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Photo Gallery

Canada Lynx and Snowshoe Hare

Lynx canadensis and Lepus americanus

Despite its best efforts to hide, a snowshoe (varying) hare has captured the attention of a Canada lynx. If the hare acts quickly, it may escape. With its large “snowshoe” hind feet, this hare can bound 12 feet (3.6 meters) in a single leap, even in deep snow.

Still, lynxes specialize in hunting rabbits. They too have broad, well-furred paws and fast reflexes. Lynx hearing and vision are also excellent for tracking rabbits on the run. This hare’s fur coat, which varies with the season, will surely stand out against the October snow—the pelt has not yet turned fully white.

Caribou

Rangifer tarandus

Caribou, also known as reindeer, flourish in some of the world’s harshest places. Their principal home is tundra—land that is too cold for trees to grow. Massive herds of caribou migrate across the vast tundra plains of the Arctic. Smaller herds dwell in alpine tundra, which is found on top of high mountains.

These two males belong to an alpine tundra herd in the Aleutian Range. Come winter, they will subsist on lichens —a food few other species will eat. Caribou themselves are important food for predators such as wolves, brown bears and humans. Thanks to caribou, even low-growing, low-quality lichens can support the web of life on the harsh tundra.

Caribou

Rangifer tarandus

The mating season for caribou, called the rut, has begun. Herd members are gathering in the open so they can find and compete for mates. At any other time of year, these two females and the juvenile (left) would probably avoid males (right).

Two caribou here have not yet shed their antlers’ velvet. This fuzzy, blood-rich sheath of skin nourishes growth of the bone beneath. Caribou drop their antlers after the rut, but if these two females become pregnant, they will probably keep their antlers all winter. Antlered mothers can better defend themselves when competing for winter food—an advantage for their developing young.

Collared Peccary

Tayassu tajacu

A distant cousin of the domestic pig, the collared peccary has a similar barrel-shaped body with daintier legs and feet. Peccaries are sociable and often travel in herds of a dozen or more. In the dry scrublands of southern Texas and Arizona they dine on agave and prickly pear cactus. To avoid the spines, they often pin down cactus pads with their hooves and peel the skin with their teeth, exposing the juicy pulp.

Cougar

Puma concolor

Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park offers ideal habitat for cougars: shade to escape the heat, rugged terrain in which to ambush prey and nooks to eat carcasses in private. Typically solitary, males and females travel together only during the few days out of the year when they are mating. 

These agile cats actually lived across the United States until European settlers encroached. By the early 1900s, nearly all cougars east of the Rocky Mountains had been exterminated, like most other large predators in North America. Cougars are now making a comeback in some areas—even developed ones, where the risk of conflict with humans is real.

Coyote

Canis latrans

A coyote sends a yippy howl through the granite-flanked gap of Yosemite Valley. The long-distance call, rare in mammals, wards off packs nearby. The second coyote may chime in to broadcast the number in its pack, but for now it is preoccupied with digging for a gopher or another burrower.

Coyotes evolved as hunters of small prey on the Great Plains. Since the 1950s, coyotes have expanded to the north and east where wolves once lived. In areas where wolves and cougars are still absent, coyotes act as top predators—although being smaller, they may scavenge as much big game as they catch.

Dall Sheep

Ovis dalli

Camouflaged against the snow, Dall sheep thrive where few mammals can—above the tree line on windy peaks in Alaska and northwest Canada. Given their forbidding home, these three rams can afford to relax for a moment. While predators like wolves and bears do threaten, few enemies can pursue these nimble sheep up the very steepest cliffs.

Dall sheep are also known as white sheep, yet they aren’t all white. The farther south they live, the grayer they are. Dall sheep are also called thinhorn sheep, in contrast to North America’s other native sheep species, bighorns, which live even further south. 

Eastern Cottontail

Sylvilagus floridanus

Eastern cottontails thrive in brambles bordering open fields, and they are fond of farms, gardens and other green areas tended by people. While browsing in a pumpkin patch, these two rabbits are using their large eyes and pivoting ears to scan their surroundings for danger.

Startled cottontails will bolt for cover, showing the puffy white fur on the underside of their tails. The white flash seems to advertise that the speedy rabbits are off and running. For predators, it’s too late for a surprise attack. Some may give the cottontails up for lost and hunt for other prey.

Ermine and Vole

Mustela erminea and Myodes gapperi

In a heartbeat, this ermine will dart at an oblivious vole and dispatch it with a swift bite to the neck.If the vole were in its hole (foreground), the ermine would slink right in. These small, solitary carnivores can amass dozens of kills for eating later and even prey on rabbits. Ermines operate not out of bloodlust but hunger. Their long, lean, active bodies burn so many calories that they must stay fueled to survive.

Fisher and Porcupine

Martes pennanti and Erethizon dorsatum

As dawn breaks, a fisher has discovered its favorite prey, a porcupine, descending a tree. Fishers have quick reflexes and a low-slung body—all the makings of a porcupine killer. First, a fisher will circle the animal, nimbly dodging lashes of the heavily quilled tail. Then it will dart in to bite the porcupine’s unquilled face, attacking repeatedly until subdued.

Fishers can even climb after a porcupine in a tree and attack from above. This porcupine’s safest bet is to climb higher and keep its tail down.

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