"Mount Rainier" by NPS/Emily Brouwer Photo , public domain
Mount Rainier Nature
Brochure about Mammals and Life Zones at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Published by the National Park Service (NPS).
Mount Rainier National Park National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Mammals and Life Zones Just as people have adapted to living in nearly every climate imaginable, our fellow mammals have come to occupy many different life zones around the world. These life zones, like big neighborhoods, provide many different habitats where animals can find food, water, shelter, and space. More than fifty different kinds of mammals live in the life zones found in Mount Rainier National Park. Some are specially adapted to one life zone, while others range through several. Imagine taking a very long walk from the edge of the park up to the summit of the mountain. What kinds of life zones would you see? What kinds of mammals would you find in each one? Looking at life zones can help us better understand and appreciate mammal adaptations and the struggle to survive––a trait all living things share. Lowland Forest Zone Douglas squirrel Pacific Silver Fir Zone Mountain goats live in the Alpine Zone You’re in the lowland forest when you enter the park and find yourself sheltered by giant trees, dense shrubs and brush. The old-growth forests of this zone have trees towering 250 feet (76 m) or more, reaching diameters of 100 inches (2.54 m). Found between 2,000 and 3,000 feet in elevation (610-914 m), this zone is crowded with Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar. If you pass a pond or a lake, you might see evidence of beavers. Beavers eat tree bark and “girdle” trees which they can later use to make dams and lodges. Look for signs of gnawed trees as you walk through this zone. And listen overhead for the chirping sound of the Douglas squirrel, also known as a chickaree. You’ll probably notice how it got its name: it will shout out chickareeeeee! as you pass. A subtle change in the types of trees and thickness of forest undergrowth might clue you in when you arrive at the edge of the Pacific silver fir zone. It stretches between 3,000 and 4,500 feet (914-1372 m) in elevation. The climate here is slightly cooler and wetter than in the lowland forest. You’ll recognize Pacific silver fir, noble fir, western white pine, western hemlock, and Douglas fir trees all around you. If you walk through this zone during the night, you may be lucky enough to hear the soft thwack of flying squirrels jumping and gliding from one tree to another. They have extra skin under their arms and legs, and they stretch them out and sail like kites from high up in the trees right down to the ground. In the daylight you might catch a glimpse of a bear cub climbing up a tree. Like some other mammals, bears seasonally wander through many different life zones in search of available food. Black bear cub Subalpine Zone You know you’ve entered this zone when you see mountain hemlock trees. They have short, stubby needles like their cousins in the lowland forest, but these needles form beautiful star-shaped bundles on the branch. You’ll still see a few Pacific silver fir, mixed in with whitebark pine. Stands of subalpine fir, Alaska yellow cedar, and Engelmann spruce will begin to appear as you climb higher. The subalpine zone is generally found between 4,500 and 6,500 feet (1372-1981 m). As you climb into this colder, snowier zone, the continuous forest gives way to patches of trees surrounded by meadows of colorful wildflowers, where deer and elk come to graze and browse in the sunshine. Elk Alpine Zone Here’s one zone you can’t miss––no trees grow here. Some parts of the alpine zone are covered with flowers and grasses in the summer; others are blanketed by snowfields that never melt and glaciers of blue ice. This zone starts between 6,000 and 7,500 feet (18282286 m) and goes all the way to the 14,410-foot (4392 m) summit of Mount Rainier! Marmot What mammals could ever survive up here? You hear a high-pitched whistle, and in a rock pile you see what looks like a big fat mouse with round ears and no tail. A pika gathers leaves, flowers, and the fruits of alpine plants to dry in the sun and store for winter. Another rodent, the marmot (left), doesn’t gather food, but hibernates instead. It can sleep more than half the year in its burrow until the snow melts. Mammals of Mount Rainier Bears - family Ursidae black bear Ursus americanus Shrew - family Soricidae common / masked shrew Trowbridge shrew wandering shrew dusky shrew water shrew marsh shrew Sorex cinerea Sorex trowbridgii Sorex vagrans Sorex monticolus Sorex palustris Sorex bendirii Mole - Family Talpidae shrew-mole Townsend mole coast mole Neurotrichus gibbsii Scapanus townsendii Scapanus orarius Why Latin? Most people just call animals by their common names. But it’s good to know the Latin, because common names can be confusing. For example, Aplodontia rufa has many names: boomer, sewellel, and chehalis. It’s also called a mountain beaver, even though it’s not a beaver at all (see list below). Latin names are also good for international travelers who might not know the common name but recognize the Latin. It is, after all, the language of science all over the world. Porcupines - family Erethizontidae porcupine Erethizon dorsatum Pikas - family Ochotonidae pika Ochotona princeps Bats - family Verspertilionidae Yuma myotis Myotis yumanensis hairy-winged bat Myotis volans silver-haired bat Lasionycteris noctivagans big brown bat Eptesicus fuscus hoary bat Lasiurus cinereus Townsend’s big-eared bat Corynorhinus townsendii Marmots, squirrels, and chipmunks - family Sciuridae hoary marmot Marmota caligata golden-mantled ground squirrel Spermophilus saturatus yellow pine chipmunk Tamias amoenus Townsend’s chipmunk Tamias townsendii Douglas squirrel Tamiasciurus douglasii northern flying squirrel Glaucomys sabrinus Golden-mantled ground squirrel Raccoons - family Procyonidae raccoon Procyon lotor Weasels, skunks, and their allies - family Mustelidae American marten Martes americana fisher Martes pennanti short-tailed weasel, ermine Mustela erminea long-tailed weasel Mustela frenata mink Mustela vison spotted skunk Spilogale putorius striped skunk Mephitis mephitis Marten Pika Red Fox Foxes, wolves, and coyotes - family Canidae coyote Canis latrans red fox Vulpes vulpes Jumping mice - family Zapodidae Pacific jumping mouse Zapus trinotatus Mice, rats, and voles - family Cricetidae deer mouse Peromyscus maniculatus pack rat, bushy-tailed woodrat Neotoma cinerea Gapper’s red-backed mouse Clethrionomys gapperi heather vole Phenacomys intermedius water vole Microtus richardsoni long-tailed vole Microtus longicaudus Townsend’s vole Microtus townsendii Rabbits and hares - family Leporidae snowshoe hare, varying hare Lepus americanus Deer - family Cervidae elk, wapiti black-tailed deer mule deer Cervus elaphus Odocileus hemionus columbianus Odocileus hemionus hemionus Goats - family Bovidae mountain goat Oreamnos americanus Beavers - family Castoridae beaver Castor canadensis Apoldontias - family Aplodontiidae mountain beaver, boomer Aplodontia rufa Cougar Cats - family Felidae mountain lion, cougar, puma Puma concolor bobcat Lynx rufus lynx (not seen since 1906) Lynx canadensis Pocket Gophers - family Geomyidae northern pocket gopher Thomomys talpoides How Can I Learn More? Check out Cascade-Olympic Natural History by Daniel Mathews; Mount Rainier’s Mammals by M. L. Schamberger; and Plants and Animals of Mount Rainier by Joe Dreimiller. The best way to learn about mammals, though, is to look for them in the wild! E X P E R I E N C E Y O U R A M E R I C A 12/18 www.nps.gov/mora