|Shenandoah serves as a refuge for many species of animals otherwise
pressured by human activities, development and other land uses. There
are over 200 resident and transient bird species, over 50 species of
mammals, 51 reptile and amphibian species, and 30 fish species found in
the park. Only incomplete records of insects, spiders, and other
invertebrates are available so the total number of different species of
these groups is unknown. A handful of these species are large and
conspicuous and therefore easily found by visitors. The park provides
boundless opportunities for the public to search for and discover the
thousands of other park residents.
Those who explored the Shenandoah
Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains in the early 1700s reported an abundance
and variety of animals. As European settlers cleared the land,
introduced domestic animals, and hunted native animals, the abundance
and variety in species diminished. An unknown number of native species
disappeared from the area, while populations of many other species
dwindled. American bison were eliminated around 1798 and elk followed in
1855. Beaver and river otter disappeared in the late 1800s. Other
species, including the eastern timber wolf, the eastern cougar, the
white-tailed deer, turkey, black bear, and bobcats were either
extirpated or declined drastically. Fortunately, most of these species
have now returned to the park either through re-introductions on lands
elsewhere in Virginia or through natural population recovery. The
designation and management of the area as a National Park provides
refuge to both the resident animals and those that are passing through
on their migrations.
Today, Shenandoah National Park is a great place to observe wildlife.
Countless visitors spend hours watching deer snip and tear plants. Other
people look for tracks and scat of bobcats, listen for the rustling of
raccoons in the brush, and occasionally smell striped skunks. The
opossum, groundhog, gray fox, and eastern cottontail are more commonly
seen mammals in the park. Because close contact with people is frequent
and hunting and trapping are prohibited, some animals appear almost
tame. They are wild, however. Even beautiful brown-eyed deer will defend
their young from harm. Their elegant legs are powerful and their hooves
are sharp; facts some visitors insist on learning the hard way.
Over 50 species of mammals live in Shenandoah National Park.
Virtually all park visitors see some mammals, such as white-tailed deer
and gray squirrels. Others, like the big brown bat, striped and spotted
skunks are more elusive, remaining largely out of sight until darkness
falls. Black bears and bobcats, though active during the day, seem to
remain hidden deep in the forest. The smallest mammals (moles, voles,
and shrews) found in the park are rarely seen because they spend much of
their lives underground or hidden under leaves and low growing plants.
Careful observation should bring rewards in finding most of the wild
inhabitants of the park.
Just as the number and distribution of mammals varies somewhat from
year to year, the number of species present in the park changes over
time. Coyotes, an adaptable predator not native to Virginia, are
continuing to expand their range eastward and have been documented in
the park. In addition, although not substantiated by park staff
observations, reports of cougar sightings are received regularly from
the public. Cougars, believed to have been eliminated from the park
decades ago, may be recovering naturally or may have expanded into the
park from re-introductions elsewhere.
within this class are cold-blooded, such as snakes, lizards, crocodiles,
and turtles. Reptiles have an external covering of scales or horny
plates and breathe by means of lungs. Reptiles do not form a distinct
evolutionary group as birds and mammals do. Instead, the Class Reptilia
consists of four orders which are very different from each other. As an
example, lizards are more closely related to birds than to turtles.
Reptiles differ from amphibians in that they have dry, waterproof skin
and they lay eggs. In addition they have more advanced circulatory,
respiratory, excretory, and nervous systems. There are twenty-seven
species of reptiles found at Shenandoah including eighteen snakes, five
turtles, three skinks, and one lizard.
Manís fear of snakes likely results in large numbers of them killed
each year. Others (including turtles) perish from motor vehicle activity
along Skyline Drive. Additionally, illegal collecting (poaching) of
certain species such as timber rattlesnakes or painted turtles, accounts
for additional losses. These animals are usually sought for their value
in the illegal pet trade and black market arenas. Currently, the park
has little information as to how these illegal activities may be
affecting reptile populations. The park is currently supporting a number
of reptile-related research efforts that are attempting to describe
species associations, habitat preferences, distributions, and relative
abundance of these animals. A specific example is the long-term work
Marty Martin is doing to monitor timber rattlesnake populations in core
200 species of resident and transient birds are known to use the park.
Approximately half of these species breed in the park including eighteen
species of warblers. Roughly thirty of the species are year-round
residents including tufted titmice, red-tailed hawks, Carolina
chickadees, wild turkeys, and barred owls. Due to the parkís location
along the crest of the Blue Ridge and the extent of the forested
habitat, Shenandoah provides essential habitat for neotropical migratory
birds, both for nesting and as a travel corridor. Certain areas, such as
Big Meadows, support species that can be found nowhere else in the park.
Thirty-two species of fish have been recorded in park waters. The
mountain streams of the park are one of the last completely protected
strongholds of the native eastern brook trout (Salvinus fontinalis). Of
the approximately 90 small streams in the park, over 50 contain brook
trout. The cool forested slopes give rise to clear waters thus providing
excellent habitat for this species. Other species known to occur in the
park include the blacknose and longnose dace, the mottled sculpin, the
bluehead chub, and the fantail darter. Monitoring efforts by park staff
have revealed interesting facts about park fish. For instance, in 1998,
greenside darters were found in park waters. This was unusual because
the population in Virginia was split into two distinct ranges. One is in
the southwestern counties of the state and the other in the Potomac
watershed. This later population is suspected to have been introduced.
One can only speculate about what influence the presence of fish had
on the selection of this portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a
national park. We know that many of the people who were influential in
this selection were ardent trout anglers. President Hoover established
his camp on the Rapidan River as both a retreat to ease the pressures of
political life and as a location with ready access to excellent fishing.
Fishing and fish observation continue to be recreational activities
enjoyed by thousands today.
word amphibian comes from the Greek amphibios meaning "both
lives". This description is appropriate because most adult amphibians
are better adapted to life on land, while their larval phases are
entirely aquatic. For much of their lives, which may last several years
or a couple of months, depending on species, larval amphibians (e.g.
tadpoles) bear little resemblance to their adult forms. However, in a
matter of weeks or days, the fish-like larvae transform into
terrestrial, air-breathing, four-legged animals. Adult terrestrial
amphibians can either breathe through their skin or with lungs. The
families include frogs, toads, salamanders and newts. Shenandoah is home
to ten species of toads and frogs and fourteen species of salamanders or
newts. The Shenandoah Salamander is the only federally endangered animal
species found in the park. It is endemic to high elevation talus slopes
located in three scattered areas of the central section of the park.
This salamander is closely related to the ubiquitous red-backed
The long-term health of worldwide and park amphibian populations remains
in question. Acid deposition, heavy metal deposition (mercury), forest
defoliation due to exotic insect pests may adversely impact amphibian
populations. The park is supporting a number of amphibian related
research efforts that are attempting to describe species associations,
habitat preferences, distributions, and relative abundance of these
animals. Research is also looking into the connection between stream
water acidification and effects on park amphibian populations.
insect world is one of the least well understood groups of animals at
Shenandoah National Park. This is not uncommon in many parks where most
investigations have focused on larger animals, plants, or organisms that
are important to people because they are hunted, fished, or watched, or
are hazardous or pestiferous. Thus we find that invertebrates (including
insects) are not well documented in many parks. Insects are
invertebrates (see the page on Other Invertebrates) and are grouped with
a large number of other life forms known as arthropods. This group
includes spiders (Arachnida), crayfish, fleas, and lice (Crustacea),
centipedes (Chilopoda), and millepedes (Diplopoda) as well as insects (Insecta).
Insects are differentiated from the others in this group by the presence
of three main body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), a pair of
antennae, three pairs of legs, and distinguishing mouthparts. Insects
are extremely important ecologically and to society. Many are a food
source for other animals, some are important plant pollinators, and
others serve important roles in the reduction and decomposition of
organic matter. Insects produce products such as honey, silk, and
It is estimated that the number of insects worldwide exceeds the
total number of species of all plants and all other animals combined.
Nearly one million insects have been described worldwide. Scientists
speculate that there are another 20-50 million that have yet to be
described. There are approximately 90,000 species of insects in the
United States alone. It is unknown what the total number of different
types of insects, present in the park, is. However, some groups are
known more thoroughly such as butterflies, aquatic insects, and forest
insects that feed heavily on trees.