North American wildlife
North American wildlife is the flora and fauna of the Nearctic region, which consists of most of North America; Greenland, the continental parts of Canada and the United States, and inland Mexico. The region borders the Central and South American wildlife region.
Many North American species, especially in the Arctic and boreal regions, are similar to Eurasian wildlife.
Not all of North America is within the Nearctic realm. The Caribbean, Central America and southern Florida are in the Neotropic region, together with South America.
The Nearctic realm is divided between four bioregions, making up the northern, western, eastern and southern part of the continent.
The north, also known as the Canadian shield, is made up by tundra and boreal forest. The harsh winters put pressure on animals and plants here, limiting the number of species.
The west is contained by the Rocky Mountains. The region has great variations in elevation, temperature and rainfall within rather short distances.
The east makes up the eastern United States, as well as southeastern Canada, and the Canadian Prairie. Much of this region is exploited through farming and human settlement.
The south includes inland Mexico, as well as the desert region of the United States, and Texas.
CarnivoresNorth America is famous for its many carnivores, especially bears, wolves, foxes, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, and cougars (mountain lions).
They make up keystone species for their ecosystems. Many of them have been endangered, or locally extinct during the 20th century, but are recovering.
UngulatesThe American bison, Bison bison, is the heaviest endemic land animal on the continent. It used to be a dominant species of the Great Plains until modern times. At the brink of extinction near 1900, the population is on the rise again.
The mustangs are a population of feral horses (Equus ferus caballus) on the Great Plains, descending from colonists' horses.
North America has five deer species:
- The white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, is the most widely distributed ungulate on the continent, though more prevalent east of the Rockies. The species varies widely in size; males average about 150 pounds (70 kg) and females 100 lb (45 kg), but the endangered Key deer (O. v. clavium) of the Florida Keys is noticeably smaller, while bucks (males) in more northern populations can weigh over 400 lb (180 kg). While the Key deer and Columbian white-tailed deer (O. v. leucurus) of Oregon and Washington are listed by the U.S. government as endangered, the species as a whole is in no danger of extinction, with an estimated population of 30 million in the U.S. alone, with many millions more in Canada, Mexico, and Central America. In fact, in many suburban and agricultural areas in the U.S. and Canada, the white-tail has become a major pest, consuming significant amounts of ornamental and cash crops. Additionally, over a million deer–vehicle collisions occur annually in the U.S., resulting in about 300 human deaths, and deer are major carriers of the ticks that spread the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in humans.
- The mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus, is native to western North America, especially the Rocky Mountain region. It averages slightly larger than the white-tail.
- The caribou (the North American term for wild reindeer), Rangifer tarandus, is larger than the mule deer, with males averaging close to 400 lb (180 kg) and females about 220 lb (100 kg). Notably, the caribou is the only deer species in which both sexes grow antlers. Originally, the species ranged throughout Canada, Alaska, and the far north of the contiguous U.S., but climate change and human disruption of habitat have caused it to almost completely disappear from the contiguous U.S. and greatly reduced its numbers elsewhere.
- The elk (Cervus canadensis), also known as the wapiti, is closely related to the red deer of Eurasia. It is one of the largest deer, with both males and females averaging about twice the weight of caribou. The species once ranged through most of the U.S. and Canada except for tundra, true deserts, and the Gulf of Mexico coast, but overhunting and forest clearing wiped out populations east of the Great Plains. The species as a whole has significantly recovered, and the descendants of relocated western elk are now thriving in many eastern states and provinces.
- The moose (known in Europe as the elk), Alces alces, is the world's largest deer species, with the largest males standing nearly 7 feet (2.1 m) at the shoulders and weighing upward of 1500 lb (700 kg). It can readily be distinguished from other deer not only by size, but also bodily form (very robust body supported by unusually long legs), broad hooves, and most notably the flattened antlers grown by males during the warmer months. The species mainly inhabits temperate and boreal forests. Populations remain stable in arctic and subarctic regions, but have significantly declined in recent years in the contiguous U.S. Moose–vehicle collisions, while not as common as collisions with white-tails or mule deer, are especially dangerous to humans because an adult moose's center of mass is above the hood of most passenger cars. Because of this, a direct collision with a moose will usually send the body directly into the hood and windshield, crushing the front roof beams and anyone sitting in the front seats.
The pronghorn, Antilocapra americana, often called "antelope", is the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere. While the cheetah of Africa and Asia is faster, the pronghorn can sustain its maximum speed for much longer. It can be found in open country throughout the western Great Plains, the Great Basin, and into northern Mexico. Pronghorns are about the size of smaller deer, with males averaging about 110 lb (50 kg) and females about 95 lb (45 kg). The animal's name comes from the branched horns of males, which unlike those of deer have a bony core. Females have smaller and usually unbranched horns. In the 1920s, it was threatened with extinction, but strong conservation efforts have led to a major recovery. While populations in Mexico and Arizona remain endangered, the species as a whole is safe, with as many as 1 million individuals living today. Like deer, they are popular game animals within their range.
The mountain goat, Oreamnos americanus, is another popular game animal. Despite its name, it is not a true goat. It is native to mountainous regions of western North America, with the traditional range extending from Idaho and Wyoming, through Canada, and into southeast Alaska. The species has also been successfully introduced to mountain areas as far south as Colorado. Featuring thick white coats and short horns in both sexes, mountain goat billies (males) average up to 300 lb (140 kg), with nannies (females) about 30% smaller.
Many birds of the continent are migratory, and can only be seen seasonally.