Nature Notes

Vol. XII April, 1934 No. 4

What is the park's most distinctive animal?

Answering this question is like picking an all-American football team. It's a matter of opinion, for there are 56 species of mammals and 102 species of birds native to Mt. Rainier National Park, not to mention the many other types of animal life that can readily be found there.

Some might give this honor to the White Mountain Goat. Surely the visitor gets a big thril when first sights a band of these animals loping over the meadows or climbing along some rocky cleaver bordering a glacial canyon. True, to see these animals one must reach out beyond the beaten path, away from the main centers and highways but that intensifies the thrill as the trails that tap the "high country" are well made and pleasant to hike over. But then, perhaps some people would pick some animal more familiar to a greater number of people--the Clark's Crow or Nutcracker for instance. While this bird is generally distributed in the high mountains of the far west, it is doubtful if they can be more readily seen and enjoyed than in such places like Paradise Valley or Yakima Park--beautiful sub-alpine meadows on the slopes of "The Mountain". The Clark's Crow also has a historical significance, for it bears the name of the companion of Meriweather Lewis. Lewis and Clark in their memorable journey discovered many features that were new to natural history and which were peculiar to this western country and the Clark's Crow was one of them.

But wait! Here is an animal that IS truly distinctive! It is called the Mountain Beaver, possibly because it is certainly NOT a beaver and does not always live in the mountains. A better name would be Aplodontis and it is interesting because this species was once widely distributed throughout certain parts of the world, but now can be found only in a very restricted area along the humid Pacific Coast. Unfortunately though it is rarely seen by the casual visitor to the park unless he should visit the Park Museum at Longmire and view the specimen there.

Ptarmigan may also be considered for the honor of "most distinctive animal in Mt. Rainier National Park". This bird is an arctic grouse and lives high on the slopes of this old volcano yet it is readily seen by the observing visitor who hikes along the good trails that traverse the alpine habitat of this bird. The ptarmigan's chief bid for fame lies in the fact that it changes color with the season. Summer finds it mottled grey, winter finds it snow white while in the spring and fall it is in the process of changing from one to the other. This gift of nature is natural camouflage, for thus it resembles the country in which it lives throughout the entire year and by remaining perfectly still it often escapes notice of enemies.

These are a few of "The Mountain's" interesting animals. You may decide for yourself which is the most distinctive of the region. You might name some other after having attended one of the evening lectures given each evening by ranger-naturalists, or after seeing them with your own eyes.

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