10 Shocking Facts About Smoky Mountain Wildlife

two black bear cubs in smoky mountains
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One of the highlights of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is catching a glimpse of some of the wildlife that inhabit the area! The park is known for its diversity of plants and animals, including 65 species of mammals, 200 varieties of birds, 67 native fish species and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians. Do you want to learn more about the animals that call the Smokies home? We’ve made a list of 10 shocking facts about Smoky Mountain wildlife.

1. The Smoky Mountains have the densest population of black bears.

black bear family in gatlinburgBlack bears are one of the most popular animals in the Smoky Mountains. Many people who come to the Smokies hope to catch a glimpse of at least one while they’re in the area. Luckily, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has the densest population of black bears. There are about 1,500 bears in the Smoky Mountains, which is approximately 2 bears per square mile.

2. The elk is the largest out of all Smoky Mountain wildlife.

Although male black bears weigh an average of 250 pounds, the largest out of all Smoky Mountain wildlife is the elk! The elk can weigh 700 pounds and reach 5 feet at the shoulder. Because of their size, elk can be dangerous. It’s important to follow the national park’s guidelines of staying at least 150 feet away at all times.

3. Elk were actually reintroduced to the national park in 2001.

Two smoky mountain elk in a fieldElk were once eliminated from the region due to overhunting and loss of habitat. The last elk in Tennessee was killed in the mid-1800s. Reintroduction of elk to the Smoky Mountains began in 2001, when 25 elk were brought into the park. In 2002, 27 more were brought in. Now, most of the elk are located in the Cataloochee area of the park.

4. Salamanders take up the majority of vertebrate animals in the Smokies on any given day.

Did you know that on any given day, the salamander is the most populated vertebrate animal in the Smokies? This includes human visitors in the park too. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is actually known for being the salamander capital of the world! There are 30 different species of salamanders across five families.

5. Some salamanders in the Smoky Mountains are lungless.

Smoky Mountain salamander in a treeOut of the 30 species of salamanders in the Smoky Mountains, did you know 24 of them are lungless? These salamanders breathe through the walls of tiny blood vessels in their skin and linings of their mouths and throats. You can find the lungless salamanders everywhere in the national park: in and along streams, under rocks, under logs and under leaf litter in the forests!

6. Black bears can make up to 20 different noises.

We know you probably know a lot about black bears in the Smoky Mountains, but did you know that they can be extremely noisy animals? Black bears can make up to 20 different noises. Each of the sounds can mean a variety of things. Sounds expressing aggression include growls, woofs, snorts, bellows and roars. Sounds expressing contentment include mumbles, squeaks and pants.

7. The Smokies protect one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern U.S.

man fishing in the Smoky MountainsThe Smoky Mountains are home to 67 native fish species. There are 2,900 miles of streams in the park, and in those streams you’ll find one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. Approximately 20% of the park’s streams are large enough to support trout populations. Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.

8. Coyotes are the “top dog” in the Smokies.

Have you ever seen a coyote in the Smoky Mountains? Coyotes are known as the “top dog” since their larger cousin, the red wolf, was hunted to extinction in the area by the 1980s. In the Smoky Mountains, the coyotes are most active at night, hunting rodents, rabbits, fish and frogs. They roam all over the park, but it takes a little luck to be able to spot one! They reach about 4 feet in length and can weigh up to 40 pounds.

9. Bobcats are the only felines that live in the park.

bobcat in the smoky mountainsWe’ve told you about the top dog, but did you know that bobcats are the only known felines that live in the Smoky Mountains? This Smoky Mountain wildlife can weigh up to 70 pounds, have spotted coats, stubby tails and ears with hairy tufts. Your chances of seeing a bobcat on your visit to the Smokies is low because they are mostly nocturnal, coming out at night to hunt for food.

10. River otters were reintroduced to the park in 1986.

Like the elk, river otters reached local extinction in the Smokies. The last known sighting of the otter was in 1936. Fifty years later, scientists launched a mission to bring otters back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The project started off slowly, releasing a few every couple of years, and then in 1994, 100 otters were released into streams throughout the park, including the Little Pigeon River and Abrams Creek. One of our favorite places to spot river otters is along the trail to Abrams Falls in Cades Cove!

More About Smoky Mountain Wildlife

White-tailed deer are very popular Smoky Mountain wildlife.The wildlife is part of what makes the Smoky Mountains so special. Are you interested in learning more about Smoky Mountain wildlife? Read our blog, “Where and When to Spot Your Favorite Smoky Mountain Wildlife.”

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