Missouri is a landlocked state in the midwestern region of the United States. It has a wide range of habitats – from flat plains to rolling hills. It also has almost 52,000 miles of river, providing incredibly rich ecosystems. Missouri is also home to hundreds of different species of animals which are just as diverse. So join us as we discover some of the largest animals in Missouri and where you’ll find them!
1. Bald Eagle
There are two eagles species found in Missouri, and both are pretty large. The most common is the bald eagle, the national bird of the US. Bald eagles have dark brown plumage with a white head and tail. They have a huge wingspan between 5ft 11in and 7ft 7in. They are sea eagles and live around coastlines and near other large bodies of water such as lakes. Bald eagles also build the largest nests of any bird in the world, with the biggest being a massive 9ft 6in wide and 20 feet deep. Bald eagles are found across the state, but some of the best places to spot them include Trueman Reservoir and Smithville Lake.
2. Timber Rattlesnake
Capable of reaching 5 feet long, timber rattlesnakes are Missouri’s longest venomous snake. These large pit vipers are yellowish brown with dark brown crossband markings and strongly keeled dorsal scales. Timber rattlesnakes mostly prefer to live in deciduous forests, although females often like to bask in the sun on rocky ledges known as “basking knolls.” Timber rattlesnakes have particularly long fangs and are incredibly venomous. However, they tend to be fairly calm snakes and give plenty of warning rattles before they bite. They typically prey on rodents, birds, frogs, and garter snakes. Timber rattlesnakes are found throughout Missouri in their favored habitat.
3. Giant Walkingstick
One of the largest animals in Missouri and the largest insect in the state is the giant walkingstick. Walkingsticks are more commonly known as stick insects, and giant walkingsticks have long, thin bodies which can be up to 7 inches long. They are typically green, tan, or rusty brown in color and have spines on their middle and hind legs. Giant walkingsticks eat leaves and are incredibly well-camouflaged thanks to their color, which allows them to hide in plain sight. They are widespread across the state in woodlands and forests. Giant walkingsticks have many predators, but bats are their main predator. This is because they use echolocation to detect their prey rather than sight.
4. American Paddlefish
With a somewhat shark-like appearance and an elongated snout shaped like a paddle, the American paddlefish definitely has a unique appearance. Although most are approximately 5 feet long and average 60 pounds in weight, the largest paddlefish caught in Missouri was a massive 139 pounds 4 ounces. Paddlefish are freshwater fish and prefer deep bodies of water with little to no currents – such as lakes and bayous. They migrate upstream to spawn and can travel up to 2,000 miles to do so. Throughout Missouri, paddlefish typically live in the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
5. Turkey Vulture
Named for their resemblance to a turkey, turkey vultures are large birds with dark brown plumage and bright red heads. Turkey vultures are large birds with heavy bodies and an impressive wingspan of 6 feet. As they are a vulture species, these birds primarily feed on carrion. They rely heavily on their eyesight to find a meal, so they can often be seen soaring gracefully on the wind currents while scanning the area below. Therefore, they also tend to live in more open habitats, which makes it easier for them to spot food. Although they forage alone, turkey vultures roost in large groups. As the most widespread of all the New World vultures, turkey vultures can be found throughout the state of Missouri.
6. American Black Bear
One of the largest animals in Missouri is the American black bear, weighing up to 550 pounds, with males being larger than females. American black bears are endemic to North America, typically living in areas with thick vegetation. These fascinating animals are extremely skilled and are capable of unscrewing lids and opening doors – as well as being incredibly strong. They are also fast animals for their size and can run at speeds of up to 30mph. American black bears are omnivores and eat a range of grass and plant material as well as insects, fish, and deer fawns. American black bears are the only bear native to Missouri, and they can usually be found in the state’s southern region.
The largest snake in Missouri is the bullsnake which can reach lengths of up to 8ft 4ins. Bullsnakes are a subspecies of gopher snakes and are a yellowish brown color with white, red, black, yellow, or brown blotches. Bullsnakes generally prefer quiet open habitats – such as prairies and fields – where there is loose and sandy soil. They are not venomous and kill by constriction, with their main diet consisting of birds and small mammals such as rodents. Bullsnakes can be incredibly defensive when disturbed or threatened and tend to rear up to make themselves look as large as possible while hissing loudly. In Missouri, bullsnakes are most common in the state’s western region.
8. Alligator Gar
Easily one of the largest animals in Missouri is the alligator gar which can reach around . Alligator gar are freshwater fish with torpedo-shaped bodies, usually brown or olive green. They have long, broad snouts and large, sharp teeth. Alligator gar are fierce ambush predators which eat a range of fish and birds. Although primarily a freshwater species, they are capable of living in brackish water and estuaries. In Missouri, alligator gars are found in virtually every major river.
9. Eastern Hercules Beetle
A particularly large and stunning beetle is the eastern hercules beetle which can reach lengths of almost 3 inches. Eastern hercules beetles are scarab beetles and are green, gray, or tan in color with black spots and blotches. Males have two strong, forward-pointing horns, which they use to fight with each other over females. Eastern hercules beetles live in deciduous forests across Missouri, where they eat heartwood, tree sap, and rotten fruit. They have many predators, including spiders, centipedes, and mammals such as rodents and raccoons.
10. American Bison
The largest animal in Missouri is the American bison which can weigh up to an immense 2,500 pounds. With a shoulder height of up to 11ft 6in and a set of short, curved horns, the bison is an imposing sight. These massive herbivores live in open habitats such as plains, grassland, and river valleys where they live in great herds. For much of the year, bison herds are divided by sex, with females and calves in one group and the males living in separate “bachelor herds.” However, this changes during the mating season in the summer months of July and August. Although American bison once roamed the entire state, they were driven out of Missouri in the 19th century. However, they have since been successfully reintroduced to Prairie State Park.
Summary of the 10 Largest Animals In Missouri and Where You’ll Find Them
|Up to 2,500 lbs.
|Plains, grassland, and river valleys
|American Black Bear
|Up to 550 lbs.
|Areas with thick vegetation, usually in southern Missouri
|8 ft long, up to 350 lbs.
|Major Missouri rivers
|5 ft long, up to 140lbs.
|Typically, Mississippi River and its tributaries
|Up to 7-foot wingspan
|Throughout Missouri, often near Trueman Reservoir and Smithville Lake
|8ft 4in long
|Prairies and fields, usually in western Missouri
|Up to 5 feet long
|Throughout Missouri’s deciduous forests
|Up to 7 Inches
|Across Missouri’s woodlands and forests
|Eastern Hercules Beetle
|Almost 3 Inches
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Jillian Cooper
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