Nebraska is a stunning state in the midwestern region of the United States. Although best known for being home to the Great Plains, Nebraska also has many river valleys, mountain ranges, and forests which are all teeming with wildlife. In fact, there is an incredibly diverse range of animals that live in the state. Therefore, if you’re out and about in Nebraska, then you might want to know what some of the biggest animals are that you might encounter. So, join us as we discover the largest animals in Nebraska and where you’ll find them!
1. American Burying Beetle
With an estimated 30,000 species of insects in Nebraska, there is bound to be a variety of sizes, but one of the largest is undoubtedly the American burying beetle. Also known as the giant carrion beetle, they are critically endangered and endemic to North America. American burying beetles are 0.98 to 1.8 inches long and have shiny black bodies with distinctive reddish-orange markings. As their name suggests, these beetles like to bury themselves into the soil to overwinter. Incredibly, they are one of the few species of beetle that actively cares for their young. American burying beetles typically feed on decaying plants and animals. Nebraska is one of only six states that they occur in, and they can be found in prairies, scrubland, woodlands, and forest edges.
Although many of the largest animals in Nebraska are mammals, it is important not to forget about the reptiles. Bullsnakes are the largest snakes native to Nebraska and typically reach 4 to 6 feet long, although individuals measuring more than 8 feet have been recorded. They are a subspecies of the gopher snake and are yellowish brown with white, brown, black, or red blotches. Bullsnakes are non-venomous and kill by constriction. They feed on a range of rodents, birds, and lizards. They typically live in prairies and fields near rocky hillsides, and in Nebraska, they can be found in any such habitats across the state.
3. Bald Eagle
The largest bird in Nebraska is arguably the bald eagle. Bald eagles are sea eagles and the national bird of the United States. They have an impressive wingspan of 5 feet 11 inches to 7 feet 7 inches and weigh 6 to 14 pounds with females usually being larger than males. Bald eagles are stunning birds with dark brown plumage and white heads and tails. They occur around virtually any wetland habitat where there is a large body of water, including coastlines, rivers, and lakes. Bald eagles are found right across Nebraska, although spring and winter are the best times to see them. Bald eagles are opportunistic carnivores and eat a range of prey. However, fish make up more than 50% of their diet.
4. Mountain Lion
Also known as cougars, mountain lions are large carnivorous cats. They are a plain tawny color and weigh between 65 and 198 pounds. They are native to the U.S. and are highly adaptable, making their homes in virtually any habitat. Mountain lions are solitary creatures and typically only interact with others during the mating season and while rearing cubs. They are highly skilled ambush predators with an opportunistic nature — meaning that they prey on anything that they can kill — such as elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. In Nebraska, mountain lions are beginning to make a slow comeback after they were driven out of the state in the late 1890s. Today, there are now three breeding populations of them in Nebraska: in Niobrara River Valley, Pine Ridge, and the aptly named Wildcat Hills.
The largest fish in Nebraska is the paddlefish, which is a freshwater fish that typically lives in large rivers, lakes, and bayous. Paddlefish generally reach around 5 feet long with an average weight of around 60 pounds. However, the largest caught in Nebraska weighed a staggering 113 pounds. They are easily distinguished by their elongated snout, which is wide like a paddle. Despite their size, they tend to feed only on small prey such as zooplankton, insects, and small fish. In Nebraska, paddlefish can mainly be found in the Missouri River and Platte River.
6. Turkey Vulture
Another large bird in the state of Nebraska is the turkey vulture, which is one of the most widespread New World vultures. Turkey vultures are brownish black with distinctive red heads and have an impressive 6-foot wingspan. They are scavengers and feed almost exclusively on dead animals (carrion), which they find using their keen eyesight. Turkey vultures tend to prefer more open habitats as it is easier for them to spot their prey. However, they nest in hollow trees or caves. In Nebraska, they can typically be seen during the summer breeding season in the Panhandle region and along the Niobrara river valley.
7. White-Tailed Deer
The state animal for Nebraska is the white-tailed deer, named for the distinctive white underside of their tails. Most white-tailed deer weigh between 90 and 300 pounds, but males weighing more than 400 pounds are not uncommon. White-tailed deer live in many habitats but prefer forests and areas near rivers and creeks. They live statewide in Nebraska, although the highest populations are in the east. Predators include mountain lions, American black bears, bobcats, and coyotes.
One of the most popular game animals in North America is the elk. Standing up to 4 feet 11 inches at the shoulder and weighing in the region of 1,000 pounds, they are the second-largest deer species after moose. They are herbivorous animals that prefer to live in forests and forest-edge habitats. Elk were almost completely driven out of Nebraska in the 1880s but have gradually made a comeback. Nowadays, about half of the state’s elk population lives in the Pine Ridge region, while others live in the Niobrara River Valley and the Loess Canyons, to name a few places.
9. American Bison
The largest animal in Nebraska is the American bison which can weigh up to 2,500 pounds. Standing approximately 6.5 feet at the shoulder, these huge animals certainly cut an impressive and intimidating sight. Both males and females have a set of short, curved horns, and thick brown coats. American bison are herbivorous animals and graze across the prairies of North America. In Nebraska, they are largely found across the great plains in the central region of the state.
Summary of 9 Largest Animals in Nebraska, and Where You’ll Find Them
Here’s a recap of the nine biggest animals found in Nebraska that we took a look at.
|Number||Animal||Average Size||Range in Nebraska|
|1||American Burying Beetle||0.98-1.8 inches long||Prairies, scrubland, woodlands, and forest edges|
|2||Bullsnake||4-6 feet long||Prairies and fields near rocky hillsides|
|3||Bald Eagle||Wingspan: 5 feet 11 inches to 7 feet 7 inches; weight: 6-14 pounds||Wetland habitats across Nebraska, including coastlines, rivers, and lakes|
|4||Mountain Lion||65-198 pounds||Three breeding populations: Niobrara River Valley, Pine Ridge, and Wildcat Hills|
|5||Paddlefish||Length: 5 feet long; weight: 60 pounds||Missouri River and Platte River|
|6||Turkey Vulture||6-foot wingspan||Panhandle region and along the Niobrara river valley|
|7||White-Tailed Deer||90-300 pounds||Across Nebraska, with highest populations in the east|
|8||Elk||Height: up to 4 feet 11 inches at the shoulder; Weight: 1,000 pounds||Pine Ridge region, Niobrara River Valley, and the Loess Canyons|
|9||American Bison||Height: 6.5 feet at the shoulder; weight: up to 2,500 pounds||Across the great plains in the central region of the state|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Jillian Cooper
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