Callospermophilus lateralis “Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel” Sciuridae

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
June 8, 2016
Robert Niese

Look at this adorable little fatling! Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels are a common, endearingly pudgy species found throughout western North America east of the cascades and Sierras. They, along with dozens of other ground squirrel species (41, to be precise), were part of the Great Ground Squirrel Generic Revision of 2009. In this taxonomic revision, mammalogists at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History determined that the mega-genus Spermophilus was likely a paraphyletic clade of 8 separate genera. Callospermophilus was one of those genera that rose from the ashes of the Spermophilus mega-genus. Today it remains a distinct genus with only three species, all of which are restricted to western North America. Here in the PNW, one of these species, C. saturatus, is endemic to the Cascade range where it likely became isolated by the Columbia River, allowing it to differentiate from its eastern sister species, C. lateralis.


Ovis canadensis “Bighorn Sheep” Bovidae, male, 3 years old

Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, MT
September 27, 1961
col. Wesley Woodgerd (photo Robert Niese)

Bighorn Sheep were first transplanted to Wild Horse Island in 1939 and, from a herd of only 8 breeding adults, the population grew to be more than 200 strong. By the 60s and 70s, when Wesley Woodgerd was studying their herds, the maximum number of sheep recorded on the island at one time exceeded 240 individuals. This deformed young male was born around a time when the herd was likely suffering greatly from inbreeding depression which may have contributed to its odd schnoz. Alternatively, without any predators on the island, perhaps this individual was injured at a young age and managed to survive and develop this malformity from its wounds. Learn more about the Wild Horse Island Bighorn Sheep here.


Tamiasciurus hudsonicus “Red Squirrel” Sciuridae

Missoula, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

Red Squirrels are rarely found in town here in Missoula. They require an ample supply of pine cones unlike their more adaptive relatives, the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Eastern Gray Squirrel. But in neighborhoods adjacent to our nearby open spaces, these critters can adapt to live alongside people. This little guy was busy munching on an overripe plum when I interrupted him for a photo.

Moose cow and calf, Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, MT

Alces alces “Moose” Cervidae, cow and calf

October 8, 2015
Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, MT
Robert Niese

The Moose (also called an Elk if you’re British) is the largest extant species of deer in the world. They have a circumboreal distribution and tend to be found most often around lakes and rivers in coniferous and mixed deciduous forests. The southernmost extent of the Moose’s global range occurs here in the northwestern United States. Southern Idaho is home to the largest herds of these southern residents, but small populations can also be found as far south as Utah and Colorado. In the fall, when bulls enter the rut and cows are protecting their calves, Moose are considered the most dangerous species to encounter here in Glacier National Park. In fact, in North America Moose kill more people annually than deer, bears, and mountain lions combined (including vehicle collisions).

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus “Red Squirrel” Sciuridae

Drinking Horse Mountain, Bozeman, MT
June 3, 2015
Robert Niese

Red Squirrels are found throughout Nearctic coniferous forests where they defend territories year-round (they don’t hibernate). In the summer, squirrels will collect cones, seeds, and mushrooms in large caches which they feed from throughout the winter. As they eat these cones, they discard the scales in massive piles, called middens, which can grow to be over a meter tall. Winters here in Montana tend to be devoid of active fauna, however, these squirrels will angrily chirp at snowshoers and cross-country-skiers that wander through their territories.

Marmota flaviventris “Yellow-bellied Marmot” Sciuridae

Palouse Falls State Park, WA
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Yellow-bellied Marmots are some of the largest rodents in North America. They are a member of the squirrel family, and have a plethora of common names including “whistle pigs,” “wood chucks,” “rock chucks,” and “ground hogs.” Ugh, this is why I hate common names.

Cervus elaphus “Wapiti” Cervidae, male

National Bison Range, MT
September 21, 2013
Robert Niese

The name “wapiti” comes from the Shawnee and it means “light-colored rump.” Elk found here in the PNW are arguably the same species as “red deer” found in Europe. They have been split and regrouped countless times by taxonomists.