North America is home to a variety of plants and animals. The continent’s diverse ecosystems provide habitats that support all kinds of wildlife. North American animals have evolved to live in deserts, forests, and plains.
Here we will learn about different species of animals. This list will discuss mammals, reptiles, birds, spiders, and insects that live in North America.
Iconic North American Animals
1. Black Bear
The American black bear is the most populous bear in North America. Its name comes from its dark brown color, which varies among individual bears. The black bear’s omnivorous diet changes depending on the season and location.
Bears often live in forests but wander out to find food attracted by nearby human populations. Black bears are excellent swimmers; they like to swim for enjoyment and to feed on fish. However, they sometimes end up in a family pool.
These bears are territorial and mark their territory by rubbing against trees and clawing bark to show their presence. They communicate through grunting and tongue clicks when they’re comfortable. Sometimes they produce a low grumble when relaxed.
A mother black bear is called a sow. Sows have litters of 2 to 3 cubs. They are weaned off of their mother at around 30 weeks of age. They will become independent around 16 to 18 months old.
2. Gray Wolf
The gray wolf is a large member of the wild canine family native to North America. Wolves are apex predators, which means they are necessary for healthy ecosystems because they are at the top of the food chain. They hunt in packs and control prey populations.
The average pack size in North America is about eight wolves. Packs usually consist of a mother, father, and their offspring, until the young reach maturity. Wolves are monogamous so a pair will mate for life.
Working together, a pack can bring down large prey like elk or caribou. Wolves control prey populations by taking down the weakest and most vulnerable, leaving the strongest to reproduce.
Gray wolves can reach sizes of over 100 lbs. They have dense fur with a short undercoat and coarse hair overtop, similar to double-coated domestic dogs, like the husky. Their winter coat can withstand harsh winters on the tundra of North America.
3. Monarch Butterfly
Monarch butterflies are probably the most recognizable butterfly in existence. They are native to North and South America. These butterflies migrate for winter, some traveling up to 3,000 miles to their destination.
There are two kinds of monarch butterflies. The eastern monarch migrates to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico for the winter, and western monarch butterflies migrate to California.
Monarch butterflies start as larva or caterpillars; interestingly, monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed. Females lay eggs on milkweed plants. Hence, their baby caterpillars have food to survive until they reach the pupa stage. Then they become a chrysalis forming their cocoon.
The monarch caterpillar spends a week or two developing inside their cocoon. Then, if temperatures are right, it emerges as a beautiful monarch butterfly.
4. Black Widow Spider
The black widow spider is a venomous arachnid with a deadly reputation. They are considered to be the most venomous spider in North America. Females are also rumored to kill males after mating, but this is not always true.
Female black widows are a polished black color, as their name implies, and they have an hourglass-shaped red mark on the bottom underside of their abdomen. Males are duller in color and sometimes have red dots down their abdomen.
Like many spiders in North America, black widows build webs near areas where people live. Their webs can be found in dark spaces and corners, often hidden out of sight. Females lay hundreds of eggs in an egg sac.
Black widow bites usually don’t cause death, but they can be extremely painful. That’s because females’ venom is almost 15 times the potency of rattlesnake venom.
5. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The western diamondback rattlesnake is a pit viper that is venomous and native to the southwest region of North America. Pit vipers sense to heat with pits behind their nostrils. Rattlesnakes use this adaptation for hunting prey like mice, rats, rabbits, and other animals.
Also called a “rattler,” this snake gets its name from the rattle on the end of its tail. A section of rattle gets added each time the snake molts, which happens at different rates. Despite popular folklore, rattle sections are not an accurate way to tell a rattlesnake’s age.
The western diamondback lives in hot desert climates and spends its day coiled under shrubs, cactus, or rocks. They also slither into underground burrows made by other animals to hibernate in winter.
Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, which means they do not lay eggs. Instead, female rattlers carry eggs inside their body until they hatch after three months. Then they give birth to live young.
Elk belong to the deer family in North America. They are huge and measure up to six feet tall at the shoulder. Bulls weigh in at over 1,000 pounds, and cows are around 500 to 600 pounds.
Bull elk bugle across mountains and open ranges to call cows during mating season, also called “the rut.” During the rut, males fight to establish dominance to attract females. As a result, herds of elk can reach population sizes numbering in the hundreds.
Elk are grazers, which is different from deer, which are browsers. They are ruminants, and like cows, they have multiple chambers in their stomach for digesting grass and vegetation. They also chew cud like cows.
Moose are the largest and tallest members of the North American deer family. They can reach upwards of 7 to 8 feet at the shoulders. In addition, their antlers can spread up to 6 feet in width.
Moose tend to live in colder climates, and their habitat stretches from northern areas of the United States to just about all of Canada. Some of the largest moose have been found in Alaska.
They are browsers known to eat aquatic grasses in shallow lakes and streams. Moose can dive and hold their breath underwater. They can stay underwater for almost a minute when feeding.
Bull moose attract females with their low bellowing. In springtime, cows give birth and defend their young against predators like bears and wolves. They use their strong legs and hooves to kick predators, and they have been known to kill wolves.
8. White-tailed Deer
White-tailed deer are the most populous deer in North America. However, they’re found all over the continent. They have also been introduced around the world because of their adaptability and hardiness.
Male deer or bucks grow antlers covered in velvet until the rut. Then, they shed their velvet to reveal hard antlers used to spar for females. Bucks also scrape trees and branches with their antlers to scent mark territory. As a result, they lose their antlers annually and regrow new ones.
Female white-tailed deer, or does, are antler-less and tend to be slightly smaller than bucks. The rut occurs in fall and early winter. Does give birth in the spring. Fawns are born with spots that they lose as they age.
9. North American Porcupine
The North American porcupine are large rodents that are covered in quills, which are just thick hollow hairs adapted into sharp barbs. When threatened, the porcupine turns its back to danger and contracts muscles to cause its quills to stand up.
Despite popular belief, porcupines can’t shoot their quills at threats. However, the way they position their bodies makes it difficult for predators to attack without getting injured. Their position also releases quills easier.
Primarily solitary creatures, females attract males during mating through scents left in their urine. Males will fight if more than one enters the female’s vicinity. Porcupines will flatten their quills to prevent injuring each other during mating.
10. Virginia Opossum
The Virginia opossum, the only marsupial in North America, is also called a possum in common American vernacular. Opossums are often found in close proximity to human activity. They forage in dumpsters, trash bins, and backyards for food.
Possums are nocturnal, so they are most active at night. They are also more active in the spring and summer than in the winter. While they don’t hibernate, they significantly reduce their movements.
Females can have up to 3 litters a year, with 8 to 10 offspring per litter. Like other marsupials, newborns attach to a teat inside the mother’s pouch, where they develop for a couple of months. Then they move to her back, where they cling for 4 to 5 months.
11. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
The ruby-throated hummingbird is a tiny migratory bird that inhabits the eastern parts of North America. It migrates to southern Florida, Mexico, and parts of Central America for winter. Some hummingbirds even travel over 900 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.
Males are smaller than females and display the signature ruby throat. Females are duller in color and do not have a red throat. They are polygynous, meaning they do not commit to breeding pairs. The males leave after breeding.
Hummingbirds get nutrition from the nectar of flowers and plants. They also eat tiny insects and spiders for protein. They use their long beak and retracting coiled tongues to poke deep inside tubular flower stamens to get nectar. At the same time, they aid in pollination.
12. Northern Mockingbird
The northern mockingbird gets its name for its ability to mimic or mock sounds. They are gray or brownish-gray in color with white on their wings and tail. Mockingbirds are popular in American culture. They have been adopted as a few state birds, and there are songs about mockingbirds.
Northern mockingbirds are not migratory and generally stay in the same place year-round. They are found all over the continent and thrive in lightly wooded areas, parks, and open areas with trees.
Mockingbirds can be highly aggressive and territorial, and they will protect their nesting area from intruders. They’ve been known to attack pets, postal workers, and neighbors who enter yards where nests are present. They are often the king of the backyard and will chase any other bird species away.
13. American Robin
American robins are common members of the thrush family. They are a songbird that gives meaning to the saying, “The early bird gets the worm.” American robins provide the morning bird songs many people hear in the morning outside their windows.
Robins frequently visit backyard bird feeders and parks where food is readily available from humans. They have adapted to urban life and are just as at home in the countryside. They will gather in roosts of several hundred thousand birds or more.
The American robin feeds primarily on worms, insects, fruit, and berries… but they will occasionally visit bird feeders and eat seed. Because of their close relationship with humans, they are susceptible to pesticide poisoning because they often eat bugs that have died from poison.
Colloquially referred to as buffalo, the American bison is an iconic animal of North America. Bison is the official mammal of the United States, and they are the largest land animal in North America.
For thousands of years, bison have been regarded in Native American cultural and spiritual traditions. Their meat was a food source, and their hides were used in clothing and shelter. Additionally, their bones and horns provided material for tools and jewelry.
Two subspecies of bison are found in North America – plains bison and wood bison. They are distinguishable because the plains bison is smaller, and the wood bison has a taller square hump.
15. North American Manatee
Also called the West Indian manatee or “sea cow,” these marine mammals were once said to be mistaken for mermaids by explorers to the New World. There are two West Indian manatee subspecies – Florida manatee and the Caribbean or Antilles manatee.
Manatees are found in warm waters near coastlines in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. Their grazing habits on aquatic seagrasses give them their marine bovine nickname. Manatees are varying gray colored and often have green algae on their backs.
Their bodies are round, barrel-shaped, with round flippers and tails. They’re slow-moving and docile, and they pose no threat to humans. The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects manatees.