• An Assateague wild horse finding shelter in the dunes.

    Assateague Island

    National Seashore MD,VA

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  • Backcountry Camping Closures

    Pope Bay, Green Run, Pine Tree & Tingles Island backcountry campsites will be closed on these dates due to hunting seasons: October 15-25, 2014; November 13-15, 2014; November 29-December 13, 2014; January 16-19, 2015 More »


Bottlenose dolphins are often seen in the surf along Assateague's beaches during the summer months. 16 kb

Bottlenose Dolphin

(NPS Photo)

The mammals of Assateague occupy a wide array of habitats and range in size from small rodents to large marine mammals - the latter including the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and several species of whale that feed in the island's offshore waters.

Wild horses (Equus caballus) are probably Assateague's best-known mammal species. These feral horses roam freely over the Maryland portion of the island and within fenced areas of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge located on the Virginia end of the island. The horses spend most of their days grazing, sleeping, or moving slowly in small bands from one feeding area to another. They feed primarily on saltmarsh cord grass, but will also eat beachgrass, greenbrier, bayberry, poison ivy, and many other types of vegetation.

Rodents such as the meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius) and meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) live in grasses bordering salt and freshwater wetlands and feed on seeds, wetland plants, and, in the case of the jumping mouse, insects. Though seldom seen, river otters (Lutra canadensis) and muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) also make their home in the island’s marshy areas and adjacent waterways.

Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) build dens in sand dunes and roam the island hunting for mice, birds, insects, and berries. Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) provide the important environmental service of waste removal, feeding primarily on the island’s carrion. The only marsupial found in North America, they give birth to premature young which complete development in a pouch on the outside of the mother's body.

The non-native sika deer is actually a diminutive species of oriental elk. 12 kb

Sika Deer

John Collins

Two species of deer take advantage of the island's interior forests and shrub habitats, the native white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and the non-native sika deer (Cervus nippon), actually a diminutive species of oriental elk. Ongoing research is evaluating the ecological effects of sika deer on both native vegetation communities and other wildlife such as the white-tailed deer.

Did You Know?

Sea pork are orange, blob-like critters related to sea squirts. 5 kb

Animal, vegetable or mineral? These orange, blob-like critters are a colony of animals related to sea squirts. Their name, sea pork is thought to be derived from their close appearance to salt pork. When they are babies they have a notochord just like human embryos!