Wildlife Holiday News

Moose

Wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

David Phillips
By David Phillips
Operations Manager
17th February 2020
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The Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks comprise the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a land of jagged peaks, deep canyons, thundering waterfalls, geothermal geysers and pools of spectral colours. In 1872 Yellowstone became the world’s first national park, and thanks to decades of strict protection, both the parks are now a haven for large mammals, including American Bison, Grizzly and Black Bears, Moose, Puma, Pronghorn and Grey Wolf. Throughout the year the landscape changes dramatically and soon after the last of the winter snow has melted on the valley floor, the meadows burst into a kaleidoscope of colours as spring flowers carpet the ground. At this time the rivers are swelled by the melting waters from the glaciated peaks of the Teton range, Aspen and Cottonwood are fresh in leaf and life flourishes. Even the spectral colours of the thermal pools are at their most intense at this time.      

In addition to the much sought-after large mammals that are regularly seen, the parks host a wealth of smaller ‘critters’ which are abundant and often provide extremely close views. The Snake and Grosventre Rivers provide a rich habitat for Muskrat and the North American Beaver, whose exceptional engineering works are much in evidence in the form of dams, lodges and fallen and gnawed trees. Sitting quietly by the rivers is likely to reward you with views of these large rodents. A number of species of small rodents such as the Uinta Ground Squirrel, Yellow-bellied Marmot and the diminutive Least Chipmunk are frequently encountered throughout the parks, whilst at higher elevations, particularly around the boulders of moraines, the American Pika emerge from their nests and scurry about collecting plant material to eat. The Pika, a member of the same order as the rabbit, does not hibernate but rather lives off a store of food collected during the previous year. In spring they search for food to regain weight and prepare to breed.    

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Grand Prismatic Spring

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Brown Bears

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Pronghorn

Yellowstone owes much of its extraordinary landscape to a huge chamber of magma lying beneath the surface. Boiling water rising to the surface emerges into thermal pools that, despite the high temperature, are far from lifeless – indeed, it is the archaea and the thermophilic bacteria that produce the vivid colours. The ‘sculpted’ formations called travertines also harbour life in the form of insect larvae that provide food for birds such as the Killdeer, a species of lapwing that is seen at close range from the boardwalks at Mammoth Hotsprings. Killdeer famously perform a ‘broken-wing display’ to distract potential predators during the breeding season.       

If you are looking for a combination of extraordinary scenery and an abundant and varied selection of mammals, birds and flora, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is hard to beat!          

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