The state of Missouri, located in the Midwestern region of the United States, is home to a diverse array of wildlife. From the vast expanses of forests to the winding rivers and prairies, Missouri’s varied habitats provide a haven for numerous fascinating wild animals. Let’s delve into some of the most interesting wild animals that call Missouri home.
1. Eastern Box Turtle
The Eastern Box Turtle is a fascinating reptile that can be found in Missouri’s woodlands, prairies, and grasslands. Known for their distinct appearance, these turtles have a domed shells with striking patterns in shades of yellow, brown, and black.
Eastern Box Turtles are known for their longevity, with some individuals living for more than 100 years. They are also unique in that they have the ability to retract their head, limbs, and tail into their shell for protection.
2. American Black Bear
While black bears were once abundant in Missouri, they were extirpated from the state in the early 1900s due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting. However, in recent years, there have been reported sightings of black bears in Missouri, indicating a possible natural recolonization of the state.
Black bears are the largest land mammals in Missouri. They possess incredible strength and adaptability and are primarily solitary animals. Their remarkable ability to forage for a variety of foods, including berries, insects, and small mammals allows them to have a diverse diet.
3. Eastern Hellbender
The Eastern Hellbender is the largest species of salamander in North America that lives in the clear, fast-flowing streams of Missouri. These unique amphibians have flattened bodies with wrinkled skin and can grow up to 29 inches in length.
Eastern Hellbenders are also known as “snot otters” or “mud devils” due to their slimy appearance. They are excellent indicators of water quality and are considered a sensitive species, making them an important species for monitoring the health of Missouri’s aquatic ecosystems.
4. White-tailed Deer
The white-tailed deer is a common sight in Missouri’s woodlands, forests, and grasslands. These graceful and agile animals have white tails that they raise as a warning signal when they sense danger.
White-tailed deer are important both ecologically and culturally in Missouri, as they are a popular game species for hunting and play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem by shaping the vegetation through their browsing behavior.
5. Bald Eagle
The majestic bald eagle, the national bird, and symbol of the United States, lives in Missouri among other places. These large birds of prey have a striking appearance with their white head and tail contrasting against their dark brown body.
Bald eagles have amazing hunting skills as they primarily feed on fish, but also consume waterfowl, small mammals, and carrion. Missouri is an important wintering ground for bald eagles, with many of them migrating to the state during the colder months.
The elusive bobcat is a medium-sized wildcat that can be found in Missouri’s forests and grasslands. Bobcats are solitary and elusive in nature, making them a rare sight in the wild.
They are skilled hunters and primarily feed on small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, and mice. Bobcats have keen senses, including excellent vision and hearing, which help them navigate their environment and locate prey.
7. Channel Catfish
Missouri’s rivers, lakes, and streams are home to a diverse array of fish species, and the Channel Catfish is one of the most interesting among them. Channel Catfish have barbels or “whiskers” extending from their mouth and sharp spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins.
They are opportunistic feeders and have a diverse diet that includes insects, crayfish, small fish, and even small mammals. Channel Catfish are popular among anglers in Missouri due to their size and fighting ability, making them a sought-after game fish.
8. Indiana Bat
The Indiana Bat is a fascinating mammal that lives in Missouri’s caves and forests. These small bats have dark fur and a wingspan of up to 11 inches. Indiana bats are famous for their unique hibernation behavior.
They form large colonies in caves during the winter months and hibernate together in tight clusters to conserve energy. The bat species are important pollinators and insect-eaters, playing a crucial role in controlling insect populations.
9. Eastern Bluebird
The Eastern Bluebird is a captivating bird species that can be found in Missouri’s grasslands, meadows, and woodlands. Known for their striking appearance, with bright blue plumage on their back and wings, and a reddish-brown breast, Eastern Bluebirds are a sight to behold.
They are cavity nesters, often using tree cavities or man-made nest boxes for breeding. Eastern Bluebirds are also known for their insectivorous diet, feeding on insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates, making them beneficial for natural pest control.
10. Ozark Hellbender
The Ozark Hellbender is a unique and endangered species of salamander. It lives exclusively in the rivers and streams of the Ozark region in Missouri. These large amphibians can grow up to 2 feet in length and have a distinctive appearance, with wrinkled skin and a flat head.
Ozark Hellbenders are a flagship species for freshwater conservation in Missouri. Their presence is an indicator of clean and healthy water systems. They are highly sensitive to changes in water quality, making them an important species for conservation efforts in the state.
Where to Find Wildlife in Missouri?
1. Mark Twain National Forest
Located in southern Missouri, the Mark Twain National Forest covers over 1.5 million acres and offers a variety of habitats including forests, rivers, and glades, making it an ideal location for wildlife viewing.
Visitors may have the chance to spot white-tailed deer, wild turkey, eastern cottontail rabbits, various species of snakes and amphibians, and a wide array of bird species including bald eagles, migratory songbirds, and woodpeckers.
2. Ozark National Scenic Riverways
This national park located in southeastern Missouri offers opportunities to observe wildlife along the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. Visitors may spot river otters, beavers, mink, and a variety of fish species including smallmouth bass and catfish. The park is also home to over 300 bird species, making it a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts.
3. Elephant Rocks State Park
This unique state park, located in central Missouri, features massive granite boulders that create a stunning natural landscape. It is a popular spot to see eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, and a variety of bird species such as wild turkeys and woodpeckers. Additionally, the park offers interpretive trails that provide information about the local wildlife and geology.
4. Prairie State Park
Located in southwestern Missouri, Prairie State Park is famous for its tallgrass prairies, making it a prime spot for viewing grassland wildlife. Visitors may encounter bison, elk, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and a variety of bird species such as meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows. The park also offers interpretive programs and guided tours to enhance the wildlife viewing experience.
5. Mingo National Wildlife Refuge
This large wildlife refuge in southeastern Missouri is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including waterfowl, wading birds, deer, turkey, and various species of reptiles and amphibians. The refuge features extensive wetlands, forests, and bottomland hardwoods, providing critical habitat for many species of migratory birds and other wildlife.
6. Ha Ha Tonka State Park
In central Missouri, Ha Ha Tonka State Park offers a unique blend of rugged landscapes, including limestone bluffs, forests, and caves. Visitors may have the opportunity to spot white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, foxes, and a variety of bird species. The park also features scenic trails and overlooks that provide excellent vantage points for wildlife viewing.
7. Missouri River Valley
The Missouri River Valley, which spans across the state, offers a diverse range of habitats that support a wide variety of wildlife. Along the river and its surrounding floodplain, visitors may spot bald eagles, waterfowl, shorebirds, and other bird species. Additionally, the river valley is home to many species of fish, including catfish, bass, and paddlefish.
Missouri is home to a diverse array of fascinating wild animals that inhabit its varied habitats. From reptiles like the eastern box turtle to mammals like the American black bear and bobcat, to birds like the eastern bluebird, and unique amphibians like the eastern hellbender and Ozark hellbender, Missouri’s wildlife offers a rich and diverse experience for nature enthusiasts and conservationists alike.
Protecting and conserving these remarkable wild animals and their habitats is crucial for maintaining Missouri’s rich biodiversity and ensuring their survival for generations to come.