Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park


In an area of the country that is rapidly being converted to shopping centers, houses, and pavement, Catoctin Mountain Park serves as a virtual oasis for a number of animals. This 5,810 acre forested ecosystem is habitat to more than 280 species of animals. A short walk on one of Catoctin Mountain Park’s trails will take you into the forest environment. Animals you are likely to see are squirrels, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, pileated woodpeckers and wild turkey, maybe a box turtle, and if you are extremely fortunate, a black bear. A journey to one of Catoctin’s high gradient streams will reveal native brook trout. Stay overnight at Owens Creek Campground, and you might hear the duck-like cackle of the wood frog, the hoot of a great horned owl, or see bats zipping overhead in search of insects.


*** Please remember that hunting and trapping are not permitted in the park.***

Mammals found in the park are fairly typical for this region and include skunk, groundhog, squirrel, several varieties of vole and mole, eastern cottontail rabbit, opossum, raccoon, white-tailed deer, and red fox.. Recent sightings of bobcat, beaver, mink, and black bear indicate that populations of these mammals have returned to the area.

In 2001 a small mammal survey was done for the park. This survey by the Smithsonian Institute, confirmed the presence of 12 small mammals within the park. This survey also revealed a new species to the park, a coyote! The coyote was photographed using a motion sensitive camera set up by the researchers. Coyotes had never before been documented at Catoctin Mountain Park. Since then, several other coyote observations have been made indicating this species has in fact become established in this section of Maryland.

Historical records indicate that mammals such as bison, elk, gray wolf, eastern cougar, porcupine, and fisher could at one time be found in the area. However, these animals have all since been extirpated from the park as well as much of the surrounding area.

White-tailed Deer

The most abundant large animal in the park is the white-tailed deer. Deer also pose a difficult resource management dilemma. With no natural predators left and hunting being prohibited on the park, deer populations have escalated to an estimated 187 individuals per square mile in 2002. The population appears to have grown beyond available food resources, eating nearly everything on the forest floor to a browse line of four foot high. This is creating a marked change on vegetation patterns within the park. Some rare plants, such as the purple fringed orchid, have suffered from the high deer population and numerous elm trees have died as a result of bark stripping. Bark stripping is an unusual feeding behavior deer will revert to in winter when no other food sources are available.

In the mid 1980's deer exclosures were set up as part of a long term monitoring program to determine the effects of deer browse on vegetation. The plots are monitored to compare the deer browsed land to the area in the unbrowsed exclosures. Small exclosures are also placed around rare plants and trees seedlings to protect them from being consumed.

The ecological impact of a high deer population goes beyond vegetation as deer compete with other species for food. The fall mast crop of acorns and beechnuts are of great importance to raccoon, squirrels , turkey , bear, and other mammals. With "extra" deer to feed these other species will suffer.

Another indicator that a deer has exceeded the carrying capacity is the herd's poor health. The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study Unit, has performed herd health assessments on deer from Catoctin in 1988 and 2002. The assessments involve a complete necropsy, noting age-specific body weights, ovulation rates, kidney fat, bone marrow, and parasite counts. Results from both assessments indicate the deer herd has degraded health most likely due to the herd being near its nutritional carrying capacity.

Black bear

In the 1990's, black bear returned to Catoctin after a twenty year absence. The black bear is the largest animal in Maryland. Adults typically weigh between 125 and 400 pounds. Their color varies from brown to black. They have good eyesight and hearing, but rely heavily on their excellent sense of smell to locate food. Bears will eat almost anything. Common foods include berries, acorns, hickory nuts, grasses, insects, fish, and carrion. They are also attracted to garbage, agricultural crops, and bird food placed in back yard feeders. This sometimes brings bears in conflict with humans.

Bears tend to be wary of humans, and will often flee when they hear you approach.. Remember they are wild and should never be fed or harassed. If you encounter a bear, stay calm, do not approach it or run away. Avoid direct eye contact and do not panic if the bear stands on its hind legs. Remain upright, back away slowly and leave the area. Seeing a bear in the wild is an exciting experience. If you use common sense and good judgment, you can safely enjoy the natural beauty of this forest animal at a safe distance.


The hardwood forest and stream environment provides excellent habitat for many species of birds. Over 200 species are thought to occur in the park during some part of the year, including the wild turkey, which started to reoccupy its old habitat in the 1960’s. The pileated woodpecker is also abundant in the park due to the vast expanse of hardwood forest that this bird requires to live.


The group amphibian includes frogs, toads, and salamanders.The word amphibian was taken from the Greek “amphi” meaning “double” and “bios” meaning “life” which is quite fitting for the animals known as amphibians. These creatures do live a double life. Emerging from eggs that are usually laid in the water, most amphibians begin their life with gills. They soon lose these gills and metamorphose from a completely aquatic form into a more terrestrial form.To date, there are 22 known species of salamanders, frogs, and toads at Catoctin Mountain Park.
Please remember that it is illegal to collect or harm them for any reason!

There are three different types of salamanders at Catoctin: mole salamanders, newts, and lungless salamanders. Mole salamanders spend most of their time underground in animal burrows and natural underground openings. They have robust bodies and limbs with short, blunt heads. The spotted salamander is the only mole salamander at Catoctin. Newts are primarily aquatic, but leave the water after the larval stage to live up to three years on land. This sub-adult time on land is called the "eft" stage. Following this stage they return back to the water. The red-spotted newt is the only species of newt found at Catoctin. The lungless salamanders make up the largest family. As their name implies, these animals do not have lungs, rather they take in oxygen through their skin, a process known as “cutaneous respiration”. Lungless salamanders at Catoctin include the northern dusky, seal, mountain dusky, northern two-lined, longtail, northern spring, four-toed, redback, slimy, ravine, and northern red.
Frogs and Toads
Frogs and toads belong to the amphibian order Anura. This is the largest order of amphibians with over 4,000 species. They can be found on all continents except Antartica, and on most islands of the world. Primarily carnivores, frogs and toads will feed on any animal of the appropriate size. Courtship usually occurs in or near water, with the male vocalizing to attract the female. The breeding season normally begins in early spring and continues through summer. It is during this time that the calls of frogs are most noticeable. All frog and toad species have different calls, so knowing frog calls can be a valuable identification tool. The frogs and toads that can be heard, and sometimes seen, at Catoctin include the wood frog, spring peeper, pickerel frog, green frog, bull frog, northern leopard frog, gray tree frog, American toad, and the fowlers toad.


Two high gradient streams and their tributaries support 17 known species of fish. Darters, dace, sculpins, and minnows are commonly found while elusive species like the American eel often escape even the most careful observer. However, it is the park’s population of trout that most interests visitors.

Dispersed throughout the various streams of Catoctin there are brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. In the headwaters and tributaries of Big Hunting Creek there exists a population of wild native brook trout. Brook trout are the only trout species native to this region. A wild population is one that naturally spawns in the streams and is not stocked by humans. Big Hunting Creek also contains brown trout and rainbow trout which have ben introduced below the dam to enhance the stream’s recreational fishing. Owens Creek, located on the northern side of the park, contains populations of brown and brook trout, with brook being the more abundant of the two.

Annual trout population surveys are done during the summer months through electro shocking. These surveys, performed by the National Park Service and Maryland State Department of Natural Resources, provide important information such as population size, species diversity, and overall health.

Other fish species in Catoctin’s streams include the American eel, white sucker, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, blue gill, black crappie, mottled sculpin, longnose dace, roseyside dace, cutlips minnow, blacknose dace, creek chub, common shiner, fantail darter, and rainbow trout.

Fishing is permitted in Catoctin Mountain Park. Big Hunting Creek and its tributaries are fly-fishing use only and are subject to special Catch and Return regulations. A Maryland fishing license and trout stamp are required for anglers over the age of 16. Other streams in the park coincide with the regulations set by the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources . Fishing regulations are strictly enforced.


Reptiles are cold-blooded, secretive creatures. Being cold-blooded requires these creatures to regulate their body temperature from the environment rather than internally like mammals do. All reptiles have the distinguishing characteristics of scales, shields, or plates and have claws on their toes. Snakes, turtles, lizards, and skinks are the kinds of reptiles found in Catoctin Mountain Park. All animals, including reptiles, are protected in the park. It is illegal to collect or harm them for any reason! Snakes Of the 14 species of snakes found in the park only two of them, the copperhead and timber rattlesnake, are venomous. However, encounters with these two venomous snakes are rare due to their shy and elusive behavior. Their habitat includes rocky slopes, loose rock walls, stream areas, and abandoned buildings or woodpiles. The copperhead and timber rattlesnake differ in appearance from other snakes in the area in that the poisonous snakes have thin necks and triangular heads. The copperhead is tan, and is thus well camouflaged on the forest floor. It may bite if stepped on, but it is primarily a night stalker and is seldom seen during daylight hours. The timber rattlesnake can range in color from yellowish brown to black, with irregular black bands or diamond shape blotches. At the tail end is the rattler, the source of the characteristic high frequency hissing sound that can be heard when the snake feels threatened. The primary food of these two snakes is rodents, but birds, insects, and the occasional frog or lizard help diversify the menu. If you happen to encounter a timber rattlesnake or copperhead on the trail be sure to step back and give it plenty of space. Do not touch the snake or try to move it. These snakes are normally not aggressive and will not bite unless they feel threatened. Other snakes in the park are the northern black racer, northern ring neck, black rat, hognose, eastern milk, queen, northern water snake, brown water snake, green snake, and eastern garter. TurtlesThe turtle that is most commonly seen in the forest is the eastern box turtle. Female box turtles The box turtle reaches an average shell length of 4-6 inches. Males are generally larger than females, have red color eyes, and a concave bottom shell. Females have yellowish brown eyes and a more convex bottom shell. Box turtles feed on invertebrates and carrion as well as an assortment of wild fruits and berries. Although essentially a terrestrial animal, the box turtle enjoys soaking for hours at a time in wet mud or water. It likes moist, forested areas but does not insist on woodlands, and often can be seen on wet meadows or floodplains. During the hot, steamy summer months the box turtle actively seeks out swampy areas where it burrows in the cool retreat of logs or rotting vegetation. The wood turtle, recognized by its distinctive sculptured shell, is the other terrestrial turtle found in the park. Although omnivorous like the box turtle, the wood turtle is partial to vegetation, feeding mainly on wild fruits. Its favorite meal appears to be strawberries and low-bush blueberries. The more aquatic turtles, such as the snapping turtle, spotted turtle and painted turtle, are found closer to streams and ponds. An encounter with these turtles is uncommon because they are quick to hide in the water. Lizards and SkinksLizards make up the largest group of living reptiles, numbering about 3,000 species worldwide. However, Catoctin Mountain Park is home only to two species, the five-lined skink and the northern fence lizard. There is a possibility that the broadhead skink may be here, but that is yet to be confirmed.