Wildlife of Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Mammals)

cuyahoga valley national park

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is composed of mostly tall deciduous forest along both sides of the Cuyahoga River. The area was originally designated as a National Recreation Area in 1974 serving the cities of Akron and Cleveland. It was not until the year 2000 that it was designated a national park.

A century ago, most of the park was used as agricultural land. The forest was cut down to give way to agricultural land. Once the agricultural lands was abandoned, the forest began to recover to a point that now looks like the adjacent pristine deciduous forests.

Wildlife, particularly mammals also return with the forest. The park offers more than 125 miles of hiking trails along which wildlife can be spotted.

The prime time to observe wildlife is during the early morning hours. This is the time when fewer people are in the park and wildlife can be observe in the forest.

The following is a list of the wildlife species more likely to be seen during a visit to Cuyahoga National Park. The list of composed of larger species. Smaller animals such as mice, shrews, voles, and bats are generally nocturnal and remain hidden during the day.

Related:

Birds to See in Cuyahoga Valley National Park (With Sounds)

Virginia Opossum

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The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is found just about anywhere including urban areas generally near sources of food such as dumpsters. The term “playing possum” derives from the fact that possums pretend to be dead when attacked or threatened. This reaction appears to be involuntary and triggered by extreme fear. This happens generally when a possum is attacked or harassed. Possums have a lifespan of about two years.

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American Beaver

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The American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is the world’s second-largest rodent. Beavers are closely associated with bodies of water. They build dens and have flat paddle-shaped tail, webbed hind feet. They have a nictitating membrane that allows them to swim on the surface and underwater. Beavers were hunted to near extinction by fur traders. It was just a change in fashion and preferences that changed the hunting pressure and survival of the species.

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American Red Squirrel

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The American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is favors coniferous forests. In fact, this squirrel does not occur where coniferous forests are absent, such as in southern United States and the Great Plains. The Red Squirrel is distinguished from the more common Gray Squirrel and Fox Squirrel by having a their reddish fur and small size. Females mates with multiple males and build a nest in trees where they give birth and keep their pups.

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Eastern Gray Squirrel

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The Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) occurs in the eastern half of the United States and the southern portion of adjacent Canada. They are highly adaptable. They do well in pristine and impacted habitats, as well as, urban environments. Gray squirrels are an important seed disperser as they store food in caches underground for later consumption. Some of these caches are never retrieved and become saplings.

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Southern Flying Squirrel

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The Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans) is found in deciduous and mixed woods in the eastern half of North America. They do not actually fly but glide using the expanded membrane between their limbs. They climb up to tree tops and glide to points at lower heights. The Southern Flying Squirrel is nocturnal and spend the day in natural cavities as singles or in groups of several individuals. They readily occupy nesting boxes set up for birds.

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Eastern Fox Squirrel

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The Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) is the largest of all North American squirrels. They can be mistaken for the Eastern Gray Squirrel, which has a gray fur and a white belly in contrast to the rich orange-brown belly of a Fox Squirrel. Fox squirrels favor woodlots with a low density of trees and little to no understory vegetation. They are often observed foraging on the ground. They feed alone mostly on nuts, fruit, tubers, seed, and bird eggs.

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Eastern Chipmunk

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The eastern chipmunk’s (Tamias striatus) is unmistakable. It is mostly brown with two longitudinal creamy stripes bordered with black. Chipmunks can easily climb trees but rather forage on the ground. They build tunnels underground they use as den and keeping their pups. They are mostly solitary except for the breeding season. Chipmunks are diurnal and spend the majority of the time foraging for food.

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Eastern Cottontail

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The Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) favors meadows, hedgerows, and any other semi-open areas with grasses and enough nearby cover. They normally forage at dusk near vegetation they can quickly run under to hide from predators. Rabbits spend most of the day resting in small depressions under cover. The Cottontail Rabbit does not dig burrows. They have their young in a well-hidden small depression lined with dead leaves and the mother’s hair.

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Muskrat

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The Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), is found in a variety of bodies of fresh and brackish water. They are an important component of the wetlands they inhabit as they consume certain plant type over others changing the plant composition and ecology of those wetlands. Muskrats are highly adaptive and use man-made pond, ditches and canals. As such, they remain fairly common and widespread in spite of the ongoing destruction of wetlands.

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Bobcat

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The Bobcat (Lynx rufus) is champion of adaptation. It occupies habitats ranging from hot deserts to cold temperate forests including urban environments. It is an opportunistic predator with a diverse diet. Bobcats are solitary and maintain territories. They are hunted in regions where they attack poultry and other domestic animals but their populations have proven resilient and appear to sustain healthy numbers.

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Coyote

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Coyotes (Canis latrans) are the versatile relative of wolves. They are not only adapted to changing habitats but have expanded their original range to regions they were never known to occur. Coyotes use urban habitats and take advantage of resources resulting from human activities. In part due to often killing livestock, there is a negative attitude towards coyotes. Coyotes are closely related to wolves and mate with these producing viable offspring (Coywolves).

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Common Gray Fox

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The Common Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), was originally restricted to northern Boreal forest of Canada. With the advance of deforestation, this fox expanded ranges throughout Eastern United States. Some “grayish-furred” Red Foxes may look like a Common Gray Fox. However, the Gray Fox’s orange-brown legs distinguish is from the black legs in the Red Fox. The Gray Fox can climb trees and jump from branch to branch.

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Red Fox

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The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of the most widespread mammals worldwide. Foxes have adapted to urban habitats. The color of their fur is typically red but some individuals are reddish-gray. The red fox eats just about anything but favor small mammal and birds. They are normally found in pairs or in family groups. Red foxes are well represented in human folklore. They can be encounter anywhere in Acadia National Park.

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American Black Bear

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The American Black Bears (Ursus americanus) is more numerous bear in North America. It has adapted you just about every habitat throughout the country. The Black Bear favors forested areas, but they use other habitats as well. They can eat just about anything and adapt well to the presence of humans. Black Bears mark their territories by marking trees and logs using their claws and teeth. Bears are frequently seen in Acadia National Park.

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Raccoon

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The Raccoon (Procyon lotor) is yet another champion of adaptation. They eat berries, insects, and just about anything they can find. Raccoons are regarded as very smart animals able to find and remember solutions to simple problems. They have an intricate social behavior. Groups of related females share a territory. Also, male-only groups join forces to defend territories against other males not part of the group.

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Long-tailed Weasel

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The Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) is found in most of North America. This weasel is specialized in live prey. Its diet includes mice, rats, squirrels and chipmunks. It is a tenacious hunter often chasing its prey for long periods of time until the prey can no longer run. They are known to obliterate prey larger than the weasel itself. Its long and streamline body allows a weasel to chase their prey in narrow burrows and cavities.

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Least Weasel

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The Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) is about half the size of the Long-tailed Weasel. Both weasels differ in coloration. The Least Weasel is dark brown above and white below. The Long-tailed Weasel is brown above and yellow below with a brown tail with a distinctive black tip. The Least Weasel has an all brown tail only one third the length of its body. The Long-tailed Weasel has tail as long as its entire body with a distinctive black tip.

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American Mink

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The American Mink (Neovison visonis) is associated with bodies of water but expands to areas away from the water. They feed mostly on small mammal, fish, crustaceans, and birds. They will even attack and eat poultry. Minks were heavily hunted for their fine fur and their numbers declined. After the demand for fur ended, their population numbers recovered. They are solitary and come in contact only during the breeding season.

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Northern River Otter

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The North American River Otter (Lontra canadensisis) is associated to variety of bodies of water. They normally move through in pairs or family groups in a hectic and playful manner. Otters dig intricate burrows with multiple entrances, one of which is right at the average water level. The North American River Otter appears to be in decline due to pollution in the bodies of water they live and the disappearance of their prey base.

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Striped Skunk

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The Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) lives in pristine habitats as well as degraded ones and semi-urban areas. Skunks eat just about anything they can find. All Striped Skinks are black but the length and thickness of the white stripes is variable. As it is familiar to most, skunks have a smelly scent that help them ward off predators. Coyotes, mountain lions and other larger predator do not approach them.

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White-tailed Deer

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The White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), is recognized by the characteristic white underside to its tail. They are very adaptable and use a variety of habitats. Predators of the White-tailed Deer included wolves and mountain lions. These animals have been eliminated resulting in an overpopulation of White-tailed Deer that causes environmental damage. All males have antlers that are replaced every year.

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Final Thoughts

The deciduous forest of Cuyahoga Valley undergos dramatic seasonal changes. Wildlife is  generally more active during the summer months but the foliage in the forest makes  seeing them more difficult.

In contrast, during the winter months the foliage is mostly absent and mammals are easier to see. However, they are less active during cold weather. At any rate, the anticipation of spotting wildlife the park is worth a visit any time of the year.

Related:

Cuyahoga Valley National Park: A Visitor’s Guide