Maryland is a state that is known for having numerous nicknames, yet none are quite as apt as “America in Miniature.” This name was coined due to the vast array of habitats found within the state. With forests, grasslands, rivers, hillsides, and coastline, Maryland really does have it all. Situated on the Atlantic Coast, Maryland has 3,190 miles of coastline, which include the famous Chesapeake Bay. To go with all of these stunning habitats, Maryland also has a diverse range of wildlife ranging from tiny insects to massive whales.
So join us as we discover some of the largest animals in Maryland and where you’ll find them!
The first animal on the list is the giant swallowtail, the largest butterfly in North America. Giant swallowtails have a wingspan of up to 7.4 inches, with males slightly larger than females. These stunning butterflies are black with bright yellow lines across their wings. The forewings have a horizontal line, while the hind wings have a diagonal line across them. Giant swallowtails live in citrus orchards and deciduous forests. As adults, they primarily feed on nectar, while as caterpillars, they feed on various citrus fruits. Giant swallowtails are fairly widespread across Maryland.
One of the largest birds in Maryland is the brown pelican which has a wingspan of 6ft 8ins to 7ft 6ins. Brown pelicans are a greyish-brown color with white necks and yellow heads. They also have a distinctive bill which is approximately 1 foot long. Brown pelicans are marine birds and typically live along coastlines where there are warm, shallow waters. The Chesapeake Bay is a perfect habitat for these fascinating birds, with Smith Island being one of the best places to see them. Brown pelicans are piscivores and feed almost entirely on fish. They nest in colonies and are monogamous for the breeding season but do not mate for life.
The longest venomous snake in Maryland is the timber rattlesnake, also known as the canebreak rattlesnake. Timber rattlesnakes are 3 to 5 feet long and are typically a yellowish-brown color with black or brown crossband markings in an irregular zigzag pattern. Although they are incredibly venomous due to their large amount of potential venom, timber rattlesnakes have a fairly calm temperament and rarely strike without giving plenty of warning first. They mainly live in thickly forested habitats, although pregnant females prefer open rocky ledges known as “basking knolls.” In Maryland, they are typically found in upland regions across the state.
One of the largest fish in Maryland is the tiger shark, the state record holder at 1,210 pounds. This monster shark was caught in 1983 near Ocean City, but as a species, it can weigh 1,400 pounds while reaching 13ft 11ins long. Tiger sharks are one of the most aggressive sharks in Maryland water and are classed as one of the most dangerous sharks, along with great whites. They are apex predators and eat virtually anything they come across. They are such successful hunters because they are powerful swimmers and have a devastating burst of speed which they use to great effect. Their only real predators are orcas.
American Black Bear
One of the largest land mammals in Maryland is the American black bear, weighing up to 550 pounds. Black bears prefer to live in forests with thick vegetation and a wide variety of food for them. They are omnivores and eat a range of grasses, fruit, and berries, as well as insects, fish, mule, and white-tailed deer fawns. Black bears are excellent climbers and often climb trees to find better food and escape predators. Their main predators are wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions. In Maryland, black bears can be found in Allegany, Frederick, Gareth, and Washington counties.
Eastern Hercules Beetle
One of the largest insects in Maryland is the eastern Hercules beetle which grows to approximately 2.5 inches long. They are a species of rhinoceros beetle and typically have black markings on a gray, green, or tan body. Males have large horns, almost as long as their bodies, and they use these to fight other males for breeding rights to the females. Eastern Hercules beetles typically live in forests where their larvae inhabit and feed on dead and decaying wood while adults feed on fruit and tree sap. In Maryland, they are often found across the Coastal Plain and in the Piedmont region.
The largest bird in Maryland is the bald eagle, with a massive wingspan of 5ft 11ins to 7ft 7ins. These birds are distinguished by their dark brown plumage and distinctive white heads and tails. Bald eagles are sea eagles, and they mainly eat fish. Bald eagles hunt by swooping low over the water and seizing their prey straight out of the water. These huge birds are native to North America and are mainly found along coastlines or near large lakes. However, the presence of large trees is important to them as they need them to nest in. There is a large population of bald eagles in Maryland, and it is estimated that there are more than 1,000 breeding pairs in the state. Some of the best places to see them are along Maryland’s eastern shore – such as the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
One of the largest fish in Maryland is the blue marlin which is highly sought after by sport fishermen because of their size and raw power. Blue marlin have an elongated upper jaw which is shaped like a spear. Blue marlin can reach 16 feet long and weigh anything up to 1,800 pounds, with females being four times heavier than males. Incidentally, although as a species they can attain heavier weights than tiger sharks, in Maryland, the tiger shark is still the record holder as the largest fish caught. The largest blue marlin caught in the state weighed 1,135 pounds. Blue marlin are incredibly fast and can reach 68mph! This makes them formidable hunters and helps them prey on other large, powerful fish such as tuna. A popular place to find blue marlin is the waters around Ocean City.
Eastern Rat Snake
The largest snake in Maryland is the eastern rat snake which typically reaches 3 to 6 feet long. Eastern rat snakes are black on their dorsal sides but have white chins and throats and black and white bellies. They are not venomous and instead kill their prey by constriction. Their diet mainly consists of rodents, birds, frogs, and lizards. They are very adaptable snakes and live in various habitats – including farmland, grassland, forests, wetlands, and backyards. They are also highly arboreal, so they can often be seen in trees. Eastern rat snakes are common across Maryland and can be found in suitable habitats.
Although several species of whales pass through Maryland waters on their migration routes, bottlenose dolphins are the largest marine mammals to spend any length of time within the state. Ocean City is a particularly good spot to see these inquisitive animals all year round, as they regularly come to within only a few hundred feet of the shoreline. Bottlenose dolphins reach 13 feet long and average 660 pounds but can weigh anything up to 1,400 pounds. They are some of the most intelligent animals in the world and have incredible memories – scientists in Chicago have even discovered that they can recognize the call of a dolphin they have been separated from for 20 years! Bottlenose dolphins live and hunt in large pods, and their main predators are humans, orcas, and some sharks.
Summary of the 10 Largest Animals in Maryland
|Name of Animal||Size||Habitat|
|Giant Swallowtail Butterfly||7.4″ wingspan||Citrus orchards and deciduous forests.|
|Brown Pelican||6’8″-7’6″ wingspan||Coastlines with warm, shallow waters.|
|Timber Rattlesnake||3-5 feet long||Thickly forested habitats or rocky outcroppings.|
|Tiger Shark||13’11” long; up to 1,400 lbs.||Tropical and warm waters|
|Black Bear||up to 550 lbs.||Forest with thick vegetation and a wide variety of food for them.|
|Eastern Hercules Beetle||2.5 inches long||Forests along the Coastal Plain and Piedmont region.|
|Bald Eagle||5’11”- 7’7″ wingspan; 6.6-14 lbs.||Large bodies of water.|
|Blue Marlin||up to 16 feet; up to 1,800 lbs.||Tropical and subtropical waters.|
|Eastern Rat Snake||3-6 feet long||Farmland, grassland, forests, wetlands, and backyards.|
|Bottlenose Dolphin||up to 13 feet long; 660-1,400 lbs.||Temperate and tropical waters.|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tory Kallman/Shutterstock.com
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