Monday, February 6, 2012

Wildlife In The Great Smoky Mountains

The Smokies are a premier wildlife viewing area. Early in the morning and late in the evening make the viewing. Cades Cove and Cataloochee have large open spaces, providing excellent opportunities for viewing. Still, wildlife sightings are common throughout the Park. Bears are the most sought after, and the reintroduced red wolf make a special sighting also.
A total of 65 mammals live in the Park. Some, such as the coyote and bobcat are reclusive while deer are very common and obvious. Besides deer people most often see red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, red and gray foxes, skunks, and bats. Deer are common throughout the Park. An exotic, the wild European boar, causes widespread damage. Like other intrusive exotic species, the Park seeks means to control the boar population. Mammals native to the area, but no longer living here include, bison, elk, gray wolves, and fishers.
Reintroduction efforts brought back the red wolf and river otter.

Family-Felidae (Cats)

Bobcats and mountain lions are the only felines native to Cades Cove. Bobcats still live in the cove. They usually eat small game, but will kill small deer. Bobcats grow up to three feet in length and weigh up to 20 pounds. They are nocturnal and seldom seen.
The Smoky's native mountain lion is the eastern cougar. Most biologists believe hunters eliminated the cougar from the region in 1920. However, persistent sightings since the 1960's led to studies. No definitive evidence of their presence resulted. Any cougars currently in the Smokies are transients or released pets.

Family Canidae (Dogs)

Red and gray foxes are native to Cades Cove. The gray fox is more common. Foxes prefer habitats with open and forested areas such as Cades Cove. The gray fox is less aggressive than the red, but its ability to climb trees aids in food collection and defense. Coyotes and red wolves should lower Cove's fox population.
Coyotes also inhabit the Park, favoring the Cades Cove area. Coyotes migrated across the Mississippi River and arrived in the Park in 1985.

Family Mustelidae

The long-tailed weasel, mink, eastern spotted skunk, striped skunk, and river otter live in and around Cades Cove. Man regionally eliminated the fisher in the 19th century. In the mid 1980's, the Park successfully reintroduced 140 river otters. Favorite otters habitats include Abrams Creek, and the Little River, Otters are nocturnal and rarely spotted by people.
Weasels, minks, and spotted skunks are rare. Skunk populations fell due to diseases such as distemper, and should recover. Although one of the Park's most feared residents, skunks spray only when threatened.

Family Procyonidae

The raccoon is this family's only local member. Raccoons congregate near streambanks where they feed on crayfish, salamanders, nuts, or berries. They will eat almost anything. Local population densities vary because of disease. Raccoons will steal food from humans. They will even beg.

Family Castoridae (beavers)

In the 1600's beaver were common in Cades Cove. By the 20th century, none remained. Reintroduced in North Carolina in the 1960's, beavers migrated back to the Smokies. Beavers prefer slow waters.
Family Sciuridae
Local members of this family include: the eastern chipmunk, woodchuck, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, red squirrel, southern flying squirrel, and northern flying squirrel. Acorn abundance determines the winter survival for the chipmunk, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, and southern flying squirrel. Red squirrels eat a varied diet, including insects and bird eggs.
Woodchucks, also called groundhogs or whistle pigs, are common along roadsides. They live in underground tunnels. When caught outside their tunnels, they climb trees to elude predators. Like all members of this family, they face heavy predation from canines and felines.

Family Leporidae (rabbits)

The two local members of this family are the eastern cottontail and the New England cottontail. Eastern cottontails hide in tall grasses to avoid detection. Sightings are more common in mowed areas. The New England cottontails only live in the higher elevations
Family Suidae (pigs)

The wild hog is the only Suidae present. They are not native and damage Park's ecosystems. Eurpoean Wild Boars came to the southern Appalachians in the early 1900's as sport for hunters. They overran their fenced enclosure near Hoopers Bald, North Carolina, and quickly spread throughout the region. Females can birth 12 piglets each year. They root through the soil, killing plants, promoting erosion, and polluting streams. In the fall, they compete with native species for acorns. Since the wild hog is a destructive non-native species, the Park works to control their number. Despite 30 years of management, more than 500 hogs remain in the Park. Future efforts may maintain populations at minimal levels, but elimination is unlikely.

Family Cervidae (deer)

Deer live throughout the Smokies, but are most commonly seen in Cades Cove. Between 400-800 deer live near the Cove. When visiting at sunrise, it is common to see 200 deer.
Deer populations can change quickly. Local overpopulation leads to widespread disease and starvation. Predation by wolves, coyotes, bears, and bobcats help reduce threats associated with overpopulation.
Deer living in the southern Appalachians give birth in late June. Newborn fawns have no defense beyond camouflage. Many are lost to predation during their first few days. By their second spring, males begin to grow antlers. They fully develop in August, and in September, the bucks fight for mating rights. Mating occurs in November. The antlers fall off by mid-winter.
Deer browse for nutritious foods. The Park's diversity is excellent habitat. When favored foods disappear, deer switch to more common, less nutritious plants. If nothing else is available, they will eat poison ivy or rhododendron. Acorns and nuts are important fall foods. Acorn availability relates to deer survival rates.

Other Mammals

The opossum is the Park's only marsupial. Other mammals include shrews, moles, and mice. Several bat species are common in and around the Cove. Bats are nocturnal. Black rat snakes eat bats. One snake, Gladys, devours sleeping bats at the Cades Cove Visitor Center. The snake uses the Visitor Center roof as its home and grocery store.

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