Spanning a vast 147,040 square miles, Montana is the fourth largest state in the US. It is known for its stunning mountain ranges and wide open plains. Montana is also home to many different animals that live in its rich and diverse landscape. If you’re out and about in Montana, then you might want to know what some of the biggest animals you might encounter are.
So join us as we discover the largest animals in Montana and where you’ll find them!
1. Golden Eagle
One of the largest birds in Montana is the golden eagle which has a massive wingspan of 5ft 11in to 7ft 8in. These huge yet graceful birds are mainly dark brown in color with a golden crown and grey on their wings and tail. They are the most widespread of all the eagles and prey on a wide range of animals – such as rabbits, hares, squirrels, reptiles, and even other birds. Golden eagles prefer open and semi-open habitats and avoid thick forest regions. In Montana, they tend to favor mountainous regions and hillsides where they can be found all year round.
2. Lake Trout
Some of the most popular game fish in the state are lake trout which are slow-growing freshwater fish. They typically feed on invertebrates such as freshwater shrimp and flies. Lake trout are typically 2 to 3 feet long and weigh 15 to 40 pounds. The largest caught in Montana was 3.5 feet long and weighed 42 pounds. Lake trout prefer cold, oxygen-rich water such as lakes and often live at depths between 65 and 200 feet deep. In Montana, lake trout can often be found in lakes in the Glacier National Park and in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
3. Wolf Spider
With their large, hairy bodies, wolf spiders are certainly a scary sight. However, they are the most common spider in Montana. These spiders have a body span of around 1.5 inches (not including the legs) and are incredibly agile for their size. Wolf spiders are unusual as they carry their egg sacs around with them on their spinnerets, meaning that their unhatched young are with them wherever they go. Wolf spiders are extremely beneficial as they prey on many other insects, which are classed as pests. They are usually found outdoors across a variety of habitats all over the state.
4. Turkey Vulture
Also known as the turkey buzzard, turkey vultures are the most widely distributed of all of the New World vultures. They are brownish-black and have distinctive red heads which lack feathers. They have a wingspan of up to 6 feet, although birds in the northern parts of their range tend to be larger than those in the south. Turkey vultures are scavengers and primarily feed on dead animals. They prefer open and semi-open habitats and usually roost in large groups but separate to forage on their own. Turkey vultures frequent Montana during the breeding season from March to June and are fairly common throughout the state.
The largest snake in Montana is the bullsnake which can reach lengths of up to 8ft 4in. These large snakes are typically yellowish brown with black, yellow, brown, white, or red blotches. They are a subspecies of the gopher snake and kill by constriction. Although they are not venomous, they can inflict a painful bite and can be incredibly defensive. When threatened they rear up to make themselves look as large and intimidating as possible while hissing violently. Bullsnakes live in prairies, grasslands, and hillsides. They particularly prefer areas with loose, sandy soil where rodents are usually abundant. Therefore, the highest populations of bullsnakes in Montana tend to be where there are plenty of rodents for them to eat.
6. Grizzly Bear
The only bear on the list is the grizzly bear which can weigh up to 790 pounds, with males being larger than females. Grizzly bears are fierce predators and are actually omnivores. They often prey on animals such as elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, trout, salmon, and birds. Although they prefer to avoid people, grizzlies can be incredibly dangerous animals when threatened or provoked and will readily attack. They usually live in woodlands, forests, and prairies and have no natural predators. Montana has a large and successful population of grizzly bears, and they are particularly abundant throughout the Rocky Mountains.
7. White Sturgeon
Without a doubt, one of the largest fish in Montana is the white sturgeon. Although most average around 7 feet long, they can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh up to 1,400 pounds. However, most don’t live long enough to grow that big because of fishing, so the average weight is 75-165 pounds. White sturgeon are native to several rivers in North America where they usually live in the estuaries but migrate into freshwater to spawn, often traveling extremely long distances to do so. Several rivers in Montana are important breeding grounds for white sturgeon – such as the Lower Marias River, Tongue River, and Powder River.
8. Pine Sawyer Beetle
With a length of almost 2 inches, pine sawyer beetles are easily the largest insects in the state. They have long black bodies and large antennas. Pine sawyer beetles are extremely strong and capable fliers and feed on the needles and bark of conifer trees. In fact, they often infest freshly felled or dying trees. Pine sawyer beetles live in coniferous forests at elevations of more than 3,900 feet. In Montana, they typically live in forests through the Rockies where there are plenty of ponderosa pines.
9. Prairie Rattlesnake
Of the ten snakes native to Montana the only one that is venomous is the prairie rattlesnake. Also known as the western rattlesnake, these snakes are native to the western US. They can reach almost 4 feet long and are typically light brown with darker brown patches. They are widespread across a variety of habitats and therefore prey on a wide range of animals, including rodents, birds, and reptiles. Prairie rattlesnakes are incredibly venomous, and in the most serious cases, bites can be fatal. Although widespread across Montana, prairie rattlesnakes are particularly abundant along the Madison River and in Paradise Valley.
The largest animal in Montana is the moose which stands a huge 4ft 7in to 6ft 11in at the shoulder and weighs a staggering 1,500 pounds. Moose are the largest members of the deer family, and males have an impressive set of antlers which are shed every year after the mating season, only to regrow in the spring. Moose are particularly unique as they have the ability to close their nostrils using large fatty pads to enable them to eat while underwater. In Montana, moose live in forest regions – including the Cabinet Mountains, Centennial Valley, Big Hole Valley, and along the Missouri River.
Summary of the 10 Largest Animals in Montana
|Name of Animal||Size||Habitat|
|Golden Eagle||5’11”-7’8″ wingspan||Open and semi-open area in the mountains and hillsides.|
|Lake Trout||2-3 feet long; 15-40 lbs.||Deep, cold, oxygen-rich waters.|
|Wolf Spider||1.5″ long body||Widespread.|
|Turkey Vulture||6 foot wingspan||Open and semi-open areas.|
|Bullsnake||8.5 feet long||Prairies, grasslands, and hillsides.|
|Grizzly Bear||300-800 lbs.||Woodlands, forests, and prairies.|
|White Sturgeon||7-20″ long; 75-165 lbs.||Live in estuaries but migrate into freshwater to spawn.|
|Pine Sawyer Beetle||2″ long; 3″ long antennae||Coniferous forests above 3,900 feet.|
|Prairie Rattlesnake||Almost 4 feet long||Widespread.|
|Moose||4’7″-6’11” tall at the shoulders; 800-1,500 lbs.||Forest regions.|
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