The Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains some of the largest tracts of wilderness in the East. It is home to a wide variety of animals. Protected in the park are 66 species of mammals, 50 native fish species, more than 200 varieties of birds, and over 80 types of amphibians and reptiles.
The American Black Bear, is perhaps, the most famous resident of the park. This bear is also the symbol of the Smoky Mountains. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides the largest protected bear habitat in the East. Biologists estimate approximately 1,800 bears live in the park.
The groundhog, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, and some squirrel and bat species are the most commonly seen mammals in the park . More than 200 types of birds can be sighted in the park, 85 of those migrate from the neotropics. Over 120 species nest here. Thirty of the bird species listed as "Species of Concern" breed here. The park is an important source for repopulating the areas outside the park that are showing decreases in the numbers of these birds.
The park is surrounded by warm lowlands and has a cool, moist, climate at the park's highest elevations. This creates islands of habitat suitable for animals commonly found in more northern areas. Which allows them to live far south of their present primary ranges. Some of the Northern species such as the red squirrel, rock vole, and the northern flying squirrel thrive at high elevations. While other birds such as the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Common Raven, Canada Warbler, reach their southern most breeding point in the park.
The park has over 800 miles of streams to support fish. The park boasts over 50 native fish species, including the brook trout, whose fragile habitat is being wrested from the non-native rainbow and brown trout by active fisheries management. Low elevations, with slower and warmer streams have the greatest diversity including four reintroduced endangered small fish: theYellowfin Madtom, Smoky Madtom, , Spotfin Chub, and Duskytail Darter.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been referred to as the "Salamander Capital of the World." Geologic and climatic factors have combined to cause the development of 30 salamander species in five families. This makes it one of the most diverse areas on earth for this order. In fact, lungless salamanders have undergone an amazing level of evolutionary diversification in the park. Twenty four species inhabit the park, making it the center of diversity for the family.
Before the park establishment in 1934, a number of animals native to the Smoky Mountains were destroyed by, trapping, hunting, changing land uses, and other causes. Some of the species that were wiped out include elk, mountain lion, bison, gray wolf, red wolf, river otter, the Peregrine Falcon, and several species of fish. One of the main goals of the National Park Service is to preserve the flora and fauna of the Smoky Mountains in a condition similar to that which existed prior to the arrival of modern, technological humans. In accordance with this goal, the Park Service has helped reintroduce the elk, Peregrine Falcon, and river otter to the Smoky Mountains.
Human activities dominate large portions of the American landscape. Which causes our national parks to become increasingly valuable as sanctuaries for rare and endangered wildlife. Some of the endangered park animals include the northern flying squirrel, Indiana bat, Peregrine Falcon, spruce-fir moss spider, Smoky madtom and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The Park Service has been involved in a number of efforts to save these species from being completely wiped out. Park resource management crews have conducted prescribed fires in old-growth pine-oak forest to create suitable nesting sites for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Management crews have also erected solid steel barricades at cave entrances to protect endangered bats from spelunkers during critical times of the year. Reintroduction programs have also increased the survival chances for Peregrine Falcons and the Smoky Madtom.
Seeing the wildlife in the Smoky Mountains can be challenging because the park is mostly covered by dense forest. Open areas like Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, woodchuck, black bear, raccoon, and other animals. During the winter, wildlife is more visible because deciduous trees have lost their leaves. Many of the animals are most active at night, it can be an advantage to look for wildlife during morning and evening. It is also a good idea to carry some binoculars. And don’t forget to look in the trees because many of the animals spend their days among the branches.
The changes in elevation affect the types of vegetation that grow in the mountains. It also determines where many birds can be found. Some of the species are found only in distinct habitats at certain elevations. Others may range over several habitats.
The spruce-fir forest of the highest ridges is similar to the boreal forest of Canada. It is the southernmost breeding range of the Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Blackburnian, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Canada warblers, Veery, and Winter Wren. Chestnut-sided Warblers are common found in blackberry thickets, the Dark-eyed Junco is abundant in trees, and Common Ravens soar overhead.
The northern hardwood and cove hardwood forests are mixing grounds for northern and southern bird species. A dozen northern breeding species reach their lowest nesting elevation here and almost as many southern birds reach their highest limit. Some of the Northern birds, such as the Northern Blue-headed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Black-throated Blue Warbler overlap with the southern Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Cardinal, Hooded Warbler and some others.
The area with the greatest number of bird is the southern hardwoods in the middle and lower elevations. Some common species are the Eastern Screech-Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, and the Song Sparrow. In the summer add the Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Yellow-throated Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Chipping Sparrow, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and others. In the winter, White-throated Sparrow and the Yellow-rumped Warbler become common.
The diversity of species and number of bird change with the seasons. Late March brings the first migrating songbirds to lower elevations. By late April many species are at peak singing and nesting activity. However, in the high country, snow lingers and it will be mid-June before songbird nesting is at its peak. In the summer, most lowland birds are starting a second brood, while the highland birds are working on their first and perhaps only family of the year. In the fall many of the species are restless to migrate and will leave at night and head south. Some of the birds that begin to migrate in mid-September are the Broad-winged Hawks, a few Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, and Northern Harriers. Even though the migrants are leaving, the winter visitors begin to arrive.
The brook trout is the only trout species native to the Smoky Mountains. However non-native brown and rainbow trout have been introduced into the park. Today the trout are found in most large streams below 3,000 feet. Brook trout have lost approximately 75% of their native range in the park since the early 1900s. This is mostly due to logging and the introduction of non-native rainbow trout. The non-native rainbow trout out-compete native brook trout by producing more offspring and growing at faster rates Today, brook trout are only found in about 133 miles of park streams. Restoration efforts have restored brook trout back to 14.6 miles of their native range since 1986. The efforts are still be continued today.
Although most of the streams in the park are cold, clear and pollution free, they are not very productive in terms of growing big trout. Most trout in the park grow relatively fast, live only about 4 years. They die due to a lack of food resources. The diversity of aquatic insects in park streams is quite high. However, the density of each species is fairly low making food resources for trout scarce. Only 4% of brook trout and 30% of rainbow trout will reach about 7 inches. Less than 1% of brook trout will reach 8 inches. Less than 17% or rainbow trout reach 8 inches. Only brown trout, who switch to a fish diet at around 8 inches, have the ability to live beyond 4-5 years and reach sizes of nearly 30 inches. More about fishing in Gatlinburg TN.
The black bear is the largest predator in the park. It can most often be spotted in open areas such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley. Ten other carnivore species inhabit the park, including coyotes, red foxes, and gray foxes. These animals are nocturnal and are not often seen unless surprised after dark along roadsides. Biologist believe that the bobcat is the only wild feline that is lives in the park. Visitors occasionally report seeing mountain lions, however, no definite scientific evidence of their existence has been found in the area in nearly 30 years.
Bats are unique mammals with forelimbs specialized for true flight. All eleven species of bats in the park feed on insects. Seven of these species hibernate during colder months. The other four species migrate. The most commonly seen bats are the big brown bat, eastern red bat, and eastern pipistrelle. Most of the bats found in the park live in the park’s caves. Because bats can be harmed by human disturbance , visitors are prohibited from entering these caves.
There are 27 species of rodents found in the park. Which is the most of any mammal order. The deer mouse and white-footed mouse are the most common mammals in the park. They are often only seen by campers and hikers who are startled by them as they hunt for food during the night. The solitary woodchuck, also known as a ground hog, is less common but can sometimes be seen in open meadows at lower elevations. The park’s largest rodent is the beaver. Which can be found cuttings and dams along the lower portions of creeks in the west and southwest park areas.
The park’s eleven shrew and mole species eat only insects and are rarely seen as they tunnel in search of invertebrate prey beneath the soil and vegetation mats. Two species of rabbit live in the park. The Eastern cottontail, which is common in many habitats, and the Appalachian cottontail, that is uncommon and a secretive forest dweller.
The wild European hog is a non-native species that causes widespread damage to the park's ecosystem by wallowing and rooting. Although totally wiping out this destructive species is probably not possible, wildlife biologists trap or shoot non-native hogs. This helps to keep their numbers in check and reduce the damage caused by the animals.
Three major groups of reptiles are found in the park: lizards, turtles and snakes. Turtles are strangely constructed reptiles. A turtle’s body is inside a hard shell that consists of an upper and lower half known as a carapace and plastron. Turtles have no teeth. Their jaws are covered by sharp-edged, horny plates that allow the animals to shear and tear their food. Most turtles live in or near water. However they lay shelled eggs on land. The Smokies most common species is the Eastern Box Turtle. It is almost entirely terrestrial, although it may soak in a puddle on very hot days. The six types of turtles that inhabit the park are the snapping turtle, Eastern painted turtle, common map turtle, Eastern box turtle, stripeneck musk turtle, and the Eastern spiny soft shell.
Lizards have dry, scaly skins. These active animals use the heat of the sun to warm their bodies. They are mostly found in warm, dry habitats which occur only at fairly low elevations around the margins of the park. Most lizards have four legs and a trail, but there is one species that lives in the park which has no legs and resembles a snake, the Eastern Slender Glass Lizard. Eight other species of lizards can be found in the park. The Northern fence lizard, Northern green anole, coal skink, five-lined skink, Southeastern five-lined skink, broadhead skink, ground skink and the six-lined racerunner.
23 species of snakes can be found in the park. Only 2 of the these species are poisonous, the Northern Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake. The 23 species of snakes that live in the park are the Eastern worm snake, Northern scarlet snake, Northern black racer, Northern ring-neck snake, corn snake, black rat snake, Eastern hognose snake, mole king snake, Eastern king snake, black king snake, scarlet king snake, Eastern milk snake, Northern water snake, Rough green snake, Northern pine snake, Queen snake, Northern brown snake, Midland brown snake, Northern redbelly snake, Southeastern crowned snake, Eastern garter snake, Eastern earth snake and the two poisonous snakes, the Northern Copperhead and Timber rattlesnake.
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