Terrestrial animals are animals that spend most of their time on land and North America is home to a variety of these land-dwelling animals. The terrestrial animals of North America live in a variety of different habitats, including mountains, forests, deserts, and the Great Plains. Land animals in North America vary greatly in size and species.
A terrestrial (Latin for “of the earth”) animal lives most or all of its life on land. Terrestrial animals can have two, four, six, or eight legs and live in soil-based ecosystems, such as tundras, temperate forests, grasslands, tropical forests, and deserts. They can be meat eaters (carnivores), plant eaters (herbivores), or a combination of meat and planter eaters (omnivores). In this article we’ll show you 15 examples of terrestrial animals from all over the world.
29 Examples of Terrestrial Animals
This group of animals is further divided by more specific terms according to their preferred environments. For example, arenicolous animals live under or in sandy soil and troglofauna animals live in caves. In contrast to terrestrial animals, arboreal animals live predominantly in trees, while aquatic animals live in either fresh or salt water. The following list describes 29 of the most common terrestrial animals in North America and beyond.
1. American Bison
Scientific name: Bison bison
American bison are a symbol the American West. They are the most massive land animals in North America. Bulls weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder. Cows are slightly smaller, weighing 1,000 pounds and 4 to 5 feet tall.
Bison live in herds of up to 500 individuals. They eat grasses, shrubs, and other plants on the North American Great Plains. Bison horns are made of keratin, the same material that makes human hair and nails hard. The horns are used to fight off predators and rivals in their herd and attract mates.
Scientific name: Antilocapra americana
The pronghorn antelope is a large, deer-like animal living on the plains of North America. They spend their time grazing and can outrun any predator.
Pronghorns are the fastest runners in North America and the second fastest animal in the world, only the cheetah is faster. Reaching 55 miles per hour, pronghorn antelope can maintain their speeds for more extended periods than other animals.
The pronghorn antelope is endangered, and the Endangered Species Act protects them. However, their populations have been slowly recovering thanks to conservation efforts.
3. Bighorn Sheep
Scientific name: Ovis canadensis
Another terrestrial animals that can be found in North America is the Bighorn Sheep. They are a type of sheep that lives in the Rocky Mountains.
They are known for their large horns, which they use to defend themselves from predators. Bighorn males, or rams, are known for ramming their horns together during mating season.
Bighorn Sheep were once endangered due to overhunting and poaching. However, they are now protected by law, and the hunting of the rams is regulated.
Scientific name: Cervus canadensis
Elk represent the largest member of the deer family and can grow to be up to six feet tall at the shoulder. Therefore, they are substantially larger than other deer in North America.
Bulls grow to about 150 cm tall and 350 kg. They reach their peak weight of around 500 during the mating season, which runs from late summer to early autumn.
Elk are browsers that primarily eat leaves, buds, twigs, and flowers from trees and shrubs. Their mating season is usually in early summer, and the gestation period for elk is about two months. These large mammals form herds living in open country. However, there are fewer elk today as populations now live in forest or parkland regions.
5. Whitetail Deer
Scientific name: Odocoileus virginianus
White-tailed deer are common terrestrial animals in North America. White-tail deer have many habitats, from dense forests to open fields. As a result, they are found all over the continent.
White-tail deer primarily eat grasses and flowers but will also eat leaves, twigs, and acorns. Deer corn is a popular food attractant used by deer hunters. The “rut” period is the breeding season for white-tail deer. Bucks will lose a significant amount of weight while chasing does to mate.
6. Ring-neck Pheasant
Scientific name: Phasianus colchicus
Ring-neck pheasants are a common sight in North America. However, pheasants are not native to the continent. They’re native to China and released in Oregon mated with non-native European pheasants. This hybrid created the Ring-neck pheasant known today.
Ring-neck pheasants are usually seen in open areas such as forests, meadows, and fields. Like many of the animals on this list of terrestrial animals, they are omnivorous and eat various foods, including insects, seeds, and plant matter.
Scientific name: Tamias striatus
One of the most common terrestrial animals in North America is the chipmunk. Chipmunks are small rodents that live in colonies. They are grey or brown and have pointed ears. Chipmunks are omnivorous, which means they eat a variety of food types. However, they mainly eat nuts, seeds, and fruits.
Chipmunks are very active and often run around and play with each other. They are also good climbers and can easily get up trees to feed. These small rodents are shy and will usually hide when they see humans. However, they are unafraid to dig through gear and food left open by unsuspecting campers.
Scientific name: Marmota monax
One of the most common terrestrial animals in North America is the groundhog. However, these furry creatures live underground. The groundhog is a native North American animal and is a timid animal. However, they are usually not aggressive towards humans.
The most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He famously predicts the coming of Spring on February 2. If the groundhog sees his shadow, he returns to his burrow for a few more weeks of winter. Winter is over if he does not see his shadow, and it is time for Spring.
Scientific name: Canus latrans
Coyotes are medium-sized canids that are closely related to wolves. They live in North America, from southern Canada to Central America and South America.
They are generally shy animals and try to avoid human contact. However, they can be very dangerous when threatened or defending their territory.
Coyotes are social animals and usually live in packs of ten to twenty individuals. Packs patrol their territories, hunting small prey like rabbits and opossums.
They are also known to be scavengers. For example, coyotes often enter neighborhoods searching for leftover food from humans and other animals.
10. North American Porcupine
Scientific name: Erethizon dorsatum
The porcupine is a land animal found in North America. Porcupines are usually solitary animals, but a group of porcupines is called a “prickle.”
Porcupines are not usually aggressive but use the quills on their back to ward off danger if attacked. When threatened, they release an odor, chatter their teeth, and turn their back to expose their quills if the threat continues.
They are omnivorous and consume plant and animal matter. Porcupines live in dens that they build, or they may use abandoned rodent nests.
11. Nine-banded Armadillo
Scientific name: Dasypus novemcinctus
The nine-banded armadillo is an unusual armored animal that can be found in North America. The armadillo is the only armadillo found in the U.S. and is native to the southern United States and parts of Mexico.
Nine-banded armadillos are common in open, rural areas and can often be seen crossing the road. They are in the same family as sloths and anteaters.
They get their name from the nine bands of armor around their back they use for protection. When threatened, the armadillo rolls into a ball, shielding its belly.
Armadillo means “little armored one” in Spanish, which perfectly describes the armadillo. Most armadillos live in South America, but the nine-banded armadillo now makes its home in the Gulf Coast States.
Armadillos dig burrows to hide from predators that can be more than 14 feet deep. The armadillo consists of anything that moves or doesn’t move–beetles, grubs, spiders, crawdads, berries, and wild fruit. Although they have thick skin, predators like coyotes, wolves, hawks, and cars kill thousands of armadillos every year.
12. Diamondback Rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus atrux
The diamondback rattlesnake is the most common venomous snake in North America. This species can grow more than two meters long and has a distinctive rattle on its tail.
These venomous snakes are found throughout the United States, from the desert Southwest to the northeast. They are not as common in Canada but can be found across much of that country as well.
Diamondback rattlesnakes are ambush predators. The coil and wait motionless for unsuspecting prey. They have a powerful strike and can inject large amounts of venom into their victims.
In severe cases, a diamondback bite can kill a human within minutes to an hour. However, humans survive most rattlesnake bites with anti-venom treatment.
Scientific name: Tympanuchus cupido
Several species of grouse live in North America. On the Great Plains, they are also called prairie chickens. They are similar in size to domestic chickens.
Grouse have been threatened due to hunting and loss of habitat. As a result, they have seen significant population declines in the last 100 years.
They live in various habitats, including open country, shrubs, and forests. Grouse mostly grasses and seeds but will also eat insects, small animals, and fruit.
14. Gray Wolf
Scientific name: Canus lupus
Gray wolves have lived on the continent for over 25,000 years and it’s believed that all dogs are descended from them. Gray wolves are the largest canid on the North America. Wolves are also federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. As a result, strict rules govern their capture and removal from the wild.
Gray wolves live in packs of up to 15 animals and typically hunt deer, elk, moose, and other medium to large mammals. Their coats have adapted to allow these wolves to survive harsh winter conditions.
15. Mountain Lion
Scientific name: Puma concolor
The mountain lion is a big cat that lives in North America. They’re also known as cougars or pumas. Cougars can weigh between 136 and 275 pounds as adults and can easily take down a full-grown deer. Mountain lions live in the Rocky Mountains and desert regions of the American Southwest and Mexico.
These solitary animals are patient predators and not to be trifled with. They stalk their prey often over long distances without being detected. Then, they will pounce with a surprise attack when ready.
Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animals on Earth, roaming the African savannah on legs at least six feet high and munching solely on treetop leaves and buds. They are also capable of reaching leaves much higher than their mouths because of their 20-inch tongues.
Giraffes in zoos can live as long as 40 to 50 years. The average lifespan of wild giraffes is less than 20 years.
Most bear species are omnivorous, except for the bamboo-eating giant panda and the strictly carnivorous polar bear. Because of their superior sense of smell, bears are famous for getting whiffs of outdoor barbecues and appearing uninvited to the party.
Bears wander around during the day or night when they are not hibernating during the winter, looking for just about anything to eat–fish, berries, rodents, bumblebees, you name it. Over 95 percent of the United States grizzly bear population lives in Alaska.
Elephants are among the largest terrestrial animals. They also have the biggest and heaviest brains–11 pounds!
Currently, all three elephant species are considered endangered due to poaching and loss of habitat: the Asian elephant, the African Forest elephant, and the African Savannah elephant.
Elephants have poor eyesight but excellent hearing. They can hear sounds below 10 Hz (infrasound). Humans cannot hear sounds below 20Hz. Zoologists aren’t sure why elephants need only two to three hours of sleep each day, but suspect they may doze occasionally while other elephants keep watch over them.
The roar of the MGM lion is nowhere near as loud as a real lion’s roar. On the grasslands of the African Serengeti, a lion’s roar can be heard as far as five to six miles away.
When lions aren’t roaring or chasing prey, they’re probably sleeping under the shade of an Acacia tree, waiting until the sun sets and temperatures drop to a more comfortable level. You can get an approximate age of a male lion by comparing his mane color with other male lions. Darker manes indicate an older lion.
Although classified as semi-aquatic, the hippo is technically a terrestrial animal that spends over half of its time on land. Hippos are the second largest animal on Earth and have only one primary predator–humans.
Due to poaching for their ivory, meat, and hides, hippos are now found only in central and eastern Africa. They eat huge amounts of grass and wild fruits but do not eat aquatic plants.
Hippos are so heavy that they can walk underwater for about five minutes, holding their breath the whole time. Their ability to fold their nostrils and ears shut keeps water out of their lungs when they are submerged.
Entomologists have cataloged nearly 40,000 spider species, but suspect there are thousands more that haven’t been discovered. Unless you live in Antarctica, it’s likely you’re probably within 10 feet of some kind of spider at all times.
So, if you are terrified of spiders, you might consider moving to Antarctica. On the other hand, very few spider species are poisonous and all spiders eat more insect pests than birds do. Spiders tend to mind their own business as long as they aren’t threatened.
The largest spider in the world is the Goliath spider. With one-inch fangs and a 12-inch wide body, the Goliath spider can easily capture and eat mice, frogs, and small birds.
Ostriches are definitely an anomaly. They’re the world’s largest birds but they cannot fly–not even for a few seconds. They’re big but they’re fast, sprinting up to 50 miles per hour if they’re being chased by a big cat.
Like all birds, ostriches lay eggs but they weigh a whopping three pounds and are six inches wide! The omnivorous ostrich diet consists of lizards, insects, edible roots, flowers, and various plants.
Native to central Africa and a small area of southwest Africa, ostriches will deliver strong, swift kicks to predators that can be fatal. In fact, a kicking ostrich has been known to kill humans as well.
The Western gorilla and Eastern gorilla species have been on the endangered list for several decades, primarily due to the loss of their habitat. A sub-species of the Western gorilla called the Cross River Gorilla is the rarest of all gorillas.
Primatologists estimate there are only about 300 Cross River gorillas living in the jungles of Cameroon and Nigeria. All species of gorilla are mostly herbivorous, munching all day on plant stems, leaves, shoots, and fruit.
However, gorillas are known to occasionally snack on ants, termites, caterpillars, and grubs. Humans share 98 percent of their DNA with gorillas.
24. Monitor Lizards
Native to Africa, Asia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, monitor lizards grow to such large sizes because they never stop growing. In other words, the bigger the monitor lizard, the more likely it is another monitor lizard’s grandpa or grandma.
The most famous species of monitor lizard is the Komodo dragon. Looking like a modern-day dinosaur, the Komodo dragon can reach 10 to 15 feet in length and weigh over 150 pounds.
All monitor lizards hunt during the day, eating insects, fish, small mammals, and eggs. Some monitor lizards eat plants and fruit in addition to meat, depending on their environment.
Although equipped with sharp claws and strong jaws, monitor lizards are vulnerable to three types of predators: wild cats, crocodiles, and humans.
Indigenous to Eastern Australia, kangaroos are herbivore marsupials. Baby kangaroos (joeys) remain in their mother’s pouch until they are about six months old. At this age, they can take care of themselves outside the pouch.
Groups of kangaroos (called “mobs” by Aussies) consist of about 50 males, females, and joeys. Male kangaroos are called “boomers”. Female kangaroos are called “jills”. When a kangaroo feels threatened, it will stomp the ground with its huge feet as a warning to the threat.
Humans who approach a kangaroo and receive this warning, but fail to heed the warning, will likely get kicked and bitten hard by the kangaroo. Remember, the kangaroo warned you!
A terrestrial ungulate (hoofed animal), camels are native to the desert regions of central and western Asia. Two species of camels exist–the Dromedary camel and the Bactrian camel.
Dromedaries have one hump, while Bactrians have two humps. Camels store water in their bloodstream, not their humps. The large amount of fatty tissue stored in camel humps is meant to provide energy during times of food scarcity.
Camels can live without eating for as long as a month. However, they cannot survive longer than two weeks without water.
Crickets don’t bite, sting, or inject poisonous substances into humans. In fact, crickets are harmless to humans, acting as garbage collectors in the wild by scavenging rotting vegetation and dead animals.
Crickets are so voracious that they are known to cannibalize other crickets if nothing else edible is around. And that annoying, constant cricket chirping you hear at night in summer and fall? That’s male crickets telling female crickets that they’re up for grabs and ready for fatherhood.
A nocturnal, omnivorous terrestrial animal, the opossum prefers living near creeks or streams nestled in deciduous woodlands. If you have opossums living around you, consider yourself lucky!
They eat insect pests like mosquitoes and ticks, and destructive rodents. Opossums never attack humans unless they are attacked first.
Initially, the threatened opossum will hiss and bare its teeth to frighten the attacker. If this doesn’t work to scare off the attacker, opossums will perform the stunt they are most famous for–playing dead. They will suddenly fall over on their side, curl up in a ball, and actually open their mouth to feign lifelessness.
Mostly nocturnal and always carnivorous, owls live in all world regions except Antarctica. Known for their remarkably flexible necks and ability to turn their heads 270 degrees, owls can be heard hooting at night as a way to defend their territory.
If you ever get the chance to watch an owl capture a mouse or other small prey, notice that the owl doesn’t bite or chew its prey. They just swallow it whole.