org). 

Tiger salamanders may be seen after heavy rains, but most of the year they are found burrowed underground. They mate during late winter or early spring at breeding ponds and eggs are laid between 24-48 hours after. After eggs hatch, tiger salamanders are able to live up to 14 years in the wild. To learn more about the Tiger Salamander, check out this article for some fast facts and an easy read!

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

Large wolverine pushes itself over a fallen log

Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

The wolverine is one of the largest members of the family Mustelidae, or weasels. They are found in alpine forests, tundra, open shrublands and boreal areas of the northern hemisphere. These weasels require large home ranges of undisturbed habitat to be able to survive and reproduce, so the population density in any one area is very low. Due to this, and their need for undisturbed habitat, it is quite rare to see one, particularly in the United States where sightings are extremely rare. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department have deployed camera traps in the Bighorn Mountains and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in recent years in an effort to determine distribution of wolverines in Wyoming. While quite rare, a few camera traps have managed to capture photos of these elusive creatures in the past few years, including two in the GYE.

Wolverines are solitary creatures, only coming together to mate in the summer every other year. They are also extremely aggressive and territorial and will not tolerate individuals of the same sex encroaching on their territory. Lack of resources and territoriality result in home ranges of wolverines ranging from 600 to 1000 square kilometers for the males. They have anal glands which they use to mark their territory to ward off would-be intruders. They are so ferocious, in fact, that they have been known to fight off black bears and wolves from a kill. While a sighting would be incredibly rare, be sure to keep your head on a swivel if you are ever in the high elevation backcountry of the Teton range! Learn more about these mighty mustelids.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Mathias Appel on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2ixjhA5

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Skunk sniffing dry grass

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Striped skunks are an iconic member of the family Mephitidae. These mesocarnivores are from coast to coast in the United states and into southern Canada and northern Mexico. They inhabit a wide array of habitats including woodlands, forests, and plains ecosystems. As humans have encroached into more and more of their natural habitat, they have also expanded into more urban environments, similar to the way racoons have. Striped skunks are one of the most easily identified animals in the world with their black coat and thin white stripe on their snout and forehead. They also have a white marking on their nape that runs along the back and splits into a V-shape towards the rump end.

These docile critters usually ignore other animals and live a solitary lifestyle, except during breeding season. While normally they are quite passive, one of the most well-known things about skunks is their defensive behaviors. Mephitids have extremely enlarged scent glands, from which an odorous musk can be discharged up to 6 meters to deter threats. If they are approached, they will face away from their opponent and raise their tail while stomping their forelegs on the ground, occasionally even doing a handstand. Learn more about these stinky skunks.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Daniel Arndt on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/GeTxnA

Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)

Fuzzy flying squirrel sniffing seeds on a platform in a pine tree

Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)

The northern flying squirrel is a small rodent most commonly found in conifer dominated forests from the treeline in northern Alaska and Canada and down into the middle of the continent in Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Colorado. They can be found in deciduous and mixed forests throughout their range, and while they are not frequently seen or overly abundant, they have been found in the Jackson Hole area and Grand Teton National Park. These silvery grey squirrels inhabit treetops and, as the name suggests, they can “fly” from tree to tree to get around the forest. They do this with a furred patagium which extends from their wrist on the forelimbs to the ankles in the hind limbs. This is very advantageous to them as they are quite clumsy on the ground, so being able to glide from tree to tree and fill up on nuts, acorns, and lichen protects them from becoming an easy meal.

Even if you do happen to be in an area populated with flying squirrels, don’t expect an easy viewing opportunity. As evidenced by their large black eyes, Northern flying squirrels tend to be more active at night making them pretty tough to spot in the canopy for the casual wildlife viewer. Learn more about these rambunctious rodents.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Daniel Arndt on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/mtGtPQ

North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

A big porcupine walks over a fallen tree trunk

North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

The North American porcupine is one of the most easily recognizable animals throughout the continent. Their range extends throughout most of North America from the arctic reaches of northern Canada and Alaska down to Mexico. These massive rodents occupy a wide variety of habitat types including open tundra, deciduous forests, and desert shrublands. Their lifestyle also varies geographically with porcupines in the Pacific Northwest spending most of their time on the ground while those in New York typically hang out in the trees.

The second largest rodent in North America, porcupines are easily identified by their slow, waddling gait and their spiny coat. These barbed quills run from head to toe along their back and each individual has approximately 30,000 of them. This is an excellent defense against predators, as some predators have been known to die due to being stuck from a porcupine.

These rodents are relatively common in much of Wyoming, including Grand Teton National Park, but as they are nocturnal critters, not many people have seen one in the wild. They are also considered a “predator” in Wyoming and are treated as pests due to the stress they can cause in environments. Learn more about these rowdy rodents.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Grand Teton on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/K44P49

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Dark grey wolf crossing a snowy road in GTNP

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Gray wolves are the subject of arguably one of the most successful conservation efforts in history. Wolves were nearly eradicated from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in the early 20th century. Then, in 1995, after decades of discussions and preparations, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park (YNP). While riddled with controversy, this is widely considered amongst scientists and environmentalists to be a massive success, and several years after being introduced back to YNP, some of the wolves found their way down to Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). These highly social canines live in packs where they live, hunt, and rear pups together. The first pack in Grand Teton was known as the Teton Pack and formed when a collared female moved south into GTNP from Yellowstone and reared 5 black pups with another collared wolf in 1999.

While the GYE is chock-full of apex predators such as grizzlies, black bears, and mountain lions, none are so revered and storied as the Gray wolf. Learn more about these clever canids.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: YNP on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qsNk2e

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

A vibrant yellow, black, and red bird perched on top of a small branch

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

Western Tanagers are a species of small passerine birds found in forested, mountainous areas from Alaska to Panama.  On average, they are about 7 inches long with an 11-inch wingspan, and typically weigh 28 grams. As with many species of songbirds, the males are much more vibrantly colored than their female counterparts. Males are easily identifiable by their bright yellow body, reddish-orange head, black back and wings, and white wing bars. The females have an olive-green body and head, with grey wings and white wing bars.

Western tanagers typically spend winters in the tropical forests of Central America. They are monogamous and will form pairs either in their wintering grounds or during migration. When they arrive in their breeding grounds in April or May, they establish territories that they defend with songs and by chasing out rival males. While they mostly catch and eat insects in flight, they have also been known to eat fruits and nectar from plants.

Most birds with red plumage get their coloration from plant pigments called carotenoids, but Western Tanagers get their scarlet coloration from a rarer pigment known as rhodoxanthin. It is thought that they obtain this pigment from insects in their diet. Learn more about these pristine passerines.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/9C1gCY

North American Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)

Close-up of the face of a tiny grey mouse taking cover in a twiggy plant

North American Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)

The deer mouse—named because the fur color pattern resembles that of a white-tailed deer—is an extremely common mammal in North America, including the U.S., Mexico and Canada. This little guy can live in so many environments that, whether it’s prairie land or alpine areas, there is no wonder there are so many of them. However, deer mice do not thrive in cold, harsh winters, like those in Grand Teton National Park. Weighing in at under an ounce and just about 3 inches long fully grown, deer mice burrows do not take up much room at all. Female mice have up to 11 pups, depending on how many previous litters there were, and they reach maturity at just 35-50 days old.

Deer mice are known to be busy and social members of the ecosystem. These tiny mammals are nocturnal and spend most of their nights climbing or swimming around to eat and gather food. Mice eat insects, fruit, flowers, seeds, and plants that they collect daily in quantities as big as half a liter. Because they are transporting seeds and caching them, mycorrhizal fungi spores depend on this process to survive. Mice also help out the top of the food chain by being food for birds, snakes, and many mammals. They are still a primary carrier of the fatal hantavirus, and humans are at risk of contracting it, so be careful if you see a nest or burrow—check out this website about hantavirus information below.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: J. Maughn on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2hUG8Ld

Sources: http://animalia.bio/deer-mouse,
Hantavirus info: https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/hps.htm

American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

A fluffy squirrel crawling along a pine tree branch

American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

The American red squirrel is the only native tree squirrel in Wyoming, and they are quite abundant in mountainous coniferous forests across the United States. Their favorite activity of caching and dispersing seeds and nuts eludes to the first part of their scientific name, which means ‘treasurer squirrel.’ Besides seeds, they also eat fruit, mushrooms, insects, young rabbits, birds, and mice. These guys have red-grey fur with white fur on their bellies and around their eyes. Adult female squirrels usually have about five pups in a litter during the spring and have been found to raise their young in areas where aspen trees are common. Fully grown squirrels are about a foot long and weigh 7 oz.

Red squirrels benefit their ecosystem in many ways. They are vital to the reproduction of many plant species because when they store and bury seeds, the seeds often end up eventually sprouting. Grizzly bears depend on squirrels because they find the squirrels’ larger winter foodbanks and eat the fatty, protein-rich whitebark or limber pine nuts. The red squirrel is a keystone prey species for many animals including bears, weasels, hawks, owls, wolves and coyotes. They make a good chase because they are fast, nimble climbers, and they also have a loud warning chirp to protect their territory from other squirrels or predators. In Wyoming, a small game license is required to hunt the red squirrel. However, they feed on coniferous pine cones so much that these small squirrels are known to taste like turpentine to people.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Anne Guzzo

Northern Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus graciosus)

A closeup of a dark brown lizard, sunbathing on a rock

Northern Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus graciosus)

The northern sagebrush lizard is the only known lizard species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and was discovered in 1922 in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). These reptiles grow to be 5 inches long, are grey or brown with dark stripes all the way from their heads to their tails, and have light colored bellies. Males have a longer tail than females and have some blue coloring on their underside and throat. They live in dry rocky environments up to 8,500 ft in elevation and like sagebrush ecosystems. These lizards also live in places with geothermal activity—hence living in Yellowstone National Park in addition to non-geothermal GTNP. Since they are cold-blooded, lizards are most active during the day so they can eat insects and bugs and bask in the sunlight. They take shelter mostly near the ground in old burrows, logs, plants, and rocks, but are sometimes found up in trees. The northern sagebrush lizard makes a tasty meal for snakes and birds of the GYE, so they have adapted to shed their tail to survive an attack.

Females lay about 4 leathery eggs in early summer that are 12 by 6 millimeters in size. Eggs are buried under loose soil by their shelter sites. Females usually lay eggs twice a year, but they can start reproduction at just 22 months. Baby lizards are only 2 centimeters long, and some hatchlings are even food for adult lizards. The northern sagebrush lizard lives for about 6 years and has a 50% chance of survival once they are hatched. You can see these lizards in GTNP at the Snake River Floodplain, Pilgrim Creek, Bar BC Ranch, and Colter Bay.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Angie Shyrigh on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/5x2uRV