Whether charging along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail or meandering across high alpine meadows, Utah’s Wasatch range offers unparalleled access for city folk to dose up on Vitamin N. Wildlife abounds alongside our lofty peaks and burnished foothills for those who are patient, quiet and sneaky. Here's a guide for commonly seen species, as well as some tips for spotting and safety.
GENERAL WILDLIFE SPOTTING TIPS
Coyote - Canis latrans
Fun Fact: A coyote will not shy away from hunting, killing and eating a rattlesnake!
Identification: Coyotes are recognizable by their light brown, grey or beige coats. They are significantly smaller than wolves, and their size will help you differentiate between the two species. Utah does not have a permanent wolf population, so if you spy a wild-looking dog it's most likely a coyote.
Habitat: Coyotes are observed throughout North and Central America. They are generalists and can be found in a huge variety of habitats from sagebrush flats, forests, mountains, foothills and even highly urbanized areas.
Diet: Coyotes are opportunistic eaters and will forage on anything from garbage to insects to rodents, amphibians and larger prey, which they will hunt in packs. They have been observed eating fruit and grass, so technically coyotes are omnivores, though they primarily eat meat.
Word of Warning: Coyotes can be unpredictable, and you should never leave a small dog or young child unattended in coyote country. If you have small pets they shouldn’t be left outside at night, and you should take care to securely store all attractants including fallen fruit, pet food, garbage, compost bins, dirty barbecue grills, etc.
Boreal Toad - Anaxyrus boreas
Fun Facts: Behind each eye, a boreal toad will feature an obvious parotid gland. When threatened or attacked the toad will secrete a slimy whitish substance that contains a poison that can cause nausea and irritate the throat and eyes. It’s best not to touch a boreal toad!
Males are typically smaller than females.
Some boreal toads will hibernate together in one large burrow or hole called a hibernaculum.
Identification: An easy way to identify a boreal toad is by the dark spots on its belly and a distinctive stripe on its back stretching from the nostrils to the hindquarters. They also do not croak or leap; they can only move by hopping or walking. They generally feature a stocky body of 3.7-4.2 inches with short back legs, horizontal eye pupils and rough skin covered in nodules. Their heads are much narrower than their bodies. Coloration is highly variable and may encompass brown, tan, olive, grey, dark green or yellow.
Habitat: As an amphibian, a boreal toad will only thrive near water. They are found across western North America from northern New Mexico up to southeast Alaska. In Utah, its distribution is limited to elevations above 5,150 feet. Sadly, in recent decades it can only be found in a small fraction of its former habitat within the state. These toads prefer coniferous forests, aspen groves and alpine meadows with water sources including lakes, springs, seasonal pools, marshes and damp meadows. Water is necessary for breeding and reproduction where tadpoles will languish for two months. The boreal toad will hibernate during the winter months.
Diet: Boreal toads are nocturnal, making them difficult to see in the wild. They are generalists and will devour a variety of food including insects, ants, beetles, spiders, moths, worms and small invertebrates.
Words of Warning: Due to habitat degradation, global warming and the spread of the chytrid fungal disease, boreal toads are considered a state sensitive species in Utah. For this reason, you should simply observe boreal toads and consider yourself lucky to have spied one. Please don’t touch, relocate or bother a boreal toad. You can protect them by watching your step since they move slowly. Don’t remove tadpoles or toads from their habitat, and avoid watering horses or livestock in shallow ponds and lakes.
Black Bear - Ursus americanus
Fun Fact: Residents often assume there aren't many bears in Utah, but there are roughly 4,000 black bears in the state and they are our largest predator.
Identification: America contains 16 subspecies of black bear. The cinnamon bear can be found in Utah and features a reddish-brown coat. Black bears can be distinguished from grizzly bears by their narrow, pointy nose, softer fur and the absence of a prominent hump above the front shoulders. Grizzly bears have not been observed in Utah since the 1920s, so if you see a bear it is highly likely that you've found a black bear.
Habitat: A native of Utah, black bears are also widespread throughout northern regions in North America and along the west coast. They prefer forested and mountainous terrain.
Diet: Black bears typically forage around dusk and are opportunistic eaters. For this reason, it is incredibly important to adopt bear-safe storage when camping, recreating or living in black bear habitat. The old adage is true “a fed bear is a dead bear,” so we all need to be bear smart to protect these amazing creatures. They will consume vegetables, roots, nuts, grasses, herbs, fruit, insects, fish, young deer, carrion, roadkill, crops and rubbish. Fresh meat only makes up about 10% of the average black bear diet.
Words of Warning: Though they do not typically attack humans, black bears need to be respected, and you should NEVER leave food unattended or readily accessible in bear country. As with coyotes, any attractants around your home should be secured or avoided. This includes pet food, garbage, composting bins, dirty barbecue grills, fallen fruit, etc.
Pika - Ochotona princeps
Fun Fact: Pikas are the smallest member of the rabbit family.
Identification: Find a rocky scree slope above 7,000 feet and stop and listen for the succinct and high-pitched pika call. Pikas move very quickly and can be difficult to see, thanks to their camouflage, so it’s best to listen for their unmistakable shriek. These creatures look like an overgrown hamster with rounded ears and no tail. Pika scat resembles peppercorns, so if you see small piles of these on a rocky slope, chances are there are pikas around. A pika’s pelt changes color throughout the year and varies from cinnamon brown to rusty red to grey.
Habitat: Pika can be found living in colonies in high-elevation terrain across the western United States and Canada. In Utah, they can be spied above treeline on rocky, talus-filled slopes in a number of our higher elevation ranges. Pikas inhabit the Bear River, Uinta and Wasatch ranges in Northern Utah and the Markagunt Plateau, Fishlake Plateau, Boulder Mountain and the La Sal Mountains in the south. They are active during the day throughout the year but may seek cover during the hottest hours of warm days. Pikas are extremely sensitive to heat and the threat of global warming and can die during sustained periods when the air temperature reaches 80 degrees or hotter.
Diet: Pikas are herbivores that browse on grass, sedges, lichens and species of vegetation that can survive at higher elevation. Food is gathered and stored throughout the summer and fall for the winter months. Pika will crop vegetation with their teeth and lay it out on rocks to dry out before storing it underground for winter forage.
Word of Warning: The Utah Department of Wildlife Resources has documented notable decline in pika communities across Utah. Global warming is cited as the primary factor in pika casualties, as they are very sensitive to hot temperatures. You can help pikas by seeking out citizen science initiatives or participating in local population surveys. Take steps to reduce your carbon footprint, vote for climate leaders and set a good example as a climate warrior for your friends. Pikas aren’t the only thing that will suffer if global warming accelerates- skiing and snowboarding will too! If you need some inspiration, click here.
Moose - Alces alces
Fun Facts: Moose grow the largest antlers of any living mammal.
A juvenile moose grows rapidly and reaches a size big enough to survive deep snow and cold by the age of only five months.
Moose are excellent swimmers, and their hair is actually hollow, which helps them to float!
Moose are the largest mammals to have survived the last ice age period of glaciation.
Identification: The Shiras subspecies of moose is the smallest of the four moose subspecies found in North American and the only one to thrive in Utah and the western United States.
Habitat: Moose prefer forested areas and landscapes with access to bodies of water, although they are found in areas without lakes, ponds or wetlands. They will often use conifer forests as shelter in winter or to remain cool during the summer months. In Utah, moose generally prefer higher elevation habitats and can be found in the northern and northeastern portions of the state. Moose especially prefer areas with willows, so this is a great thing to look for when seeking moose. They are active day and night, but their most active periods occur at dawn and dusk.
Diet: Moose generally prefer aquatic vegetation during the spring and summer and then switch to foraging on bark and twigs in the winter months when ponds and lakes are frozen. They also eat shrubs, plants and young trees.
Words of Warning: Moose can be unpredictable and aggressive, especially if they feel threatened. Never insert yourself between a female moose and her calf. It is wise to give moose a wide berth and avoid approaching them altogether. More people are injured by moose than bear each year because they incorrectly assume moose are not aggressive. Moose can haul up to 35 MPH, so no human can outrun them. Use extreme caution when traveling with dogs in moose habitat. Signs of aggression include lowering of the head, erect neck hair, snout licking, pinned ears and scraping the dirt with hooves. The breeding season—or rut—begins in early September, and both males and females may act with more aggression.
Yellow-Bellied Marmot - Marmota flaviventris
Fun Facts: Flaviventris means ‘yellow belly’ in Latin.
They are often nicknamed ‘whistle pigs’ thanks to their shrill alarm whistles. In fact, this is what Whistler, Canada is named after!
Marmots live 13-15 years in the wild.
Identification: Easily identified by a high-pitched chirp, this sound is one of the best ways to identify marmot habitat. Yellow-bellied marmots have large cheeks, big front teeth, tails, a grey to brown back, a white patch of fur between the eyes and a yellow to orange-colored belly. They are far larger and slower moving than pikas, and they belong to the squirrel family. Don't confuse them with ground squirrels, which are far smaller.
Habitat: Yellow-bellied marmots thrive at elevations of 6,000 - 13,000 feet in western North America. They prefer high-elevation meadows, talus fields, steppes and rocky areas. Marmots dig burrows near thriving plant communities upon which they forage. Burrows are often located underneath rocks or logs. Single males defend a territory that typically includes 1-4 females. Marmots will emerge from their burrows soon after sunrise to defecate and spend time grooming and sunning. They’ll forage during the mid-morning and throughout the day alternate between grooming, sunning and resting for prolonged periods in their burrow.
Diet: Marmots hibernate up to eight months of the year so they must aggressively forage to put on fat stores for their long periods of dormancy. They gobble grasses, forbs, flowers, legumes, grains, fruits and insects.
Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma tigrinum
Fun Fact: Tiger salamanders are the only salamander found in the state of Utah.
Identification: Salamanders lay eggs in a pond or area of still water which hatch into larvae called efts that look quite a bit similar to tadpoles. They then undergo metamorphosis into adult salamanders. Adult tiger salamanders are black with whitish markings but coloration can vary widely.
Habitat: Tiger salamanders can thrive in a wide variety of habitats as long as there is water close by. Larval salamanders are aquatic and adults must breed near water.
Diet: Salamanders eat small animals, insects and the larvae of other amphibians. Where fish are present, salamanders are often absent due to predation.
Words of Warning: Amphibians are incredibly sensitive to pollutants since their skin is absorbent. The presence of tiger salamanders is a fairly good indicator that the habitat is healthy. A great place to spot tiger salamanders is in Alta’s Cecret Lake. Please remember that this lake resides within a watershed, and it is not permitted to wade, touch, swim or be in the water—it’s our drinking water! Learn more about watersheds and why they matter here.
Beavers - Castor canadensis
Fun Facts: The four prominent, yellow incisor teeth never stop growing. Beavers must continually file their teeth by chewing and gnawing on trees to prevent them from growing too long.
Beavers are landscape architects, and countless animal species depend on the beaver for its dam-building action which expands wetland habitat.
Beaver dams help capture spring runoff, and their presence supports more diverse habitats.
Identification: Beavers are a large member of the rodent family and feature dark brown fur with lighter fur on their belly. They have small eyes, small front feet with claws and large, webbed rear feet. They are most easily identified by their huge, flat tails which are smooth and scaly. Their bright yellow buck teeth help them fell trees. Beavers are mainly nocturnal so they can be difficult to spot; dawn and dusk are your best bet for observing beaver. They do not hibernate, but they do become less active in the winter months.
Habitat: Beaver are found throughout Utah in areas with water. The presence of beaver is easy to detect. Look for tell-tale signs of stumps with gnaw marks in the shape of an hourglass and heaps of timber forming their dams and lodges. Their lodges are dome-shaped and can reach as high as 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Lodges are used as shelter to rear young and store food. Beavers prefer willow, aspen, cottonwood and birch trees.
Diet: Beavers forage on aquatic vegetation, cattails, pond lilies, vegetation and tree bark.
Mountain Goat - Oreamnos americanus
Fun Facts: Females often won’t give birth until four or five years of age, and their reproduction rate is relatively low.
Both male and female mountain goats have horns that grow throughout the course of their lives; they never shed their horns. Annual growth rings will form for each year of a goat’s life, so the horns can be used to age an individual.
A mountain goat’s thick winter coat can endure temperatures of -51°F and winds up to 99 mph.
Identification: Scan steep and rocky slopes or talus fields and train your eye to hone in on the unmistakable sight of shaggy white or creamy yellow coats. Mountain goats are often found in herds, though males can be solitary. Look for muscular shoulders, black horns, beards and short tails.
Habitat: Mountain goats inhabit a few mountain ranges in Utah including the Wasatch, the Uintas, the Tushar Mountains and the La Sals. They can be found at elevations as high as 13,000 feet and prefer steep and rugged terrain where they can escape predation. They occupy terrain between 20-50 degrees in steepness. In Utah, goats will be found above treeline or subalpine forests, though they prefer sheer cliffs and rocky talus slopes.
Diet: Mountain goats use the spring and summer months to build fat reserves to survive through the winter. They graze on grasses, forbs, shrubs and lichens. In the winter they may be forced to eat ponderosa, lodgepole pine or alpine fir.
Words of Warning: Enjoy the sight of mountain goats from a distance; don’t disturb or approach them. When humans disrupt an animal’s natural patterns it can result in high-stress levels, which are linked to higher rates of infection and sickness alongside decreased survival and birth rates. Mountain goats are unpredictable and can be aggressive; maintain 50 yards of distance at the minimum.
Great Basin Rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus lutosus
Fun Fact: The Great Basin rattlesnake is the only venomous snake in the Wasatch. Snakes are creatures that deserve our respect, as they help to keep our rodent population in check and serve as an integral block in the local food web.
Identification: Great Basin rattlesnakes can grow up to four feet in length. Coloration is variable and can encompass brown, tan, grey, greenish hues, yellow and beige. The presence of a rattle is a dead giveaway, though it’s important to note that juvenile rattlesnakes may not have a large rattle. Look for a rapidly shaking tail and a loud, staccato sound. Many are surprised by the loud volume of a rattlesnake’s shake. Snakes can sense vibrations, so they are often aware of humans or dogs long before discovery.
Habitat: The Great Basin rattlesnake is found all across Utah and in a variety of habitats from desert basins to high elevations up to 8,500 feet. Due to habitat encroachment, they can often be found in neighborhoods or along popular trails, so always use caution, and watch your step. Rattlesnakes hibernate throughout the winter.
Diet: Rattlesnakes dine on amphibians, rodents, reptiles, birds, eggs and small mammals like mice and voles.
Words of Warning: Rattlesnakes, despite their foul reputation, are shy and reclusive and will retreat if given the chance. They will avoid striking unless provoked or threatened, and human fatalities are rare. Humans or dogs are bitten when trying to kill, torment or capture rattlesnakes, so simply keep your distance. Rattlesnakes are a great reason to keep your dog leashed on our local trails.
Mule Deer - Odocoileus hemionus
Fun Facts: The mule deer earned its name thanks to its long, distinctive and mule-like ears.
The Rocky Mountain mule deer has an extremely broad range stretching from northern Canada to central Mexico.
Identification: The Rocky Mountain mule deer is the only subspecies of deer found in Utah, so if you spy a deer, identification is simple. Only males, called bucks, possess antlers, which are shed every year in early winter. In the winter months, mule deer sport a thick grey overcoat that provides insulation from the elements. This overcoat is shed in late spring, and the deer’s fur will be reddish brown. A young deer, or fawn, features a soft brown coat with white spots. Unlike the white-tailed deer, mule deer keep their tail down as they run or flee, and their white rump patch is crowned by a narrow tail tipped with black.
Habitat: Mule deer are found throughout the entire state of Utah in a diverse array of habitats, including neighborhoods and backyards. They migrate annually from higher elevations in the summer to lower elevations in the snowy months to secure better access to food. Mule deer are most active at dusk and dawn, though they are frequently active throughout the day in the winter months.
Diet: Mule deer graze on leafy greens and grasses. In early spring, they browse for green leaves, stems and fresh buds. In the winter months, an adult mule deer may expend up to 20% of its body weight, since forage is less available, surviving off the fat stores in their body and a sparse diet of twigs and branches.
Words of Warning: It is illegal to permit your dogs to chase or harass deer. Proceed with caution during the fall breeding season or rut, as males often behave aggressively. Should you discover a baby fawn alone, it’s best to back off and retreat. Most likely its mother is nearby.
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