Native Wildlife in Colorado: A Complete Guide

Updated: March 8, 2023
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Colorado may be most known for having some of the most towering peaks in the Rocky Mountains, but the Denver Museum of Natural History has identified eight distinct ecosystems within the state that vary from grasslands and forest to wetlands and semi-desert shrub-lands that evoke the deserts of neighboring New Mexico.

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There are eight distinct ecosystems in the state of Colorado.

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The native wildlife here is as diverse as the ecosystems. There are roughly 750 invertebrate species that call Colorado home — and that includes large grazers like the bison and bighorn sheep as well as vicious predators like mountain lions and bears. From the Rocky Mountains all the way down to the grasslands, these wild frontiers allow for very diverse ecosystems to flourish.

The Official Animal of Colorado

Beautiful rocky mountain bighorn sheep ram in the snow.
The bighorn sheep is the official national animal of Colorado.

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Colorado’s official animal is understandably an animal that’s emblematic of the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was declared the national animal in 1961. These sociable creatures only exist in the Rockies, but they’ve unfortunately been reduced to endangered status thanks to their appeal to big game hunters.

Colorado’s state bird was actually declared 30 years before the state animal. The lark bunting is migratory and can be widely seen throughout the state from April until September. They call both the plains of Colorado and elevations of up to 8,000 feet their home.

Where To Find The Top Wild Animals in Colorado

Fitting its diverse variety of ecosystems, Colorado is home to some excellent camping and houses 42 state parks and four national parks — while each of them is beautiful in its own right, there are a few that are worthy of the particular spotlight.

Bison can be seen at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside of Denver, Colorado.

©Tim Malek/Shutterstock.com

Wild Animals in Colorado

Herd of American Elk
Elk are native to Colorado and can be seen in mountainous regions.

©Virrage Images/Shutterstock.com

The wildlife of Colorado is similar to the wildlife found in many other Mountain States like Montana and Wyoming. The most notable large herbivores are the bighorn sheep, elk, bison, and moose. Major predators in these ecosystems include mountain lions, black bears, and foxes.

Small creatures constitute some of the most critical wildlife in many Colorado ecosystems. Prairie dogs are considered a keystone species because the tunnels they dig are used by roughly 150 different animals. The beaver plays a similarly critical role in Colorado’s wetlands ecosystems — and they’re becoming an increasingly common sight in urban areas as well.

Largest Animal in Colorado

Black bear standing straight up on two back legs
The black bear is the largest animal in Colorado.

©Constance Mahoney/Shutterstock.com

The black bear is the largest animal in Colorado today – inhabiting most of the forested areas of the state, including the Rocky Mountains. The average black bear stands at five feet on its back legs and walks on all fours at three feet. Males weight up to 600 pounds while females are much smaller at 200 pounds.

Black bears are omnivores whose diet consists of 80% plants, 15% insects, and 5% animal matter. Fruits, nuts, honey, and other plants are their favorites – but they sometimes eat fish, mice, squirrels, and other small mammals.

The Most Dangerous Animals In Colorado Today

Mountain lion with forest background
Mountain lions are among the most dangerous animals in Colorado.

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  • Mountain goats are relatively common sights in the mountains — and while they’re not predators, they’ve been known to gore hikers with their horns when they feel threatened.
  • Black bears also don’t actively pursue humans, but they’re known for being aggressive if they feel like their cubs are being threatened.
  • Mountain lions are one of the rarer predators, but they’ve been spotted all over the state. Encountering them out on a hiking trail isn’t uncommon, but there were only 25 Colorado mountain lion attacks documented between 2000 and 2021.

Rarest Animal in Colorado

What Eats Snakes
The Wolverine is one of the rarest animals in colorado.

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The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family with short, rounded ears, a broad head, and a stocky body – these animals resemble little bears with long bushy tails. Males are larger than females and weigh up to 35 pounds. They are solitary creatures who eat a variety of animals including small rodents, rabbits, porcupines, ground squirrels, birds, eggs, fish, carrion, and some plants.

The last documented sighting of a wolverine in Colorado occurred in 2009 but there may be a few living in the state. The animals require so much habitat that 100 animals would probably be at full capacity. After the successful reintroduction of elk, bighorn sheep, and river otters, the wolverine is a candidate for reintroduction even though some experts believe they are making their way back to the state without human intervention.

Endangered Animals In Colorado

close up of kit fox in bush
The kit fox is native to Colorado and is currently endangered.

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Colorado is home to multiple endangered species. Big game like the bighorn sheep and bison were once endangered but are now recovering. Some of the most notable endangered wildlife include:

  • Black-footed ferret: The only federally endangered mammal in Colorado, they rely on prairie dogs for both housing and food.
  • Humpback chub: Native to the Colorado River, they’ve adapted to survive incredibly turbulent currents.
  • Wolverine: It’s strange to see a wolverine in Colorado, and they were once believed to be extinct in the state. One of the rarest native species, it’s believed that as many as 100 might be surviving in the state unnoticed.
  • Kit fox: A strange native species of fox most notable for its small frame and strange, deep-set eyes.

Zoos in Colorado

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is the highest zoo in the United States.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is the highest zoo in the United States.

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The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs is a beautiful zoo situated on a hilly, 146-acre site. 800 animals can be viewed in the Australia Walkabout, All About Giraffes, Encounter Africa, Rocky Mountain Wild, and more. There is a sky ride that offers a birds-eye view from a chairlift. Other notable Colorado zoos include:

  • Denver Downtown Aquarium is home to many attractions that capture the thrill of the natural world. The aquarium sustains more than 500 animal species in over one million gallons of water.
  • The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a 1,214-acre animal sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado which specializes in animal rescue. The sanctuary cares for large predators which have been ill-treated or which might have been euthanized.
  • Denver Zoo is an 80-acre zoological garden featuring 4,000 animals from 700 species from all over the world. The Denver Zoo is notable for its efforts to restore bison to tribal lands.
  • Pueblo Zoo is a 25-acre zoo that is home to over 420 animals of more than 140 species. This facility, located in Pueblo, Colorado, is also known for the five original historic buildings featuring beautiful craftsmanship and masonry work of the 1930s.
Asiatic Black Bear with young at Denver Zoo

©Goldom / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Native Plants in Colorado

Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)
Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) is the state flower of Colorado.

©iStock.com/Linda Jo Heilman

Colorado may be known for its mountainous landscape, but there’s no shortage of beauty when you look at the plants and flowers found in the state. The state flower is the Colorado blue columbine, a species of flowering plant in the buttercup family and native to the Rocky Mountains.

From black-eyed Susans to Colorado blue columbine, explore this list of native plants in Colorado, and then go exploring to spot as many as you can.

Beetles in Colorado

Colorado is a state of soaring heights, deep snow drifts, farmland and windy days. Its airy and haunting beauty is only matched by its diversity in wildlife. If you’re interested in unique and fascinating beetles, Colorado’s the place to go!

Read about:

Coloradan Animals

Admiral Butterfly

Stunningly beautiful wings

Allosaurus

Allosaurus is the official state fossil of Utah because of the abundant number of fossils found in the state.

Arctic Char

Arctic char is the northern-most fish; no other fish lives anywhere further north!

Armyworm

They are so named because they "march" in armies of worms from one crop to another in search of food

Beewolf wasp

They hunt bees

Brachiosaurus

Palentologists originally believed that brachiosaurus lived in the water, but they lived on land.

Burrowing Owl

The burrowing owl lives in underground burrows

California Kingsnake

A full-grown California kingsnake can be about 3.5 feet long, though there are some cases in Mexico of the snake being almost twice this size.

Cinnamon Bear

A newborn cinnamon bear weighs 1/2 pound -- about the same as a large apple.

Common Yellowthroat

The Common Yellowthroat stays close to the ground and uses stealth to survive!

Diplodocus

Their long tales could have been used as a whip!

Eastern Fence Lizard

Females are usually larger than males.

Eastern Woodrat

The eastern woodrat mating ritual involves a potentially deadly fight between the male and female before reproduction begins!

Flea

Adult fleas can jump up to 7 inches in the air

Gopher Snake

Gopher snakes can reach up to 9 feet long.

Harris Hawk

Their vision is eight times better than a human's

Kangaroo Mouse

The Kangaroo Mouse is a tiny mouse that stands and hops around on its hind legs, much like a kangaroo.

Kit Fox

The kit fox is the smallest canid in North America.

Kokanee Salmon

A non-anadromous type of sockeye salmon

MacGillivray’s Warbler

The complicated story of how MacGillivray’s Warblers got their name involves three ornithologists, a physician and a compromise.

Massasauga

The name “Massasauga” comes from the Chippewa language, meaning “Great River Mouth”.

Mealybug

They have a symbiotic relationship with ants.

Midget Faded Rattlesnake

They're also called horseshoe rattlesnakes thanks to the shape of their markings.

Mockingbird

Mockingbirds are incredible mimics that can learn hundreds of songs!

Orb Weaver

Females are about four times the size of males

Owl

The owl can rotate its head some 270 degrees

Plains Hognose Snake

The plains hognose snake gets its name from the upturned end of its snout.

Polyphemus Moth

The Polyphemus moth doesn’t and can't eat, except when it's a caterpillar!

Rainbow Grasshopper (Dactylotum bicolor)

They have strikingly bright colors

Rat Snakes

Rat snakes are constrictors from the Colubridae family of snakes.

Rooster

Will mate with the entire flock!

Smallmouth Bass

A fierce fighter!

Smokybrown Cockroach

Has up to 45 eggs per egg case

Texas Night Snake

The Texas night snake has vertical pupils to help it see better at night.

Tiger Trout

As tiger trout are sterile, they cannot produce offspring. However, they do have relatively long lifespans and can live up to 10 years in captivity.

Tree Cricket

They make music with their wings

Western Tanager

They migrate farther north than any other tanager.

Coloradan Animals List

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About the Author

After a career of working to provide opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I am enjoying having time to write about two of my favorite things - nature and animals. Half of my life is spent outdoors, usually with my husband and sweet little fourteen year old dog. We love to take walks by the lake and take photos of the animals we meet including: otters, ospreys, Canadian geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl, and listening to my son's music.

Native Wildlife in Colorado: A Complete Guide FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What rattlesnakes are in Colorado?

Colorado is home to four types of rattlesnakes. While in the state you may see desert massasaugas, western massasaugas, prairie rattlesnakes, and midget faded rattlesnakes.

What kind of animals are in Colorado?

Eagles, bighorn sheep, garter snakes, and pika call the mountains home — while big game like elk and bison roam the valleys and forests at the foot of the Rockies. Beavers call the wetlands home along with a variety of birds and amphibians.

What is the most rare animal in Colorado?

The black-footed ferret is the most endangered mammal in Colorado because of a combination of disease and a drop in the population of prairie dogs. That’s because the ferrets rely on these rodents for both shelter and as a source of food.

What mammals are found in Colorado?

All kinds of mammals call Colorado home. The sub-desert region includes rodents like prairie dogs and predators like coyotes, while you’ll find mammals like elk and bison throughout the plains and forests. Bighorn sheep, black bears, and cougars all become more common as you rise in elevation through the Rocky Mountains.

What wildlife lives in Colorado mountains?

Bighorn sheep are the most iconic — and surprisingly among the most dangerous — animals in the Rocky Mountains, but they’re joined by dangerous predators like the black bear and mountain lion as well as the strange creature known as the pika.

What other states are the Rocky Mountains in?

Other than Colorado, the Rocky Mountains are found in the states of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah.