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North America is home to some amazing and unique wild animals. People come from all around the world to see these animals, and to hunt some of them, in their native, American habitats. Many of these animals can only be found in deep forests or in National Parks in America, while others are commonly seen in backyards and neighborhoods all over the country. All of the animals I am highlighting today are native to North America and have an important place in American culture and history.
bears – There are many types of bears that live in North America, but only one is native to the Americas: the black bear. For many Native American cultures, the bear is a symbol of strength and wisdom; bears are also often associated with healing. The black bear is the smallest of the bears found in America, and also the least dangerous, although all bears can be dangerous. The brown bear or grizzly bear is very large and lives only in the west and far north of America. The polar bear also lives in the northern American state of Alaska. Both grizzly and polar bears are native of Asia.
bison – The American bison, which is also known as the American buffalo, were once plentiful in the grasslands of North America. Their numbers are now only a faction of what they once were. In fact bison almost became extinct in the 19th century, due to hunting. Bison are large brown four legged animals with woolly heads, horns, and small humps on their backs near the their shoulders. They live and travel in groups called herds.
jackrabbit – These are a kind of hare, or rabbit, which are common in the western regions of America. Jackrabbits are different from other rabbits because their ears stand straight up, instead of flopping down, and they tend to have big ears for their bodies. The word ‘jackrabbit’ comes from the American writer Mark Twain, who described these animals as a ‘jackass rabbits’, because their ears look like those of a donkey (also called a jackass). Eventually the term ‘jackass rabbit’ was shortened to jackrabbit.
coyote – Coyotes live in North and Central America and are related to wolves. They are smaller than wolves, but otherwise look very similar. Coyotes live in families or “packs,” which are groups of coyotes. You can often hear them at night as they howl like wolves and roam around looking for food.
prairie dog – Prairie dogs aren’t dogs at all; they are actually a type of squirrel that lives in the ground! These animals were named “prairie dogs,” because they give a warning call that sounds similar to a dog’s bark. Prairie dogs live in open spaces digging holes underground for homes, so they have to be on guard and give warning to one another when they see a predator. They are very fast moving. You will often see them sticking their heads out of their holes, but ducking back in quickly as they are very cautious. It is hard to get close to a prairie dog because they move so fast.
opossum – Opossums are a kind of marsupial, which means they have a pouch (or pocket) where their babies can live when they are very young. They look a lot like rats, but are bigger. Opossums live all over North America. They are often seen in trees and getting into trash cans! These are mischievous little creatures, but they do most of their mischief at night because they are nocturnal. They also are known for hanging from their tails in trees. They can wrap their tails around tree branches and hang there for quite awhile; they even sleep this way.
raccoon – These animals are native to America and known for their unique face and tail fur. Their face is covered in black, white, and grey fur in a pattern that looks like the raccoon is wearing a mask over its eyes. The raccoon’s tail is stripped with dark and light fur. Their fur used to be very sought after for its warmth. Frontier men often wore hats call “coonskin hats” when they were out hunting, because they were so warm. Like opossum, raccoons today are often found getting into trashcans and making a mess at night, as they too are nocturnal and mischievous.
deer – Deer can be found all over the world, but are very common throughout North America. The white-tailed deer is particularly common. Deer are a symbol of the wilderness and woods in America. They continue to live in wooded areas all over the country even woods that are next to houses and in neighborhoods. Deer are also often hunted in America. The most famous American deer is probably Bambi, who was the star character of one of the first animated Disney movies.
squirrel – Squirrels are usually seen as a nuisances to American, although foreign tourists often find them to be quite cute. Squirrels are a type of rodent, like a rat, but they have a fluffy tail. Squirrels live in trees, in nests. They collect and eat nuts and seeds. They can often be found raiding bird feeders for the seeds people put in them to feed local birds. Squirrels range in size (1 – 1.5 lbs.) and color (grey – brown), and can be found anywhere in America where there are trees.