What wildlife can I see in Yellowstone National Park, USA?

Proclaimed on March 1, 1872, by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States and the world. In 1978, Yellowstone National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is renowned for its vast lodgepole pine forests and geothermal features. The majority of the park is in Wyoming, but it also extends into Montana and Idaho.

Yellowstone Lake is centered on the Yellowstone Caldera, which is the largest volcanic system in North America and is currently a dormant volcano. It last erupted around 640,000 years ago and is considered a supervolcano. If the Yellowstone volcano were to explode, it is thought to cause a volcanic winter, with the United States blanketed in ash and the sulfur dioxide expelled causing the climate to cool for a decade. The volcano is also the source of the park’s geysers, other hydrothermal features, and the thousands of earthquakes that occur in Yellowstone each year (nearly all of which are undetectable to humans).

There are nine visitor centers and museums, as well as many historic structures and buildings, such as the Old Faithful Inn. There are over 2,000 campsites and over 1,800 km of hiking trails.

What wildlife can you see in Yellow Stone National Park?

Yellowstone National Park is home to hundreds of animal species, including 60 mammals, 18 fish, seven reptiles and over 300 birds. There are also over 1,700 species of native trees and vascular plants, plus 170 additional species. Non-native plants can outcompete native plants and are normally found in areas with high human traffic.

Yellowstone Sand-verbena (Marram Abronia), also known as Wyoming sand-verbena, is endemic to the park—it grows in only four populations in the sandy soils around Yellowstone Lake. Very little is known about the life history of the plant.

American Bison (buffalo buffalo)

An adult American bison by the Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. © Don White/Getty

Yellowstone is also the only place in the United States where American bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Once numbering fewer than 50 animals in 1902, it is now the largest public herd in the United States. The areas around Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful Geyser—both of which are well worth visiting—are said to be good year-round for these one-ton beasts.

Their European cousin is reintroduced to the UK in spring 2022.

The scientific name of the American bison, buffalo buffalois an example of a tautonym, where the genus and the specific name are the same.

Grey Wolf (Canis lupus)

Part of pack of gray wolves coming over a hill in the snow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. © John Morrison/Getty

In 1995, Yellowstone National Park hosted one of the most famous rewilding experiments on Earth – the reintroduction of gray wolves. These mammals had gradually declined due to increased agriculture and human-wildlife conflict, and by 1925 the last gray wolves in Yellowstone were killed. As a result, elk (also known as wapiti) numbers skyrocketed and the park suffered from overgrazing. Additionally, the loss of wolves led to an increase in coyote populations, which in turn reduced the pronghorn population.

These predators kept herbivores like elk (the North American relative of our red deer) on their toes, reducing browsing pressure on trees like willow. This in turn led to a resurgence of beavers. The Hayden and Lamar valleys are good places to see wolves, with winter offering the best chance of sightings. The packs are named after the areas of the park where they are located, for example the Druid Peak Pack and the Lamar Canyon Pack.

While wolves are protected in the park, there are different rules between states outside.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

A bald eagle in the snow at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. © Kevin Noble/500px/Getty

The bald eagle is misnamed, as the “bald” part actually derives from “white head”, an older meaning of the word. It is the national bird of the United States, appearing on its seal, but it has almost disappeared from the country. Fortunately, populations recovered and it was removed from the US government’s endangered species list in 1995.

It forms a species pair with the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), filling the same ecological niche.

The bald eagle is the second most common raptor in the park, with six known active nests around Yellowstone Lake. During severe winters, they may descend to lower elevations, such as Paradise Valley, north of the park.

Main image: Wildlife of Yellowstone National Park. © Bex Glover

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