Stretching nearly 2,200 miles from Alabama in the United States to New Brunswick, Canada, the Appalachian Mountain range is one of the richest temperate areas in the world. There are many different habitat types for animals of the Appalachian Mountains. Home to over 200 species of birds and well over 6,000 species of plant life, the Appalachian Mountains offer visitors amazing biodiversity.
There are many different species of Appalachian fauna. Moose inhabit the northernmost reaches of the Appalachians. Weighing in at 1,000 pounds or more, these large animals roam deep woods and wetland areas from Massachusetts into Canada. White-tailed deer are plentiful the entire length of these mountains and can be spotted often.
Black bear are also plentiful but they are shy and tough to find; the same is true for bobcats and coyotes. Beaver are also in abundance and sightings are reported periodically by visitors.
Elk have been reintroduced over the years to parts of North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. If not observed, their distinctive bugling can sometimes be heard. Wild boars are also a species contained in a smaller region, populating parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
An abundance of smaller animals like squirrels, chipmunks, raccoon and opossum live all along the Appalachians. More rare species include fox, porcupine, mink and muskrat. Along with a variety of salamanders and lizards, snakes (both poisonous and non-poisonous) inhabit the woods and rocky areas of the mountains.
Many streams and some ponds are fed by springs and their cold water supports trout. Bass, catfish and bream are also plentiful in these waters. Southern Appalachia is home to an enormous diversity of freshwater fish and other aquatic animals. The rivers are home to more than 600 species of mussel and snails and more than 200 species of crayfish. Some of these species, like the wandering globe snail, can only be found in the Appalachian mountains.
Birds of the Appalachians
With 255 different species identified, it would be difficult to list all the birds in the Appalachians. Some of the more unique species include whippoorwills and fly-catchers, while songbirds are abundant everywhere in these mountains. Large game birds like turkey and grouse are very common and falcons, eagles and hawks roam the skies in search of prey.
The mountaintops in the southern Appalachians provide a unique habitat for species that normally live in northern boreal forest habitats. When the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age, these areas provided a refuge for many species including the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Green Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Canada Warbler, which are usually found up north.
Vegetation in the Appalachian region is also diverse. Approximately 6,374 plant species have been documented in the Appalachians. Scientists believe the actual number of Appalachian plant species may be five or six times that number. The mountains are well known for many types of wildflowers, including azaleas and rhododendrons. Laurel, jack-in-the-pulpit, columbine, trillium and bog laurel cover some hillsides and wild sarsaparilla grows in dry, open woods. Wood nettle can be found growing thick in some fields.
Though only six inches tall, spring beauty provides food for deer, elk, and sheep. They are endangered in some states, such as Massachusetts, so it's best not to pick them. Other wildflowers, such as fire pink, grow in meadows and rocky slopes of the mountains. Fire pink has red petals and narrow tubes that make it a perfect nectar plant for hummingbirds.
Most of these Appalachian flora species are spring and summer bloomers, but goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, wood sorrel and aster can be found in the fall and, occasionally, into early winter.
Forests are described as mixed deciduous with oaks and hickories being the most common species of tree found in the Appalachians. A smattering of maples and beech are also in the mix. To the north, spruces and firs are plentiful. The southern end of the mountains is more species diverse than any other forest in North America with basswood, tulip trees, ash and magnolia among the variety.
About the Author
Sydnee Crain is former editor of "Parent and Family" magazine, and of the e-zine Freshare.net. Crain wrote and edited pieces for both publications and attended Missouri State University with a concentration in creative writing.