A coyote rustles through the sagebrush; white-tailed prairie dogs yip outside their burrows; a bighorn sheep balances on a cliff above the Green River as rafters float past below. These are just a few of the 70 species of mammals that make their homes at Dinosaur NM.
Mammal Sightings at Dinosaur NM
Mammal sightings largely depend on when you visit and what parts of the monument you explore. Throughout the summer, white-tailed prairie dogs are frequently spotted by visitors to the Utah side of the monument. An early winter drive along the Harpers Corner Road, on the Colorado side of the monument, may include elk sightings. Stargazing campers at a monument campground may find themselves in the company of the nocturnal ringtail.
Should Dinosaur's mammals prove elusive, look for tracks to find out who's been around.
Keep in mind that if you come across any wildlife while exploring Dinosaur, for your safety and for the benefit of the animal give the animal plenty of space and an escape route.
The Ord's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii) is named for its large hindfeet and bipedal hopping, both reminiscent of a kangaroo. Adapted to survive in arid climates, instead of drinking, this small rodent obtains water from the seeds and plants it consumes. The Ord's kangaroo rat avoids the summer heat, remaining in its burrow during the day and becoming active only after the sun goes down.
White-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus) live in colonies and feed on a variety of grasses, forbs, and woody plants. Dinosaur is one of the few NPS sites where this species is found. Unlike the more common black-tailed prairie dog, white-tailed prairie dogs are only in western Wyoming, western Colorado, eastern Utah, and southern Montana. Scientists identify prairie dogs as a keystone species because their presence is critical to the overall health of the ecological community: their eating and digging habits conserve water, improve the soil, and create better plant variety and quality for other animals.
The yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris), a member of the rodent family, is closely related to the groundhog, or woodchuck, found in the eastern United States. Yellow-bellied marmots are often associated with high-elevation, alpine environments, but, as at Dinosaur NM, they are also found at lower elevations. These animals have been spotted at sites along the Harpers Corner Road and near Jones Hole. Like their rodent cousins, the white-tailed prairie dog, yellow-bellied marmots hibernate during the winter.
River otter (Lontra canadensis) use rivers for traveling and for finding fish, their favorite food. These playful members of the weasel family will also feed on crayfish, amphibians, birds, small mammals, and insects.
Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) feed on lush vegetation in riparian areas and escape from predators in the rocky, rough terrain of the canyon walls. The males, or rams, have dramatic curled horns, sometimes weighing more than 30 pounds. The horns are used in crashing duels for dominance that can be heard from several miles away.
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) have black-tipped tails and large ears, thought by many to resemble the ears of a mule. Dinosaur NM provides both summer and winter range for mule deer. In summer, the deer migrate to the higher country and move into lower-elevation, more protected locations during winter. The combination of sage steppe for forage, protection from harsh weather in the woodlands, and lower elevation make the Yampa Bench an important wintering area for mule deer.
Elk (Cervus canadensis) are among the largest animals found at Dinosuar. Part of the deer family, elk are widely distributed throughout the monument. Some areas are used seasonally; other areas are used nearly all year. Elk numbers within Dinosuar have been estimated to reach or exceed 1,000 animals during certain times of the year. Like mule deer, elk begin growing a set of antlers each spring and shed them each winter.
The ever-adaptable coyote (Canis latrans) is found throughout Dinosaur NM and throughout the United States. The key to coyote's adaptability lies in its willingness to eat a wide variety of foods. Although small mammals, including prairie dogs and cottontail rabbits, may be the coyote's preferred food, these omnivores (animals that eat both plants and animals) will also eat carrion (dead animals), plants, and insects. Next time you camp at Dinosaur NM, listen for the coyote's yips and howls.
Mountain lions (Felis concolor) feed primarily on mule deer. Because mountain lions keep the deer population at a level that prevents habitat degradation, they play an important role in maintaining biological diversity at Dinosaur NM. Mountain lions are highly intelligent, curious, and capable of traveling long distances. Although all of Dinosaur National Monument is suitable habit for this large, powerful cat, mountain lion sightings are infrequent
Black bears (Ursus americanus) are curious, highly mobile, and adaptable animals, but they're not always black. The fur of a black bear can range from very light to very dark. Black bears are omnivores (eating both plants and animals), but they subsist mainly on plants. Winters are spent in hibernation. Although Dinosuar NM has a resident black bear population, bear sightings are rare at the monument.
Did You Know?
Split Mountain, the name John Wesley Powell gave to one of the Dinosaur’s most recognizable features, is aptly named: over millions of years, the Green River has carved a canyon into the center of the mountain, splitting it in two.