Thursday, May 14, 2009

Adirondack Mammals; The Whirlwind Tour

There are 54 species of mammals in the Adirondacks, and the Adirondack Ecological Center’s Charlotte Demers offers a “whirlwind tour.” Here are the highlights:

Marsupials – the possum. The Adirondacks is in the upper range of the possum, so you often find them with signs of frostbite, particularly their ears. Amazingly they give birth just 12 1/2 days after mating.

Shrews and Moles – There are six different species of what are called “red tooth shrews”. They have an average life span of just a year and eat almost continuously. Our shrews have a toxin in their saliva which paralyzes it’s prey. The pygmy shrew weighs less then a dime making it (arguably) the smallest mammal in the world. The water shrew dives (mostly in streams) for its prey, including frogs and fish. They are often caught in minnow traps. We have two moles – hairy tail (the most common) and the star nose (uglier and aquatic).

Lagomorpha – snowshoe hare (big back feet, brown in color until winter when they turn white) and the cotton tail (at its northern range here, so seen more in the southern fringes of the park).

Bats – nine species in the Adirondacks. We’ve wrote about the problems they face here at the Almanack before. The latest studies suggest that white-nose syndrome, currently devastating the bat populations, is similar to a fungus found in Europe – it’s unclear whether or not it was brought into New York caves by spelunkers.

Carnivores – Eastern coyotes, red fox, gray fox, bobcat, skunks, mustelids (otters, fishers, marten, ermine, weasels, and mink), raccoons, and black bears. Although the red fox is the most widely distributed globally, the gray can climb trees. Turns out the coyotes are more closely related to the red wolf than the timber wolf. Red wolves used to be prevalent in the Adirondacks, but are no longer here and their ecological niche has been taken over by the Coyote. Bobcats are elusive, but there are probably about one per 20 square miles in the park and they can take down a whitetail deer. Fishers are probably responsible for the many sightings of “black panthers” and have been known to regularly take porcupine. Black bear, it turns out, are not true hibernators as their body temperature doesn’t really drop dramatically. There are about 6-7,000 in New York State, 4,000 in the Adirondacks. The record New York State black bear weighed in at over 700 pounds.

Rodents – the most species of any order, 18. Beaver are the largest in the world and a single family has been known to build 20 or more dams in a single location. The meadow vole is our largest vole; the red back vole is our most common. Deer mouse (think country mouse) white-footed mouse (think house mouse). Porcupines are seen less frequently which coincides with the increase in the fisher population. Flying squirrels can leap 50 feet, luckily they’re not really territorial. And yes, the woodchuck is a squirrel and a true hibernator (October to April). There are 22 species of chipmunks in North America; unfortunately, we only have one. The jumping mouse is another true hibernator.

Artiodactyla – whitetail deer and moose. Current DEC estimate is that there are 300 to 500 moose in the park; they can weigh up to 1,200 pounds. If you see a moose, let the Wildlife Conservation Society know, they are tracking local sightings. Their study recently included moose-scat sniffing dogs.

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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