Grand Teton National Park is a stunning landscape of sheer mountains that rise dramatically over forests, lakes and, meadows in northwestern Wyoming. At the base of these breathtaking spires, lakes and meadows provide habitat for a rich and varied tapestry of wildlife.
Moose are the superstars of the megafauna in the park. These giant herbivores (the largest of the deer species) can top out at 1,800 pounds and can be more than 6 feet tall at the shoulder. Antlers of a male (bull) moose can be 6 feet wide, and they routinely move at speeds of 20 mph with sprints up to 35 mph. Moose typically feed on willows, meadow grasses, and aquatic plants. They are not inherently aggressive toward humans, but females (cows) can be very protective of their young (calves). As with any and all wildlife in the park, never approach a moose.
Both black bears and grizzly bears are present in the park and are considered a significant hazard to humans (and vice-versa), particularly in the spring and fall, when they are coming out of and going into hibernation and their feeding needs are at a peak. Foodstuffs and anything odiferous must be securely stowed in the park and care should be taken not to startle a bear.
Other large animals in the park include bison, elk, deer, and pronghorn. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are occasionally seen, but are not common. Similarly, members of the cat family (mountain lion, lynx, bobcat) are rare but known.
Beaver activity shapes much of the wetland landscape in the park, as these busy characters build dams and channels along the creeks and inlets. River otters patrol the water as well, and badgers burrow in the meadows. Marmots and weasels are plentiful; martens and minks are occasionally seen. In the canine family, both coyotes and foxes are seen in the park. Wolves are known, but rare. While the official park website says that fox is uncommon, I saw both coyotes and foxes on my spring visit to the park.
Raptors including hawks, eagles and osprey can be seen wheeling above the landscape in search of prey. Other large bird species. including American white pelicans, Canada geese, great blue herons, egrets, and trumpeter swans, are present in the park.
Let’s not forget the little guys. Pikas, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and voles are plentiful, as are a few species of bats (little brown, big brown, long-legged, silver-haired).
Fish, frogs, and snakes provide food for some of the mid-sized and larger wildlife. (Note that no venomous snakes live in the park.) Trout (including native cutthroat) and other freshwater fish are present, providing fine fishing for humans, bears and bald eagles alike.
Birds present in or migrating through the park include sage thrashers, chickadees, woodpeckers, thrushes, towhees, meadowlarks, wrens, jays, sapsuckers, and sparrows.
Of course, the truly “micro” fauna include some 10,000 species of insets. Not only does this rich banquet of bees, beetles and butterflies provide a food source for the many of the park’s bird and amphibian populations, they are also crucial to the bear population. Moth larvae (caterpillars), ants and beetle larvae (grubs) are an important pre-hibernation protein source for these massive omnivores.
Visiting Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is situated in northwestern Wyoming, just north of the town of Jackson and just south of Yellowstone National Park. It was established in 1929 to protect the unique mountains and their ecosystem, including the wildlife highlighted here.
Admission to the park (in 2015) is $25 per vehicle ($12 for individuals hiking or bicycling) and is valid for 7 days. The permit also gives you access to Grand Teton’s flashier, more famous sister to the north, Yellowstone National Park. Learn more about Grand Teton National Park at the official National Park Service website, http://nps.gov/grte.
Top Photo: Elk in a Grand Teton National Park meadow.