Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Flora & Fauna

A greater number and variety of plants and wild animals live here, in their natural habitat, than anywhere else in the 48 contiguous states.

Plants

The following are a few of the most common species you'll see on your visit:

Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), the most common tree in the park, is tall and straight reaching up to 75 feet in height. Some American Indians used it to make frames for their tepees or lodges, hence the name. In thick groves, only the tops of trees have branches; those trees that stand alone often have lower branches because sunlight can reach their entire length.

Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) thrive in areas that are rich with volcanic soil, although the lodgepole pine monopolizes more than 80 percent of Yellowstone's forests.

The Wyoming paintbrush (Castilleja linariaefolias) is one of more than 200 species of Indian paintbrush found in America.

The yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus guttastus) thrives in wet areas, such as the channel run-offs near hydro-thermal features. The shape of the flower's bloom resembles a monkey's face. 

Animals

Yellowstone is famous for its ungulates (hoofed mammals) that thrive in all parts of the park. Bison, elk and bighorn sheep tend to stay together in loose herds, sometimes in the hundreds. Moose and mule deer are more solitary, while white-tailed deer and mountain goat are rare. With the exception of elk, most ungulates migrate less than 50 miles from their winter to summer locations.

Bison (Bison bison), often referred to as buffalo, once numbered in the millions in the West. At the brink of extinction at the turn of the 20th century, bison have established a stronghold in Yellowstone. They are often seen in the Firehole River and Old Faithful thermal basins and in the Lamar and Hayden valleys. During the annual rutting season in early August, males charge each other, banging heads in competition. Stay well out of a bison's way, especially during this time.

River otters (Lutra canadensis), are the most entertaining animals in Yellowstone, sliding down snow banks on their bellies or riding waterfalls into pools of water. It may seem from their playful behavior that they don't have a care in the world, but otters are constantly on the move, avoiding predators, like bald eagles, and keeping their hard caught fish away from coyotes and other larger animals. As long as an otter is within sliding distance of the water, though, they are safe. In Yellowstone's frigid rivers, the otter is at the top of the food chain.

Moose (Alces alces) are by nature reclusive. You're most likely to see one in the streams or willow thickets in the meadows of Canyon Country. The male has enormous antlers while the female has none. The moose's long legs are an adaptation to the thick marshes where it feeds and to its habitat, which is covered by deep snow much of the year. 

Elk (Cervus elaphus) make one of the more unusual sounds in the wilderness, called "bugling," which is a mating phenom-enon. You will hear bull elk bugling in autumn as they compete with other males for dominance during rutting season. Look for bull elk (males) and their harems of cows (females) at Gibbon Meadows, Elk Park Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs. The park's summer elk herd is estimated at 15,000—25,000.

Pronghorn, (Antilocapra americana), often referred to as antelope, rove in small herds, frequenting the rolling sage plains at the park's north end, and are commonly visible at dawn and dusk. Pronghorn can sprint 40—50 mph for long distances.

The coyote (Canis latrans) has a mottled brownish-gray coat that pales to a streaked silver in winter. It is an important predator in the ecological system. Coyotes are opportunistic hunters, feeding on small rodents and birds.

The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a raptor equipped with talons specially designed to snatch slippery fish from lakes and streams. Some 50 to 60 pairs call Yellowstone home, returning to the same nest each year. Often mistaken for a bald eagle, the osprey has a white head and dark brown body. Look for a distinguishing brown eyestripe and sharply crooked wings.

The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), whose snow-white wings span seven feet, glides over Yellowstone streams. Its thick plumage and well- developed oil glands provide good insulation against the cold, permitting the bird to winter here. But the trumpeter swan is very sensitive to human intrusion and is easily disturbed from its nest. Please be cautious, since every disturbance threatens the success of a swan hatching its offspring.