The United States harbors unique wildlife that enhances any road trip or vacation, no matter how long or short. The trick is simply knowing what to look for.
PikasWestern United States 1 of 8
This mammal is the smallest member of the rabbit family, characterized by short limbs, rounded ears and no visible tail. Pikas exist in the western United States, as well as Asia and Eastern Europe, but often go unnoticed by most visitors to the region. This is for various reasons: pikas are incredibly sensitive to climate change and cannot live in temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit for more than six hours. Because of this, they live at high elevations (above 5,500 feet) and dwell in boulder fields.
Pikas are best spotted when hiking through subalpine or alpine regions, especially in rockslides and stone piles called talus. They are most active before winter and can be seen stockpiling dried vegetation for their winter survival. They are also known for their enduring high-pitched squeal.
Black-Footed FerretsSouth Dakota, Arizona, Wyoming 2 of 8
Another elusive mammal to keep a lookout for is the black-footed ferret. A critically endangered animal, these ferrets have made a moderate recovery since mistakenly being classified as extinct in 1979 due to fur trade, decline in food supply and disease. There are now four places to witness self-sustaining populations: two in South Dakota, one in Arizona and one in Wyoming.
The black-footed ferret will most likely be found in prairie and grasslands, especially in areas that have an abundance of prairie dogs, their major food source. They can be recognized as having long bodies, short legs, triangular ears and yellowish fur with black-tipped hair. Their eyes, feet and tail are a sooty black color.
Island Foxes and Island Scrub JaysChannel Islands 3 of 8
Islands develop in isolation, and because of this, animals inhabiting them often undergo unique evolutionary changes. This is certainly true for the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California.
The island fox exists on six of the eight Channel Islands with each island fostering a different subspecies, four of which are endangered. These animals are small in size as a result of limited resources and something called insular dwarfism; these foxes are about the size of a house cat. With these foxes being the largest predators on the islands, it's fun to hike without the fear of running into a much larger, dangerous animal.
Island foxes have fur that range from gray to red to white and have a black stripe on the tail. There are rumors of island foxes sneaking into camps and rummaging food, so always be sure to properly store your items and fully close your tent before leaving to explore.
For birdwatchers, the lone Channel Island of Santa Cruz also holds a unique wonder: the island scrub jay. This bird closely resembles that of the California scrub jay but is larger, brighter, and has a bolder bill. These birds are monogamous and nest above ground, obviously using the island scrub as their habitat and feeding grounds, including insects, spiders and snakes. Like the island foxes, the island scrub jay is susceptible to various encroaching dangers and has been classified as a vulnerable species.
Hawaiian HoneycreepersHawaii 4 of 8
Hawaii also has its share of unique animals—this should come as no surprise considering this island chain is the most isolated in the world. Of the wildlife, some of the most exciting animals are the honeycreepers, small birds endemic to the islands. There is debate about the heritage of these birds, but many argue they are a subfamily of the finch.
Hiking around the islands, through rainforest and volcanic rock, it's incredible to see these small birds hustling from flower to flower and using their long beaks to collect nectar. In addition to this, their colorful plumage dazzles. These birds can be green, red, black, yellow, orange and several other colors.
Unfortunately, honeycreepers face many challenges from invasive threats, including disease, new predators and destruction of habitat. Of the original 51 species on the islands, less than half still exist. Like any environment, it's important to research the Hawaiian Islands before exploring them to help ensure the perseverance of the native wildlife.
Yellowstone WildlifeYellowstone National Park 5 of 8
It's hard to discuss the majesty of wildlife in this country without talking about the splendor of Yellowstone National Park. It's here that you'll find a few remaining herds of American bison, packs of reintroduced wolves and the mighty and powerful grizzly. You can also hear the bugle of an elk. These are the sights and sounds that inspire visitors to pull over their cars and take dozens of photos. These animals are mesmerizing.
Elk can often be seen near the Mammoth Hot Springs area, usually lounging in the grass right outside the visitor center. Wolves are often viewed in the northern part of the park from a distance, with many observers using telescopes and binoculars. These patrons are usually willing to share their equipment and knowledge if you ask nicely. Bison herds are often seen in the Lower Geyser Basin. Bear sightings are more of a rarity, but the majority of the bear management areas reside around Yellowstone Lake.
To see any or all of these animals is a real treat and acts as a bonus to all the strange geological features that Yellowstone already offers.
ManateesFlorida 6 of 8
Slow and docile, these lumbering sea mammals have captured the hearts of animal lovers. Weighing roughly one thousand pounds, West Indian Manatees can be spotted in the coastal waters of the southeastern United States. Manatees are very sensitive to cold water, however, and can usually only be found near Florida in the winter.
These animals, often called sea cows, have a large paddle-like tail and two front flippers; they are grey and brown in color, with a light covering of fur. They can usually be seen around the shore, moving at slow speeds and foraging for plants. Anyone visiting the Florida coast should take the time to look for these strange and enduring creatures, especially around the Clearwater area.
Manatees are on the endangered species list; this is mainly due to human meddling. Manatees are periodically struck by propeller-driven boats, leading to serious injury or death. To help avoid this problem, please be careful anytime you're driving boats in Manatee-dense areas.
Great Sand Dunes Tiger BeetleGreat Sand Dunes National Park 7 of 8
Strange insects can also add an exciting dynamic to your adventures. A perfect example of this is the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle.
Tiger beetles, in general, are a unique bug, with many different types throughout the world. But the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle is endemic to the remote region of Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado.
This beetle has a metallic green head and thorax, and a brown abdomen with tan patterns swirled across it. This half-inch predator is quite flashy and brings refreshing life to the bleakness of the dunes. This animal has become a beloved icon for the park.