Pennsylvania Wildlife and Wildlife Watching Tips

picture of Mountain Laurel, thee official Pennsylvania state flower, for Pennsylvania wildlife
Like almost all states along the Appalachian Mountains, forests constitute the largest ecosystem in Penn’s Woods, formally known as Pennsylvania.

Over two hundred years of modern economic development have altered the old growth forests and consequently the wildlife composition of the state. Nonetheless, the primarily second growth forests still occupy approximately 60% of the Pennsylvania land cover.

From a broad perspective, Pennsylvania wildlife remains fairly diverse. State residents and tourists have ample opportunity to explore that diversity, from visiting any of the 121 state parks to hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The parks cover a variety of different ecosystems from forests to grasslands to wetlands. There’s always some new fauna, flora or fungi to find. Residents and tourists alike will be pleased to discover that it’s free to enter all of the state parks.

The Appalachian Trail starts in the Northeast corner of the state and runs down close to the center of the state to the southern border. Even the feint of heart can test their mettle on the southern part of the trail with an extended 13 mile hike through the flat lands of the Cumberland Valley.

Any late spring or early summer outing along the trail introduces the hiker to the Mountain Laurel. It’s a native shrub in the Heather family and the official flower of the state.

From the rural to the urban, Pennsylvania is also book-ended on the Southwest and Southeast by the two huge metropolitan areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. While Pittsburgh is situated in a more mountainous area, both cities are well known for the rivers that run through and around them.

Wildlife watching in and around both go hand in hand with all of the outdoor environment and recreation opportunities available.

Wildlife Watching in Pennsylvania

picture of a Mountain Lion for Pennsylvania wildlife
Traditionally mammals get top billing in wildlife watching discussions with large carnivores often at the top of the list. Some clarity with respect to Pennsylvania and large carnivores might be helpful.

In January 2018, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared they were removing the Eastern Mountain Lion (or Eastern Cougar) from the endangered species list because it was extinct. However, as everyone in Pennsylvania knows, the state is filled with Nittany Lions.

That leaves a discussion of Pennsylvania wildlife watching and cats with the bobcat (Lynx rufus) a resident of the mountain areas of the central and northeast parts of the state. Along with black bears, they constitute the two largest carnivores in the state.

Despite the lack of the big name mammals, wildlife watching in Pennsylvania flourishes. The Pennsylvania Game Commission officially recognizes sixty four native mammals in the state. One quarter of them, the squirrels, voles, mice, belong to the rodent family. Mustelids such as weasels, skunks, minks, otters and fishers also are plentiful in the state.

Pennsylvania is one of eleven states to designate the White-tailed Deer as the official state animal. They remain the most common of the state’s large ungulates. A smaller population of Elk are present in the central part of the state. There’s also a nuisance population of wild swine.

The state’s enthusiastic promotion of wildlife watching actually extends well beyond the traditional mammal category. For example, The Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey (PARS) promotes itself as a “state-sponsored atlas project launched in 2013” to document the states populations. Amphibian and reptile enthusiasts and professionals are encouraged to photograph and document the species that they see on their outdoor excursions, and upload them to a central data base.

picture of an Spiny Softshell turtle for Pennsylvania wildlife watching
As the list shows, the eighty five documented species makes for harried herpers throughout the season.

  • Salamanders – 22 species (4 endangered)
  • Frogs – 19 species (3 endangered)
  • Turtles – 16 species (2 endangered)
  • Snakes – 20 species (3 endangered)
  • Lizards – 8 species
Note: Up turning a log in the forest might be a great way to discover hidden salamanders. It’s also a great way to discover hidden snakes, so care in the hunt is always recommended.

North America’s largest salamander, the Eastern hellbender, also gets the title of official state amphibian.

picture of an ink cap mushroom for Pennsylvania wildlife watching
Pennsylvania is also a hot spot for nature enthusiasts with a hankering for mushrooms. First, consider the fact that the official state fungi list now includes over 7,500 species.

Add the fact that the Western PA Mushroom Club can tell you all about the one hundred and forty plus bolete species in the state. As a bonus, up to ten of those species are the eye catching red/orange pored variety.

End with the fact that Pennsylvania is the commercial button mushroom capital of the United States and it’s easy to conclude that Pennsylvania is a great, great place for mushroom enthusiasts.

The following set of buttons point to articles with more detailed information covering various Pennsylvania wildlife topics.