Many different types of animals live all over the world, but some are found only in a specific country. These animals are called endemic, meaning they live in a particular area and can’t be found anywhere else. Many endemic animals are endangered.
There are over 500 endemic species in North America. The Hawaiian turkeyfish, Red Hills Salamander, Gopher tortoise, Pronghorn, Olympic marmot, Gunnison grouse, Hawaiian monk seal, American bison, Giant kangaroo rat, and American black bear are 10 animals you may not have known are endemic to North America.
The animals in this list are native to North America. Some of these species might be familiar to you if you live in this part of the world, but you may not realize that some are endemic.
The Hawaiian turkeyfish’s (Pterois sphex) name comes from the large fins behind its head, which look like a turkey’s feathers. When it swims, the turkeyfish’s large fins spread out behind it like a fan.
This fish is a very unusual type of coral reef fish that can only be found in the warm, shallow waters around Hawaii. This endemic fish’s body is mostly blue, with a yellow head, and a white belly.
In their natural habitat, the turkeyfish is found in schools, often very close to the shore. They feed on small organisms like plankton and algae growing on the coral reef.
Red Hills Salamander
The Red Hills salamander (Phaeognathus hubrichti) is an endangered endemic species of salamander found only in California. It lives underground in moist soil that is rich in salts and minerals. The Red Hills salamander could be the first endemic salamander to go extinct in the wild since the 1800s.
The Red Hills salamander is a small, dark-colored amphibian with a long tail and smooth skin. It has tiny eyes and a long nose, which it uses to dig underground tunnels to hunt for worms and insects. If you encounter a Red Hills salamander, it is best to leave it alone, because disturbing it could scare it away from its burrow.
The Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a large, brown, land-dwelling turtle endemic to southern parts of the United States. They have found a natural habitat in sandy, grassy areas where they can dig large burrows. Gopher tortoises have strong, shovel-like claws on their front feet, which they use for digging burrows and foraging for food.
Their burrows serve as shelters for a wide range of other species, including small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. These burrows provide refuge from predators, stable microclimates during extreme weather, and even nesting sites for animals like the Eastern indigo snake.
Gopher tortoises are herbivores, eating mostly grasses, flowers, and weeds. They are particularly fond of wild prickly pear cactus and eat both the flowers and the roots.
The Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is an extraordinary species native to the vast landscapes of southwestern North America and northern Mexico. Its most distinctive feature is its branched horns, which are present in both males and females. These horns, unlike those of true antelope, are composed of a bony core and a keratinous sheath that is shed and regrown annually.
Pronghorn are reddish brown with a white underbelly. They are the fastest land mammals in North America, often reaching speeds over 60 miles per hour. They feed on desert plants like cacti and yucca, and they can go for several days without any water. Pronghorn are polygamous, meaning males mate with more than one female.
The Olympic marmot is a large, yellow-brown rodent endemic to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The marmot is a ground squirrel that spends its days digging tunnels in the earth and nights sleeping in its burrow.
They live in colonies or “towns,” which can range in size from a few individuals to over 100 marmots. Within these colonies, they exhibit complex social interactions and communication through vocalizations, body language, and scent marking.
In its natural habitat, the Olympic marmot is found in forests, where it forages for food. Marmots are herbivores, eating mostly tree bark, grasses, flowers, and native plants. They also eat fungi, insects, and wild apples.
The Gunnison grouse (Centrocercus minimus) is a large, dark-colored bird found in the mountains of Colorado. The grouse is a type of game bird that feeds on wild berries, grasses, and other plants.
Gunnison grouse engage in intricate mating rituals during the breeding season. These rituals often involve males gathering at communal display areas called leks, where they perform elaborate displays to attract females. Females visit these leks and select mates based on the males’ performances.
Leks play a vital role in the mating and reproductive success of Gunnison sage-grouse, and they are an essential part of the species conservation efforts, as they help monitor and protect these critical breeding grounds.
The American Bison (Bison bison) is one of the most iconic animals of the American plains. It was hunted to near extinction in the 19th century but has since made a comeback as a protected species.
American bison are massive creatures, with males, or bulls, weighing up to 2,000 pounds or more. They are known for their distinctive humpbacked appearance, shaggy fur, and massive curved horns, which can span over two feet. Bison are herbivores, eating only grass and other plants.
Bison are well adapted to harsh environments, from the cold winters of Yellowstone National Park to the hot summers of the Great Plains. American bison are a testament to conservation efforts in North America.
Giant Kangaroo Rat
The Giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens) is a large rodent found in California’s San Joaquin Valley and some areas of Arizona. The giant kangaroo rat is one of the largest species of kangaroo rats. Giant kangaroo rats are desert-dwelling animals that feed on wild seeds, flowers, and cacti.
Males and females live in separate burrows, sometimes with the females young, which are born hairless and blind. These rodents are superbly adapted to their arid habitat. They are primarily nocturnal, emerging at night to forage for seeds, which make up the majority of their diet. Their efficient kidneys allow them to concentrate their urine, minimizing water loss in the dry environment.
They create intricate underground burrows, complete with multiple entrances and chambers, which serve as protection from predators and temperature extremes.
American Black Bear
The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a large bear found across much of northern North America. Known for its distinctive black fur, though it can also range from brown to cinnamon and even blonde, this bear is the most common bear species in North America and can be found in a wide range of habitats, from dense forests to swamps and alpine meadows.
American black bears are omnivores, eating both meat and plants, and they are excellent foragers. They eat a variety of berries, fruits, insects, nuts, honey, fish, frogs, and the occasional small mammal. Bears are very adaptable creatures, so they can be found in many different types of habitats, from mountains to coastal forests.
While American black bears are generally not aggressive towards humans, encounters can be dangerous, and it’s essential to exercise caution and proper bear safety protocols when in bear country.
Hawaiian Monk Seal
The Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi) is a dark-colored seal found only in Hawaii. It is one of two species of seals endemic to North America, along with the Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi).
The Hawaiian monk seal is the only exclusively Hawaiian seal species and the only seal found in Hawaii. They are primarily found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where they breed and raise their pups on secluded beaches and rocky shores. Their diet consists of a diverse array of marine creatures, including fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans.
Hawaiian monk seals face numerous threats, including habitat degradation, entanglement in marine debris, and predation. The Hawaiian monk seal is an endangered species, meaning it is rare and close to extinction. There are only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild.
References And Further Reading
Endangered and Threatened Animals of Texas by Duane Schlitter and James C. Halfhill
This book delves into the unique and endemic animal species found in Texas, providing insights into their ecology, distribution, and conservation status.
While specific to Illinois, this book covers a wide range of endemic and rare animal species in the state.
A Field Guide to the Rare Amphibians and Reptiles of California by Robert C. Stebbins
California is home to several endemic amphibians and reptiles, and this field guide offers a comprehensive look at these unique creatures.
This book explores the natural history of the Puget Sound region in the Pacific Northwest, including information about its endemic plants and animals.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.