ABOUT THIS SITE
This website is a personal expression of my interest in mammals of the eastern United States Appalachian region. It includes a species account of each of the native species known to occur in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains within the five state area of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Exceptions are the inclusion of the western elk as a species account due to the reintroduction efforts undertaken in Pennsylvania and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, and the exclusion of the gray bat, a species very marginally found in limestone caves in two SW Virginia counties, with historic records in WV (1991) and NC (1968), and the eastern wood rat, whose northern range is limited to the southwestern-most corner of NC.
Information used in this website has been obtained from various existing publications listed in the bibliography. Throughout the species accounts, acronyms or abbreviations are used to indicate the reference source. A listing of these names are posted on the bibliography page. Many individual species accounts have links called "ARTICLES" that will provide additional information derived from magazine articles collected since the late 1980's. Additionally, information has been secured from various state biologists, natural heritage representatives and state game officials. In preparing these species accounts, information specific to the populations in this region has been utilized when available.
Mammalian classification is a dynamic science. One would think the identification of species occurring in this region would be a straight forward task. However, in the preparation of this project I've come to find that as our scientific knowledge increases (especially in the advancement in the field of mitochondrial DNA studies), what is classified as a species (or subspecies) is still changing. For example, in the past ten years, both the Appalachian cottontail and Appalachian wood rat have been added as distinct species in this Appalachian region. And in the late 1980's, the Maryland shrew was, once again, accepted as a separate species.
The effect of such scientific studies can be quite profound. One case in point is the red wolf. This species, now extinct in the wild, has been federally designated as an endangered species and subject to the requirements of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Such designation includes identification of species recovery plans, critical habitats and measures to insure the viability of the species. Much effort has been expended in propagating the red wolf from the remaining stock of 14 identified genetically-pure red wolf known to exist in 1977. However, on-going DNA work has shown that these red wolves had no genetic characters that could not be found in either gray wolves or coyotes. In fact, they were genetically indistinguishable from Louisiana coyotes. Thus, the future of this "species" of red wolf is still not certain, as additional research will ultimately determine.
Similarly, the status of the endangered woodland bison of Canada will be greatly affected by the determination of whether the woodland bison is a subspecies separate from the plains bison (thus, subject to it's own federal status), or just another geographic race of the same species, thus, greatly increasing the known population of this species.
In presenting the taxonomic classification of species for this Appalachian region, it has been necessary to adopt one of two accepted arrangements, as well as the scientific names adopted. While some books rely on Wilson and Reeder (1993), others use Jones et al. (1997). Most reference books use some of both, adapted these to the individual philosophies of the editors. These two sources differ in numerous situations. For an example, Wilson and Reeder puts the skunks into the Mustelidae family, along with the other weasels, while Jones et al. puts them into their own family, Mephitidae. Similarly, the designated family used by Wilson and Reeder for the jumping mice (Dipodidae) differs from Jones (Zapodidae). Generic names are also at question, with Wilson and Reeder using the long-established Bison for the American bison, while Jones adopts the newer Bos nomenclature. The Rafinesque's and Townsend's big-eared bats are another example of differing opinions on generic names (Corynorhinus vs Plecotus), as is Lutra vs Lontra for the northern river otter.. Even the common, or vernacular, names differs between these two sources. Examples include cougar versus mountain lion and Allegheny versus Appalachian wood rat.
I have chosen to use the 1997 Jones et al., Revised Checklist of North American Mammals (1997) for classification, scientific and vernacular names of mammalian species. Other popular common names will be mentioned in the remarks entry under each species account.
Even further removed from general scientific consensus is the recognition of subspecies. These subspecies are often determined by the existence of "primary isolating mechanisms", which result in the separation of genetic flow between populations due to physical geographic barriers between populations. In addition, some evidence of morphological or behavioral differences between populations must be observable. For my study, I have used the subspecies as listed by Whitaker and Hamilton in their 1998 book, Mammals of the Eastern United States (Cornell University Press).
In addition to these scientific changes, resulting from our technological advances in knowledge, it must be recognized that the species, themselves, are in a constant dynamic state of change. Such changes are the result changes in the physical environment, changes in the biological environment, extinctions and evolution.
Only 20,000 years ago, this Appalachian region was nearing the end of the latest Wisconsinan glaciation period (25,000 to 10,000 years ago). Although only the northern half of PA was actually covered by the ice field, the whole eastern US was affected by boreal (northern) conditions. This Wisconsinan fauna included such mega-fauna as Jefferson's ground sloth, giant beaver, dire wolf, short-faced bear, lion, mastodon, woolly mammoth, two horses, and Harlan's musk ox. All of these species succumbed to a wave of extinctions that occurred as a result of a long, warmer and wetter trend, signaling the end of this most recent major glacial phase and the beginning of the current interglacial phase. And while some species are becoming extinct, new forms, or species, are evolving to occupy the vacuum made by the loss of these species (and the changing environment).
The term "historic fauna" describes the species which existed at the time of the arrival of Europeans to North America. With the continued warmer and wetter environment selectively directing the species diversity and range, the fauna in this five state Appalachian region included the gray wolf, marten, moose, carribou and bison, among the larger species. While man's presence accounts for the loss of these mammals from our fauna, the continually warming environment of this interglacial period still plays a role in determining the diversity and range of many of the boreal species that inhabit the higher elevations of the Appalachians. Some of these species are becoming isolated in disjunct populations on mountain top islands, inter-breeding and developing their own genetic characteristics. Over time, they become either new subspecies or species, adapting to the specific requirements of their limited range, or they become extinct. Examples of these species are many of the shrews, the northern flying squirrel, southern red-backed vole, the rock vole and southern bog lemming, and snowshoe hare.
Today, our modern mammal fauna is merely a snapshot of this dynamic evolutionary process; the current result of both the changing environment and man's impact; either directly through hunting, or indirectly, through changing land use or introduction of competing species.
What follows is a systematic presentation on the 71 species that can be found in this Appalachian region.
Each species account begins with the common name (taken from Jones et al.) followed by the scientific name with it's Latin (or Greek) derivation. Following this, fifteen categories are addressed under each account for each species. Where information is available, statistics for animals within this five-state region is referenced.
Within the five-state Appalachian region, if the species is not found
throughout the region, the part of the region where the species is found (or
absent) is identified.
Continental Range: In the most general terms, the distribution of this species in North America.
Abundance: How common is the species in the Appalachian region, in terms such as common, locally abundant, or scarce throughout the region.
Population Density: Population densities depend on such factors as phase of the population cycle, habitat type and condition, social pressures, competition, harvest, predation and geographical area. Periodic cycles are given when known.
Size and Molt: Figures are taken from Chapman and Feldhamer where available, followed by Mammals of Virginia. All figures are in inches/feet and ounces/pounds. Weights are listed in italics. Sexual dimorphism is noted when appropriate. Molts are given, with contradicting sources noted for fox squirrels and flying squirrels.
Mammae: Mammae are noted, along with naturally occurring variances given. (Variable mammae are noted for peromyscus mice, muskrat, southern bog lemming, marten, mink, ermine, skunk, coyote, and bobcat.)
Habitat: Most commonly found topographical and vegetational characteristics given.
Active Period: When is the species active, in terms of diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular. Also, periods of dormancy (hibernation, aestivation, winter torpor) are noted. Migration times are also noted.
Diet: Known preferred diet; by season when known. (Diet is a function of season, habitat, and habit. For example, one population of mink never ate muskrats until storms tore open the dens, exposing young, then muskrats became a primary food.) The practice of coprophagy is indicated when known for rabbits, beaver, voles, and certain shrews.)
Home Range: Home range is defined as an area used by the animal in food gathering, mating, and rearing its young. Home ranges are usually irregular because of land form and vegetation characteristics and overlapping is common. Within the home range, for territorial species there is a smaller region that an individual will actively defend against conspecifics. When appropriate, protected territory is noted. (Home range is a function of the abundance of food, the degree of intraspecific and interspecific competition, season, breeding status, the type and diversity of habitat, and the presence of natural physical barriers such as rivers and lakes.) Units given are in square feet, acres, or square miles.
Social Structure: Nature of population interaction; such as solitary or gregarious. Also, nature of parental relationship is given (monogamous - such as fox, beaver, and coyote - polygamous, or polygynous). Care of the young by the father is noted when appropriate. See glossary for definitions.
Life Cycle: How many young per brood and how many broods per year are given. Nature of estrus given when known (monestrous, polyestrous, induced, seasonal, or post-partum ovulation). Gestation period, age of young at weaning, separation from the parental care, dispersal distances and sexual maturity are given. Life span; in the wild and in captivity is also noted.
Dens/Nest: Nature of denning site (seasonal use, whether species makes burrow or uses other animal burrows, characteristics of burrows and dens) and nesting material used.
Tracks: Not only foot tracks, but stride (length between sets of tracks), straddle (width of tracks), and other noteworthy signs of residence (bear or deer rubs, rodent paths, scrapes, scent mounds, etc.)
Scat: Tell it like it is, and where it might commonly be found.
Remarks: Any attributes or noteworthy information about the species that doesn't fall into the above categories.
What is not included in these species accounts is physical descriptions (other than size and weight), calls, parasites, or predators, except when particularly noteworthy.
Occasionally, information is found in the literature that doesn't agree with other sources. In most cases, it is simply the realization that nature doesn't always follow exact guidelines. Not unexpectedly, a study of weasels in one environment will yield results that differ from another habitat. Additionally, differences may be due to which research results are used by the authors, or even the date of the publication. Most such cases involve population densities, home ranges, or questions dealing with the life cycle (length of weaning, time of dispersal, age of sexual maturity, life span). In these cases, reference to the statistics with their sources is normally given. If only one or two figures are given, it can be assumed that the other reference publications were in agreement with the given figures. However, a few cases exist where discrepancies are more difficult to explain or resolve. Such discrepancies include the number of annual molts of fox and flying squirrels, the social habits of gray squirrels, and whether red foxes use winter dens or not. ( I have learned to accept the fact that many species have variable numbers of mammae and that many mothers can raise more young than her number of mammae.) In these cases, all I can do is present the various opinions and identify the authors of the varying opinions. Such is the nature of nature.