West Virginia has long promoted itself as “wild and wonderful,” and there are good reasons for that. Known as the “Mountain State” and the “Switzerland of America,” West Virginia is home to spectacularly scenic mountains, valleys, and rivers. The Allegheny mountains provide a rugged backdrop to thousands of mountain streams and lakes. Forests cover more than 75% of the state. These forest trees range from hardwoods like oak, yellow poplar, and maple, to softwoods like loblolly pine, white pine, and spruce. The forests also have sycamores, chestnuts, elms, and dogwoods.
Wild Animals in West Virginia
These wild landscapes are home to many animals, including:
- 72 mammals, including 14 bat species.
- 39 reptiles, including 20 snake species, 13 turtle species and 6 lizard species.
- 352 bird species, including 65 of the rarest bird species.
- One marsupial species: the Virginia opossum (Dedelphis virginiana).
- Many shrews, moles and rodents.
- Two feral swine species: wild pigs and wild boars.
The most common animals you’re likely to see are rabbits, gray foxes, opossums, skunks, raccoons, black bears, white-tail deer, and squirrels. Eastern coyotes, red foxes, ermines, and weasels live all over the state. The mountain streams are home to trout, walleyes, perches, bluegills, and catfish.
The Official Animal of West Virginia
West Virginia’s official state animal is the black bear (Ursus americanus).
The state adopted the black bear as its official state animal in 1973. At that time, black bears were on the verge of becoming extinct. Since then, conservationists have seen the bear population grow. Today, black bears live in 55 counties of West Virginia and are no longer considered endangered.
Where To Find the Top Wild Animals in West Virginia
West Virginia is a popular tourist attraction for visitors who want to experience outdoor activities in a wild setting where the chances to see wildlife are high.
There are more than 35 state parks in West Virginia. These are the most common places to see West Virginia’s native animals.
- The world-famous Appalachian Trail, a 2000-mile-long public hiking trail, runs through West Virginia. This scenic trail is a wonderful place to see strange birds, foxes, raccoons, bears, rodents, and other wild animals.
- The New River Gorge National Park protects more than 70,000 acres surrounding the New River, a rugged mountain stream. Like many rivers in West Virginia, it has strong rapids and powerful currents.
- Monongahela National Forest is one of the largest hardwood tree preserves in the U.S
- The state’s Department of Natural Resources has its own wildlife center, where you can see native animals in a park-like, natural zoo. A guided, wheelchair-accessible trail allows you to see native animals in their natural habitat.
In these scenic parks, you are likely to see common mammals like chipmunks, squirrels, and wolves. Amphibians and reptiles you may see include eastern milk snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum), northern red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), and spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), the much-loved frogs common to many eastern states.
You can spot many birds in West Virginia, including great blue herons (Ardea herodias), Carolina wrens (Hryothorus ludovicianus), eastern screech owls (Megascops asio), and ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archiloshus colubris). Many strange, sought-after birds live in West Virginia, including Kirtland’s warbler, one of the rarest birds in the world, and the cerulean warbler, a beautiful, rare songbird.
The Most Dangerous Animals in West Virginia
- Timber rattlesnake: This snake is prevalent in the forests of West Virginia. It can grow 5 feet long and is extremely venomous. Timber rattlesnakes like to soak up the sun, so be on the lookout on warm, sunny days. Fortunately, these rattlers give you plenty of warning before they bite.
- Black widow spider: With its distinctive black body and red hourglass symbol, the black widow is a dangerous arachnid. It usually lurks in dark outdoor areas.
Despite these and other dangerous animals, the strange fact is that most animal deaths in West Virginia are caused by common insects like wasp and hornets. People with severe insect venom allergies should protect themselves against these biting and stinging insects.
Although West Virginia has an abundance of natural places, the state also has a history of political hostility to environmental protection. It has many ecological problems caused by extensive coal mining and other industrial operations. In recent decades, the state has made conservation a priority and increased its reliance on ecological tourism. These conservation measures have reversed some of the damage to the state’s beautiful natural resources.
- The ruffed grouse is an endangered game bird that lives in West Virginia’s forests. The state’s forests have lots of old-growth trees, but ruffed grouse thrive in a mix of old and new growth. The state has implemented measures to harvest timber from old-growth forests to encourage the new growth ruffed grouses and other wildlife species need.
- Butterflies are becoming endangered in many states. The gorgeous monarch butterfly has seen population losses of over 90% in the eastern U.S. West Virginia has teamed with other states to encourage mass planting of milkweed plants, which are the monarch butterfly’s preferred plants for feeding and nesting. West Virginia has three native milkweed species.
- Cougars once lived in West Virginia, but they became extinct in the state in 1900. In recent years, there have been confirmed cougar sightings in West Virginia. The animal is listed as endangered in the state.
- White-nose syndrome is a strange bat disease that has caused major population losses among some bat species. The endangered Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus) is one of the rarest bat species in the country. It is native to West Virginia. The state has instituted measures to promote the conservation of this and other bat species.
A Wild and Wonderful State for Animals
West Virginia is known for its scenic mountains, magnificent forests, and rugged streams. These natural ecosystems provide shelter for large numbers of wildlife, birds, and reptiles. As a popular tourist destination for wildlife lovers, the state has a strong chance to preserve its many wild, beautiful places.
West Virginian Animals
West Virginian Animals List
Animals in West Virginia FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What Animals Live in West Virginia?
West Virginia has many of the common animals you’ll find in forested, mountainous eastern states. These include:
- American beaver (Castor canadensis).
- Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus).
- North American river otter (Lutra canadensis).
- Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and gray fox.
- Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus).
- Snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus).
- Bobcat (lynx rufus).
The state does not have many animals you would consider strange or exotic. Its invasive mammals include the wild pig and wild boar populations, which were introduced by pig owners. Fortunately, these wild swine stay in small areas where they can’t cause the environmental damage they cause in other states.
What Predators Are in West Virginia?
West Virginia’s large predators are wolves, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and cougars. Smaller predators include rodents, shrews, and bats.
Are There Big Cats in West Virginia?
Bobcats and cougars are the only native species of big cat in West Virginia.
Are There Grizzly Bears in West Virginia?
No, West Virginia does not have grizzlies.