Located in the Great Lakes region of the upper Midwest, Michigan is a temperate state, containing numerous lakes, expansive grasslands, and immense forests. The state’s unique geographical arrangement is shared by no other state or political subdivision anywhere in the world. It is composed of two discontinuous peninsulas, connected artificially at the closest point by the Mackinac Bridge.
The Lower Peninsula, which forms the shape of a mitten, borders the states of Indiana and Ohio to the south, while the Upper Peninsula borders Wisconsin to the west. The rest of the state is surrounded by four out of the five Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie. As a result, Michigan has more freshwater coastal dunes than any state in the entire country. The name itself is a French translation of the original Ojibwe word mishigami, which means larger water or large lake.
The lower half of the state contains most of the major cities, including Detroit, Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids. The sparsely populated northern half of the state is rich in all kinds of forest-dwelling wildlife and shorebirds. It also contains most of the state-run parks and wildlife reserves.
The Official Animal of Michigan
Michigan is represented by several different state animals. The American robin is the official state bird, the brook trout is the state fish, the painted turtle is the state reptile, and the official state game animal is the white-tailed deer. It’s estimated that 1.5 to 2 million deer live in the state, making it one of the most popular animals to hunt. In addition to the state symbols, the official flag of Michigan is adorned with a bald eagle, flanked by an elk and a moose. Finally, the nickname of Michigan is the Wolverine State, even though the wolverine hasn’t lived in the state since the early 19th century.
Where to Find the Top Wild Animals in Michigan
If you’re interested in seeing some of Michigan’s top wildlife, then you should visit one of the 74 state parks, two national parks, and numerous other forests, refuges, and important sites.
- The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, situated against Lake Superior in Ontonagon County of the Upper Peninsula, is the largest state park in Michigan. Covering almost 60,000 acres, it is home to one of the largest stretches of old growth northern hardwood forests in North America. Some of the most interesting animals found here are the coyotes, foxes, cougars, river otters, beavers, bears, porcupines, moose, and even the elusive gray wolf.
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park, located near the town of Paradise in the Upper Peninsula, is the second largest park in the state. Amid the 40,000 acres of winding hiking trails and scenic falls, visitors can find moose, bears, rodents, and deer here as well.
- The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located close to Traverse City on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a federally protected area composed of forests, beaches, dunes, and ancient glacial features. It is home to beavers, otters, muskrats, bears, bobcats, coyotes, hares, plovers, hawks, owls, and all kinds of freshwater fish.
- Wilderness State Park is located immediately to the west of Mackinaw City near the upper tip of the Lower Peninsula. Covering some 10,000 acres of hardwood forests and shorelines, it is home to one of Michigan’s largest remaining populations of piping plovers, plus many of the aforementioned wild animals.
- Hartwig Pines State Park, located along the east branch of the Au Sable River in Crawford County of the northeastern Lower Peninsula, covers nearly 10,000 acres of forests, including a remnant of an old-growth white pine and red pine forest dating back centuries. It has many of the same animals as the other state parks.
The Most Dangerous Animals in Michigan Today
This list of the most dangerous wild animals in Michigan only contains the species that pose a direct danger to people (there are only a few predators or venomous species that actually meet these criteria). It will exclude animals like ticks or mosquitoes that spread disease by proxy.
- Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake – This is the only venomous snake in the entire state of Michigan. While not quite as dangerous as other rattlesnakes, the venom can nevertheless disrupt blood flow, prevent clotting, and cause serious pain. Fortunately, these snakes are quite shy around people and usually give a warning before biting. Many incidences arise from hikers accidentally stepping on this snake.
- Black Bear – The black bear is a strong, muscular, fearsome animal with sharp claws and teeth and a powerful bite force. While unprovoked bear attacks on humans are exceptionally rare, they do have the power to kill a person. Most attacks are not predatory in nature. Instead, they often involve a mother protecting her cubs. Some attacks begin with a scuffle between a bear and someone’s dog. Others are due to the bear being startled by an unexpected encounter with a person, usually out in the wilderness.
- Wolves – The gray wolf is probably even less likely to attack a person than a black bear. These fearsome predators are wary of people and generally keep to themselves. But they do nevertheless have the ability to kill a person if they feel threatened or provoked in some manner.
- Black Widow Spider – Easily identified by the large body size and the black and red color scheme, the black widow can deliver a powerful venom with dangerous neurotoxins. While death is exceptionally rare, bite victims might nevertheless want to seek out medical attention.
Michigan’s wildlife is extensively covered by the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But centuries of unrestricted hunting and habitat loss have taken a significant toll on the following species:
- Boreal Woodland Caribou – The historical range of this forest-dwelling caribou subspecies once extended across much of the northern United States. But the loss of boreal forests has caused Michigan populations to completely disappear.
- Indiana Bat – Native to southern Michigan, the Indiana bat is a medium-sized mouse-eared species. It’s estimated that populations declined by around 50% over a decade-long period throughout their entire range. A few reasons for the decline include habitat loss, pesticide use, and disturbances by humans, but by far the greatest reason is white-nose syndrome, a strange fungal disease that interrupts the bat’s natural hibernation cycle.
- Kirtland’s Warbler – In order to thrive, this small yellow-bellied songbird needs a large region of dense young jack pine forests to breed in. When winters arrive, it then travels south toward the Caribbean. The species nearly went extinct from its natural Midwest range in the middle of the 20th century, but thanks to the preservation of its natural habitat, numbers have since rebounded.
- Spotted Turtle – This small semi-aquatic turtle, identified by the spots on its carapace, is classified as threatened or endangered throughout parts of the eastern United States.
- Copperbelly Water Snake – This subspecies of the plain-bellied water snake is currently threatened by pollution, poaching, and loss of suitable wetlands and woodlands.
- Piping Plover – This small shorebird nests and feeds along both freshwater and saltwater beaches throughout North America. However, there are only isolated pockets of piping plovers remaining in northern Michigan, making it one of the rarest birds in the state.
- Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly – Native to the Midwest, this species is characterized a luminous dark green hue and two yellow stripes on the sides. It is currently being threatened by the loss or contamination of its wetland habitats.
- Hungerford’s Crawling Water Beetle – This is one of the rarest species in the United States. Most known members are native to the Maple River in Emmet County, located near the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula. The other known populations are located in Ontario, Canada.
- Karner Blue Butterfly – Identified by its purple-bluish wings and strange yellow spots, Karner blue is native to the Great Lakes states and larger Midwest. Habitat loss is thought to be the main reason behind its population decline.
- Poweshiek Skipperling – Identified by its luminous strange looking brown and orange wings, this rare prairie butterfly once stretched across most of the Midwest, but it has since suffered from habitat degradation.
- Mitchell’s Satyr – This small butterfly is characterized by brown wings with rows of round black and yellow eyespots on the underside. Its natural range is now restricted to Michigan and Indiana, but it was once much more widespread.
Michiganian Animals List
Animals in Michigan FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What animals live in Michigan?
Michigan is home to many common forest-dwelling and freshwater animals. Deer, rodents, bats, foxes, moles, opossums, raccoons, and skunks rank as some of the most common mammals in the state. Hawks, eagles, terns, geese, ducks, owls, crows, quail, and songbirds are particularly common as well. Other common animals include snakes, turtles, frogs, butterflies, crickets and grasshoppers, and all kinds of freshwater fish such as bass and trout.
What animals are most common in Michigan?
Spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, and other invertebrates are probably among the most common animals in the state. When the scope is restricted to vertebrates, however, Michigan also has a lot of rodents like mice, rats, squirrels, and chipmunks. Among larger animals, deer are probably the most common.
What is the biggest animal in Michigan?
The largest animal in Michigan is the black bear. It reaches about 4.5 feet long and weighs up to 660 pounds.
Does Michigan have any wolves?
Yes, the Upper Peninsula has a robust wolf population, numbering more than 600. Many centuries ago, wolves once occupied every single county in the state, but because of human persecution and habitat loss, populations may have completely disappeared from the state by the middle of the 20th century. After state and federal protection was extended to wolves, a few individuals migrated back into Michigan. By 1992, the population was only about 20, which made it one of the rarest mammals in the state, but numbers increased rapidly over the next several years. While it’s no longer an endangered species, there is currently a dispute of whether the wolves should still be protected by the federal government.
What is the most dangerous mammal in Michigan?
The most dangerous mammals in Michigan, or just any predators in general, are probably wolves and black bears. While not as aggressive as their reputation suggests, these two species are quite large and could easily kill a person if provoked. They are unlikely to be encountered by the average person, however.