One of the Earth's eight biogeographic realms
Travel topics > Natural attractions > North American wildlife

North American wildlife is the flora and fauna of the Nearctic region, which consists of most of North America; Greenland, the continental parts of Canada and the United States, and inland Mexico. The region borders the Central and South American wildlife region.

The Nearctic realm.

Many North American species, especially in the Arctic and boreal regions, are similar to Eurasian wildlife.

Major wildlife regions
North AmericaCentral & South AmericaAfricaEurasiaSouth & Southeast AsiaAustralasiaSouthern Ocean


Not all of North America is within the Nearctic realm. The Caribbean, Central America and southern Florida are in the Neotropic region, together with South America.

The Nearctic realm is divided between four bioregions, making up the northern, western, eastern and southern part of the continent.

The north, (including the Canadian shield), is made up of tundra and boreal forest. The harsh winters put pressure on animals and plants here, limiting the number of species.

The west is contained by the Rocky Mountains. The region has great variations in elevation, temperature and rainfall within rather short distances.

The east makes up the eastern United States, as well as southeastern Canada, and the Canadian Prairie. Much of this region is exploited through farming and human settlement.

The south includes inland Mexico, as well as the desert region of the United States, and Texas.



North America is famous for its many carnivores, especially bears, wolves, foxes, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, and cougars (mountain lions).

They make up keystone species for their ecosystems. Many of them have been endangered, or locally extinct during the 20th century, but are recovering.

You can see alligators in swamps all over coastal areas of the South, and especially in Louisiana and Florida. Everglades National Park has both alligators and crocodiles.

While the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) can be found in Eurasia as well, two variants of the species can only be found in the wild in North America. One of them is the silver fox, which has black instead of orange fur, while the other is the cross fox, which is partially melanistic and features both orange and black patches of fur.

Several variants of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) can only be found in North America. One is the Mexican gray wolf, which used to be found in much of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, but is now critically endangered and down to only over a hundred individuals in the wild. The northwestern wolf can be found in much of Alaska, western Canada and the northwestern United States. It was one hunted to extinction in Yellowstone National Park, but has since been successfully reintroduced. The eastern wolf is found in Ontario, southern Quebec, the Midwest and New England. The northern Rocky Mountain wolf, as the name suggests, is found in the northern parts of the rocky mountains stretching from the American states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all the way up into Canada's Yukon territory.


The American bison (Bison bison), also called the buffalo, is not related to the Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis). It is the heaviest endemic land animal on the continent. The bison used to be a dominant species of the Great Plains until modern times. At the brink of extinction near 1900, the population is on the rise again. Two distinct subspecies exist: the plain bison and the wood bison. The only place to see both subspecies in a relatively free-ranging environment is at Elk Island National Park, in Alberta, Canada.

The mustangs are a population of feral horses (Equus ferus caballus) on the Great Plains, descending from colonists' horses.

North America has five deer species:

  • The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is the most widely distributed ungulate on the continent, though more prevalent east of the Rockies. The species varies widely in size; males average about 150 pounds (70 kg) and females 100 lb (45 kg), but the endangered Key deer (O. v. clavium) of the Florida Keys is noticeably smaller, while bucks (males) in more northern populations can weigh over 400 lb (180 kg). While the Key deer and Columbian white-tailed deer (O. v. leucurus) of Oregon and Washington are listed by the U.S. government as endangered, the species as a whole is in no danger of extinction, with an estimated population of 30 million in the U.S. alone, with many millions more in Canada, Mexico, and Central America. In fact, in many suburban and agricultural areas in the U.S. and Canada, the white-tail has become a major pest, consuming significant amounts of ornamental and cash crops. Additionally, over a million deer–vehicle collisions occur annually in the U.S., resulting in about 300 human deaths, and deer are major carriers of the ticks that spread the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in humans.
  • The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is native to western North America, especially the Rocky Mountain region. It averages slightly larger than the white-tail.
  • The caribou (the North American term for wild reindeer), Rangifer tarandus, is larger than the mule deer, with males averaging close to 400 lb (180 kg) and females about 220 lb (100 kg). Notably, the caribou is the only deer species in which both sexes grow antlers. Originally, the species ranged throughout Canada, Alaska, and the far north of the contiguous U.S., but climate change and human disruption of habitat have caused it to almost completely disappear from the contiguous U.S. and greatly reduced its numbers elsewhere.
  • The elk (Cervus canadensis), also known as the wapiti, is closely related to the red deer of Eurasia. It is one of the largest deer, with both males and females averaging about twice the weight of caribou. The species once ranged through most of the U.S. and Canada except for tundra, true deserts, and the Gulf of Mexico coast, but overhunting and forest clearing wiped out populations east of the Great Plains. The species as a whole has significantly recovered, and the descendants of relocated western elk are now thriving in many eastern states and provinces.
  • The moose (known in Europe as the elk), Alces alces, is the world's largest deer species, with the largest males standing nearly 7 feet (2.1 m) at the shoulders and weighing upward of 1500 lb (700 kg). It can readily be distinguished from other deer not only by size, but also bodily form (very robust body supported by unusually long legs), broad hooves, and most notably the flattened antlers grown by males during the warmer months. The species mainly inhabits temperate and boreal forests. Populations remain stable in arctic and subarctic regions, but have declined significantly in the 2010s in the contiguous U.S. Moose–vehicle collisions, while not as common as collisions with white-tails or mule deer, are especially dangerous to humans because an adult moose's center of mass is above the hood of most passenger cars. Because of this, a direct collision with a moose will usually send the body directly into the hood and windshield, crushing the front roof beams and anyone sitting in the front seats.

The pronghorn, Antilocapra americana, often called "antelope", is the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere. While the cheetah of Africa and Asia is faster, the pronghorn can sustain its maximum speed for much longer. It can be found in open country throughout the western Great Plains, the Great Basin, and into northern Mexico. Pronghorns are about the size of smaller deer, with males averaging about 110 lb (50 kg) and females about 95 lb (45 kg). The animal's name comes from the branched horns of males, which unlike those of deer have a bony core. Females have smaller and usually unbranched horns. In the 1920s, it was threatened with extinction, but strong conservation efforts have led to a major recovery. While populations in Mexico and Arizona remain endangered, the species as a whole is safe, with as many as 1 million individuals living today. Like deer, they are popular game animals within their range.

The mountain goat, Oreamnos americanus, is another popular game animal. Despite its name, it is not a true goat. It is native to mountainous regions of western North America, with the traditional range extending from Idaho and Wyoming, through Canada, and into southeast Alaska. The species has also been successfully introduced to mountain areas as far south as Colorado. Featuring thick white coats and short horns in both sexes, mountain goat billies (males) average up to 300 lb (140 kg), with nannies (females) about 30% smaller.

Small mammalsEdit

The raccoon, Procyon lotor, is an omnivorous animal spread all across the continent.

Though locals see them as pests, raccoons fascinate some visitors (so much so that they have been exported as pets and become an invasive species in other countries). With black "masks" around their eyes and ringed tails, raccoons are easy to recognize if you see them. They're very intelligent and have adapted well to human residential areas, where they're notorious for digging through people's garbage to find food. They're mostly nocturnal, so you'll have to get lucky to spot one.

Skunks are notorious for their pungent, stinky spray, so don't get close. Most have a distinctive black and white striped pattern.

Squirrels are very common in suburban and even urban areas. The chipmunk is something like a smaller, cuter version of a squirrel with a striped back.

The groundhog or woodchuck is a burrowing animal common in large parts of the eastern United States and Canada. It's celebrated on the holiday of Groundhog Day (February 2), when according to superstition a groundhog comes out of its burrow and looks around. If it sees its shadow, it goes back down and there will be six more weeks of winter; otherwise, spring will come. In many locations around the US and Canada, a ceremony is held where you can watch a groundhog to see what it predicts—the most famous one is in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.


The bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is the national bird of the United States.

Many birds of the continent are migratory, and can only be seen seasonally.

Turkeys are indigenous to North America, of which there are two species; the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), from which the domestic turkey was derived, is found in much of the eastern half of the United States, as well as southern Ontario in Canada, and parts of northern Mexico, while the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is found in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Marine animalsEdit

Elephant seals live along the west coast, as does the harmless leopard shark.


Carnivorous plantsEdit

The Venus flytrap is native to an area of North and South Carolina within a 60-mile (100-km) radius of Wilmington. Other carnivorous plants (sundews, pitcher plants, bladderworts, and butterworts) can be seen in the area as well. Try Carolina Beach State Park, Croatan National Forest near the Crystal Coast, or Green Swamp near Wilmington.


The bright orange California poppy covers hillsides in parts of California, where it's the state flower, in spring, summer, and fall. One good place to see the flowers is Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Antelope Valley.


Redwoods are a subfamily of trees including the tallest and the largest trees in the world, found only in California and Oregon (the closely related trees in China are much smaller). These trees can live thousands of years and have a complex and fascinating life cycle involving cones that grow after wildfires. Though they are endangered due to human activity, you can see them in beautiful nature reserves like Muir Woods near San Francisco.


See alsoEdit

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