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Photo Gallery

Northern Flying Squirrel

Glaucomys sabrinus

An agile skydiver, the northern flying squirrel doesn’t fly—it glides. Launching itself from a perch, this rodent extends its long limbs while loose skin that stretches from wrists to ankles catches the air. The squirrel may coast as far as 300 feet (91 meters) before landing, usually low on a tree trunk. Like a pilot raising a plane’s wing flaps, the squirrel lifts its tail to brake.

Raccoon

Procyon lotor

In the forest, raccoons live near lakes or streams. But human environments also suit them fine. In fact, few other North American mammals have adapted so readily to suburbs and cities. This is mainly because raccoons eat a vast variety of foods (garbage included) and willingly make dens in buildings. Raccoons also tolerate both warm and cool climates, surviving northern winters with the help of ample body fat. As long as suburbs and cities thrive, so will this opportunistic species.

River Otter

Lontra canadensis

As morning mist veils a lake in Algonquin Provincial Park, a young female river otter comes ashore and inspects a spider web. More aquatic than their close relatives, mink (diorama at far left), river otters use land only as a latrine and a bed, snatching sleep during the daytime in dens or beaver lodges. Most hours are spent swimming, hunting fish or playing in fresh and coastal waters, where they are widespread.

Sewellel (Mountain Beaver)

Aplodontia rufa

Neither a beaver nor a high-mountain dweller, the sewellel is a rather singular animal. It’s the last living member of a once-successful family of rodents called the Aplodontiidae. The sewellel is a “living fossil,” showing primitive skeletal features that other rodents have lost. Its kidneys are also unusual: they are inefficient at maintaining the body’s water balance. Thus the sewellel needs to live close to water so it can drink a lot—a third of its weight in water per day.

Spotted Skunk and Ringtail

Spilogale gracilis and Bassariscus astutus

The remarkable handstand of the spotted skunk (left) is a warning to discourage the two curious ringtails (right) from getting any closer. If this pose doesn’t work, the skunk will release jets of foul-smelling musk from glands under its tail.

Ringtails also combine chemistry with defensive body language. Here, one ringtail has made its tail fur stand upright, creating the illusion of larger size. If the standoff escalates, the ringtail might curve its tail over its head, and—as a last resort—emit its own smelly secretion. 

Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

The sun set a half-hour ago—the cue for a mother skunk to lead her five kits from their den on a hunting sortie. The father is nowhere near, as male skunks don’t rear young.

The eight-week-old kits are just learning how to catch and eat solid food—and how to avoid becoming food themselves. Although striped skunks can emit defensive musk at just two weeks old—before their eyes first open—good aim takes practice. Baby skunks tend to spray at any sign of danger, given the great risks at this age. As they mature, their defenses become more strategic.

Wapiti (Elk)

Cervus elaphus

This handsome deer is known by many names. “Wapiti” is one. Wapimeans “white” in some native Algonquian languages, which may refer to the deer’s large white rump patch. The species also lives in Eurasia, where it is typically called red deer. The North American version is bigger than the Eurasian one, with a bigger rump patch, too.

This deer is also known as elk in North America. Complicating matters further, “elk” is what Europeans use for moose in their land. As the story goes, early British settlers in North America mistook one deer for the other, even though the resemblance is slim. “Elk” has stuck ever since.

Western Gray Squirrel

Sciurus griseus

This perspective, high in towering sugar pines, affords a rare close-up of two western gray squirrels. Unlike the extroverted eastern gray squirrel, the shy western gray prefers the seclusion of thick tree canopy.

Tree squirrels are not very sociable and their encounters can turn aggressive. Squirrels challenge each other by chattering their teeth, stamping their feet and flicking their tails. Chases to assert dominance break out often.

White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus

The leaves of blackgum trees, already ablaze in scarlet, attract a fawn, doe and buck. After the green growth of summer fades, northern deer exploit twigs, dried leaves and evergreen needles in fall and winter. In any season, white-tailed deer spend more time feeding than doing anything else.

This six-month-old fawn has already molted its spotted coat. Female fawns that are well nourished can mate as early as their first autumn, and in later years can produce twins or triplets. When the eating is good, white-tailed deer numbers can increase rapidly.

Wolf

Canis lupus

Step aside. This wolf pack is chasing a deer that is running for its life behind where you are standing. The pair may pursue the deer for several miles to exhaust it, then bring it down in a joint effort. Group hunting is how wolves can prey on animals much bigger than themselves.

Still, deer are fast, and this one had a head start—the tracks on the right show its frightened flight. If the wolves cannot close in quickly, they will give up and follow the scent of another prospect. As is common for carnivores that chase after their prey, wolf hunts fail far more often than they succeed.

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