Today is Thanksgiving, a holiday in the United States dating back to colonial times when the first European settlers celebrated their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. After two months at sea it must have been incredible to see the native wildlife of this strange new world for the first time, so in honour of Thanksgiving, we thought we’d highlight some of the amazing species they would begin to encounter.
The American bison, the largest mammal in North America, once roamed the continent in vast herds and helped to shape the ecology of the Great Plains, as well as the history of the United States of America. As recently as 200 years ago, the North American continent was home to around 40 million bison, providing a sustainable source of meat, as well as hides for shelter and clothes, for many of the continent’s native people.
Instantly recognisable as the national emblem of the United States, the bald eagle has long been a key symbol in the human cultures of the Americas. The second largest North American bird of prey after the California condor, the bald eagle is also the only eagle solely native to North America.
The world’s largest wild canid, the iconic grey wolf has been a source of both fear and respect, inspiring a rich cultural history. In order to advertise territorial boundaries and avoid encounters with other packs, grey wolf packs employ scent-marking and howling, a haunting and eerie sound.
The wild relative of one of only two domesticated birds to have originated in North America, the wild turkeys hefty size, characteristic plumage and social behaviour are particularly admired in the United States, and, as a result, it has long been a popular symbol of American wildlife.
American black bear
Found only in North America, the American black bear was historically distributed throughout all forested areas, from northern Canada, south through the U.S.A., to central Mexico. While most populations in the west of the American black bear’s range have black fur, in the east, many populations have lighter cinnamon or yellow-brown coats.
Found in Canada and the northern United States, the moose is the largest living deer. A particularly impressive species, the antlers can measure up to two metres across and over 30 kilograms in weight. As well as being a strong swimmer, the moose is capable at running of speeds of up to 56 kilometres per hour, its long legs helping it to easily negotiate obstacles when fleeing predators such as wolves or bears.
Other than man, the large, slender puma, also known as the cougar, mountain lion or panther, has the greatest natural distribution of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Sadly, across their range, pumas have been considered a threat to livestock and persecuted because of this.
Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher