Located in the Pacific Northwest, Washington is a state full of contrasting environments. Graced with relatively dry summers and wet, mild winters, the landscape is covered by soaring volcanoes and high mountain peaks, dense forests, vast prairies, marine waters, and plenty of wetlands and grasslands. Washington shares a border with Oregon to the south, Idaho to the east, British Columbia, Canada to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The largest mountain range in the state – the Cascade Range, which includes the highest point, Mount Rainier, at 14,400 feet – runs north to south through the center of Washington. To the east is the Columbian Plateau, the Columbia River (the largest river in the state), and a small segment of the Rocky Mountains. The western part contains the Puget Sound area, the Olympic Peninsula, and Mount Olympus itself. Together, they provide a home for a diverse range of different wildlife.
The Official Animal of Washington
The state of Washington is represented by several different wildlife species. The official state amphibian is the Pacific chorus frog. The official state bird is the willow goldfinch. The official state fish is the steelhead trout. The state insect is the green darner dragonfly. The state marine mammal is the orca. And the official state mammal is the fascinating but strange-looking Olympic marmot.
Where to Find the Top Wild Animals in Washington
The state of Washington still retains large stretches of pristine landscape where visitors can find some of the best natural ecosystems and wildlife in the region. Much of this land is protected by dozens of different parks and reserves, which you can read about here.
- The Olympic National Park, situated to the north of the Olympic Peninsula, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular destinations in the state. Amid nearly a million acres of temperate rainforests, coastlines, and glaciated mountains, visitors can sometimes catch a glimpse of bobcats, whales, dolphins, seals, lynxes, grizzly bears, wolverines, rodents, bald eagles, thrushes, owls, and numerous other kinds of wildlife.
- Mount Rainier National Park, which covers around a quarter of a million acres near the city of Tacoma, was one of the first national parks ever established in the United States. Encompassing the famous volcano of Mount Rainier, the park is home to elk, coyotes, bobcats, beavers, foxes, marmots, pikas, mountain goats, rodents, falcons, eagles, owls, finches, and others.
- Discovery Park, located directly on the Puget Sound waterfront, is the largest green space in Seattle. Apart from being a rich cultural center, the 20-acre park is also home to some 270 species of birds, as well as seals, coyotes, and other large mammals.
- Flaming Geyser State Park, located along the Green River in King County, is a popular destination for kayakers, rafters, and canoeists. It’s actually named for a persistent flame, fueled by a methane gas pocket around a thousand feet deep. From October to December, people can catch or just observe the large Chinook, which migrate upstream to their spawning grounds.
- San Juan Islands National Monument, located in the Salish Sea right next to the Canadian border, was created in 2013 to protect the local marine biodiversity, including minks, river otters, and seals, plus many species of birds. The park is also a prime destination for whale watchers. Grey, minke, and humpback whales, as well as dolphins, all roams the waters of the Salish Sea. Three pods of killer whales also appear between April and October to stake out their hunting grounds.
- Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is situated between the rich freshwater lakes in central Washington. The landscape was created around 13,000 years ago by flooding from the last Ice Age. Visitors may be able to find bobcats, coyotes, marmots, elk and deer, hawks, ospreys, owls, pheasants, trout, and much more here.
The Most Dangerous Animals in Washington Today
The Washington wilderness is home to several animals that may pose a danger to human life. Most of these animals live in remote landscapes and are rarely encountered by people. This list will focus on the most venomous or fearsome animals in the state over animals that may kill people due to the spread of disease or from an allergic reaction.
- Western Rattlesnake – Native to eastern Washington and usually hiding around logs and rocks, this is one of the few snakes in the state of Washington with enough venom to pose a danger to humans. While they will usually give a warning rattle with their strange looking tail and attempt to flee from people, they may bite if they feel threatened in some way. Symptoms of its venom can include nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, numbness, blurred vision, and breathing difficulties. If you’ve been bitten by one, then you should seek immediate medical attention. The vast majority of people who receive care will suffer no long-term effects.
- Northern Pacific Rattlesnake – This species is closely related to the western rattlesnake. Except for the darker skin color, it can be hard to tell them apart. Even the symptoms of their bite are generally similar. In some cases, when it feels threatened, this snake may deliver a dry bite, but you should seek medical attention anyway.
- Black Widow Spider – Mostly native to eastern Washington, the female black widow spider is relatively easy to identify from the large black body and red hourglass figure or markings on the underside of the abdomen. She resides in dark, undisturbed areas and usually does not bite unless protecting her eggs. While the venom can cause itching, pain, cramping, nausea, headaches, high blood pressure, and difficulty breathing, it usually won’t cause any life-threatening symptoms unless one is already sick or has an allergic reaction. Either way, bite victims should seek immediate medical care.
- Grizzly Bear – The grizzly is among the largest and most aggressive bears in the United States. Because it’s unable to climb trees very well, the grizzly is more likely to stand its ground when it feels threatened or provoked. While bear attacks are exceptionally rare, one should nevertheless try to avoid contact with a grizzly at all costs.
- Asian Giant Hornet – While less dangerous than its reputation suggests (the ominous nickname of “murder hornet” is most certainly exaggerated), multiple stings from the invasive Asian giant hornet, the largest hornet species in the world, can be lethal even to people who are not necessarily allergic to its venom. Fortunately, the death rate is quite low. It’s responsible for only a few known deaths per year.
Endangered Animals in Washington
This is a list of endangered or threatened species specifically from the state of Washington. Even if the animal is common elsewhere, anything on Washington’s states endangered species list will count. Many of these species are currently under protection by the state or federal government, or they’ve been the target of rehabilitation efforts.
- Sea Otter – These agile marine mammals, which seem to spend much of their day swimming placidly on their backs, became a target of hunters for their exceptionally thick fur. By the early 20th century, only about a thousand or two sea otters remained. While numbers have rebounded considerably, they’re still threatened by pollution, poaching, and entanglements in nets.
- Boreal Woodland Caribou – This endangered subspecies of caribou has disappeared from much of the United States due to the loss of its preferred boreal habitat. It’s one of the rarest mammals in the entire state of Washington.
- Pygmy Rabbit – As the name suggests, the pygmy rabbit is one of the smallest species of rabbits in the world. The Columbia River basin has its own unique subpopulation, distinct from the rest of the species, but the loss of sagebrush habitat for agriculture and oil and gas development caused a precipitous fall in numbers. This decline was further reinforced by slow reproduction due to inbreeding. They had to be crossbred with nearby populations and then reintroduced back into the wild.
- Snowy Plover – This small wading bird, which breeds on the Washington coast and travels south for the winter, is currently threatened by habitat degradation.
- Marbled Murrelet – This small seabird inhabits the Pacific coast of North America. Reasons for its decline include high rates of predation, climate-driven changes, and the loss of mature forests for its nesting sites.
- Northern Spotted Owl – The destruction of Washington’s old growth forests has caused a rapid decline of northern spotted owl populations. It is estimated that only about 500 pairs remain in the entire state, making it one of the rarest birds.
- Sea Turtles – Both the leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles frequent the waters and shores near the state of Washington. Unfortunately, pollution, net entanglements, and the loss of suitable nesting sites have caused a precipitous decline in the number of sea turtles both in Washington and around the entire world.
- Oregon Spotted Frog – Native to the Columbia River region in Washington, the spotted frog is currently threatened by dam construction, excess water usage, and the introduction of other amphibious species.
- Taylor’s Checkerspot – This strange looking butterfly can be identified by the alternating bands of orange and white spots, surrounded by a black outline, on its wings. It has been significantly impacted by both pesticide use and the loss of prairie habitat.
- Pinto Abalone – This large marine snail, which grows a sloping, iridescent shell, is currently threatened by disease, overharvesting, and predation from recovering sea otter populations.
Washingtonian Animals List
Animals in Washington FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What animals live in Washington state?
Some of the most common mammals in Washington state include rodents, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, moles, bats, deer and elk, badgers, weasels, shrews, seals, whales and dolphins, and large predators (like foxes and coyotes). The state is also rich in shorebirds, wading birds, songbirds, and birds of prey. Other common animals include snakes, salamanders, frogs, trout, salmon, and insects.
What dangerous animals live in Washington state?
The most dangerous wildlife are probably rattlesnakes, black widows, and grizzly bears. Bees, wasps, and other stinging insects are also dangerous in the right circumstances.
What animal kills the most people in Washington?
That depends on the context. In absolute terms, the deadliest animals are probably those you wouldn’t expect. Dogs are responsible for a few deaths every year across the entire nation. Stinging insects like bees and wasps also kill people every year, but this is almost always a result of an allergic reaction, not because the toxin is particularly deadly. Perhaps this isn’t too much of a surprise, given how common these animals are throughout the country. Bears, wolves, and cougars are rarely encountered in the wild, and deaths are likewise rare. There are only a few recorded deaths ever from these large predators in Washington.
What predators are in Washington state?
Washington is home to bears, bobcats, foxes, wolves, coyotes, wolverines, badgers, and lynxes. Wolves in particular were driven to extinction in Washington by the early 20th century, but thanks to federal protection and non-lethal solutions to deal with problematic wolves, the number has increased to more than 100, which still makes it one of the rarest animals in the state.