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Photo Gallery

Gray Fox and Opossum

Urocyon cinereoargenteus

A gray fox (ground)and a Virginia opossum (tree) are feeding upon ripe persimmons in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both animals are omnivores—they eat plants and animals.

Both species are nimble tree climbers as well, yet have different adaptations for the task. Gray foxes shinny up trunks by gripping with their forelimbs while pushing with their hind paws. Opossums climb with the help of an opposable toe on each hind foot, as well as a prehensile or “grasping” tail.

Grizzly Bear

Ursus arctos

You’d be wise to avoid stumbling upon this scene in the wild. Grizzly bears are unpredictable and may become aggressive if interrupted while eating or tending cubs. This mother is doing both: she’s showing her six-month-olds how to tear open a rotted pine for ants and grubs to eat.

Grizzly bears are actually the same species as the brown bears behind you. Members of this species can grow to very different sizes depending on where they live. The nickname “grizzly” comes from the grizzled, or silver-tipped, hairs on their backs and shoulders.

Groundhog

Marmota monax

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, spend much of their lives underground. These stout, sturdy members of the squirrel family are notorious for digging holes, and their burrows can have passageways stretching 40 feet (12 meters) or more. In this scene, two groundhogs are heading out from their burrow under a pine-stump fence to graze on red clover, one of their favorite foods.

Jaguar

Panthera onca

The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas. Its muscular, compact frame is built for strength and stealth rather than extended pursuit. A jaguar’s jaws can crush the skulls of small mammals and can even pierce turtle shells. For larger prey, it pounces, bringing down the victim by wrenching the head with a swipe of its wide paw.

These jaguars are seeking prey at dusk, as is typical for large predators. Sometimes siblings and mating pairs travel together, but usually jaguars roam alone. Young males may wander hundreds of miles to establish territory, which they mark in their catlike way: by spraying, cheek-rubbing and claw-raking.

Mountain Goat

Oreamnos americanus

No mammal is more sure-footed on steep peaks than the mountain goat. Its agility and traction surpasses even that of wild sheep (dioramas behind you). Among the goat’s advantages are muscular forelimbs to help brake on downhills and race upslope. This climber can gain 75 feet (23 meters) of altitude in only a minute.

In fact, a young mountain goat can climb anywhere its mother can within a week after birth. The kid in this scene is about three months old and was probably born on a high cliff.

Moose

Alces alces

Moose are the largest deer in the world. The biggest moose of all live in Alaska, where males can top 1,700 pounds (770 kilograms) and grow antlers 6.8 feet (2.1 meters) wide. Female moose are much smaller and lack antlers.

The striking differences between the sexes evolved primarily as a mating strategy. Big antlers signal to a female that a potential mate is of superior quality, which increases her chance of bearing a healthy calf. Males also evaluate antler size when deciding whether to fight over a female. Underequipped challengers will retreat, but equally matched bulls, like these, may battle.

Mule Deer

Odocoileus hemionus

The large, mule-like ears of these deer inspired western explorer William Clark, in 1806, to give these animals their name. Mule deer are also called black-tailed deer after the color of their tails.

The ears and tail distinguish this western deer from the widespread white-tailed deer, but their gait is particularly different. Unlike white-tailed deer, which run away fast and fluidly when alarmed, mule deer escape by “stotting”—bounding with stiff-legged jumps. By leaping over obstacles, mule deer easily negotiate rugged, broken western terrain.

Musk Ox

Ovibos moschatus

A herd of musk oxen hunkers down to wait out a snowstorm. When the weather gets foul, their strategy is to stay and cope. Unlike Arctic caribou, musk oxen do not migrate seasonally. Instead, their squat, woolly bodies limit heat loss, even when temperatures plunge below -40°F (-40°C).

Extreme shifts in climate, however, can distress musk oxen. But this too is part of their survival strategy. Study of ancient DNA reveals that over many millennia, musk ox populations have undergone repeated boom and bust cycles in response to climate fluctuations. Being able to rebound after population collapses may have helped musk oxen survive the end of the Ice Age when most other large mammals, like woolly mammoths, died out.

Nine-banded Armadillo

Dasypus novemcinctus 

Surrounding this mother armadillo is an unusual family group: identical quadruplets. All litters of this species derive from a single fertilized egg that divides into four. The same-sex pups arrive in the spring, and even as newborns look like miniature adults. Armadillo pups nurse for two to three months before switching to an adult diet.

North American Beaver

Castor canadensis

The beaver is not your typical rodent. It’s the largest one on the continent, and the only one that can cut down mature trees. Beavers use the timber to build large, elaborate nests—dome-shaped lodges with underwater entrances—inside ponds. If there is no pond, beavers will create one by building a dam to block a stream. The resulting moat around their lodges keeps wolves, coyotes and other predators at bay.

As semiaquatic rodents, beavers have closeable ears and nostrils, webbed hind feet and very dense fur coats. Their paddlelike tails appear to be covered in scales like a fish, but they aren’t. Rather, the skin is grooved in a scaly pattern, which makes the thick tail more flexible.

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