The 4th of July is Independence Day in the United States, a day in which we celebrate the Declaration of Indpendence, when the United States officially announced it would be a country independent from British rule.
The United States is full of diverse ecosystems, and many animals that are unique to its shores. Many of these animals once faced near extinction, but have thankfully made a significant comeback. Others still have a long way to go. Let’s celebrate this Independence Day by getting to know some of these unique American animals.
The bald eagle is the official National Bird of the United States. It is found in every state in the U.S. except for Hawaii, and can also be found in parts of Mexico and Canada. As the National Bird, the bald eagle is found on the Great Seal of the United States, as well as the logos and official seals of many government agencies and offices, such as the United States Postal Service.
Bald eagles are not really bald, but the white feathers on the head and tail of the adult bird do stand out quite sharply against the dark brown feathers that cover most of its body. Bald eagles are found near bodies of water, and feed mainly on fish. They build the largest nest of any bird in North America, up to thirteen feet high.
The bald eagle faced extinction many years ago, and in the 1950s only around 400 nesting birds were left in the U.S. Pesticides, habitat destruction, pollution and power lines had caused severe harm to the eagle population. However, with regulations put in place to protect the bird, it became a major success story, and by the 2000s there were nearly 10,000 nesting pairs.
The American alligator is another success story. Like the bald eagle, it was severely endangered during the middle of the 20th century, due mainly to overhunting and habitat destruction. Due to recovery efforts, it has bounced back strong and the species is thriving.
The American alligator is one of only two living species of alligator, the other being the much smaller Chinese alligator. They’re related to caimans and crocodiles, which collectively are called crocodilians. The American alligator is found only in the United States, in particular the southeastern U.S., including Florida, Georgia, North & South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
American alligators are large reptiles, growing up to nearly 20 feet long. It is an apex predator, eating just about anything it wants, including fish, crabs, turtles, frogs, birds, and sometimes even large mammals like deer. The alligator is an “ambush predator”, waiting in the water disguised as a log…until a prey animal gets close enough for the gator to pounce!
The American bison, or buffalo, is the National Mammal of the United States. Bison once roamed in huge herds across North America, but now their range has been heavily restricted to certain areas in the prairies of the western U.S. By the end of the 19th century, buffalo were nearly extinct due to overhunting. However, recovery efforts have helped the animal’s numbers rebound. It is no longer in direct danger of becoming extinct, though its population is nowhere near what it once was.
The bison is a large member of the cow family, and the largest living land mammal in North America. It can grow to over ten feet long and over six feet in height. Bison feed on grass, roaming across the North American prairies and grasslands in large herds.
Many Native American tribes in North America consider the bison to be an important animal, culturally and spiritually. The bison is a sacred animal, and when it was hunted, just about every part of the animal had a use, making it a very important creature.
The mountain lion, also known as the cougar or puma, is a large cat species that once roamed the entirety of the United States, as well as southern Canada and all of Central and South America. Now, however, the animal’s range in the United States is almost entirely limited to the western states. The one exception is a very small population that lives in South Florida.
The Florida panther lives in the pinelands and swamps of Florida. Like cougars, they can grow up to seven feet long (including the tail), and are covered in a reddish brown coat of fur. Like all cats, they are carnivores, and their prey includes birds, mammals, and sometimes even alligators.
The Florida panther nearly went extinct in the 1970s, and at that time there were only thought to be about 20 animals left in the wild. The panthers require a very large territory, and habitat destruction had caused their population to dwindle. These days, there is much controversy over how best to protect and preserve the Florida Panther. Some believe that introducing western cougars into Florida panther territory could help them increase genetic diversity, while others believe this will dilute what makes the Florida panther unique.
There is also much debate about how much habitat needs to be preserved, and which habitat specifically should be the focus. While many people want what’s best for these endangered cats, the lack of consensus can cause delays that may hurt the panther population in the long run. It’s not all bad news though! While the species is still not out of trouble just yet, but its numbers have increased to over 200 animals.
The wildlife of the United States is precious, and it’s a significant part of what makes the country so unique and special. On this 4th of July holiday, celebrate these wonderful creatures, but also educate yourself on how important it is to protect them, so that future generations can enjoy the amazing animals that America has to offer.