Six Weird Animals you Might not Know Exist in Pennsylvania
Did you know?
Did you know that there are animals that roam our forests, swim in our waters and fly in our skies here in lovely Pennsylvania that you never knew existed? William Penn, a Quaker, named Pennsylvania combining the name Penn and the Latin term sylvania, which translates as "woodlands." And Pennsylvania is full of wild life. Most are familiar with the white-tailed deer, raccoons, bear, trout, bald eagles and even the elk of Elk County, but there are some other interesting creatures that residents might not be familiar with that we’ll take a look at in this article.
Our first creature is the fisher. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission portal, “Fishers are swift and elegant tree-climbing furbearers. Like the river otter, mink, skunk and pine marten, fishers are members of the Mustelid or weasel family.” Overtrapping once threatened this unique critter, but it appears to be making a comeback. Adult fishers, according to the site, are about the size of a house cat with a long body, short legs and an uncanny ability to climb trees. Fishers were not named because of their diet of fish. The animal instead eats what is in abundance and easy to catch such as rodents and in season, fruits and nuts. My brother caught this photo of a fisher on a trail cam in Franklin Pennsylvania.
#2 Eastern Massasauga
Hiking the craggy hills of PA sometimes brings with it a dread of the venomous snakes that inhabit the state. Well known to most nature enthusiaists are the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead. But did you know there is another poisonous snake in Pennsylvania that is currently endangered? This is a smaller rattler named the eastern massasauga. According to Gwen Chute on the Sierra Club Allegheny website, “Massasaugas are small, rather stout rattlesnakes with large dark brown or black blotches on the back and sides that stand out against a light gray background. The small rattle sounds like the buzz of an insect and is so soft it can barely be heard from more than five feet away.” The article goes on to say that, "...the massasauga is a 'critically imperiled endangered species' and is eligible for federal endangered species listing as well."
According to the Fish and Boat Commission, "In Pennsylvania, ... populations are currently known to exist at only four sites in Butler, Venango, and Mercer Counties."
If this Pennsylvania resident sounds evil, the name really is quite mistaken. According to the PA Fish and Boat Commission, the Hellbender is the, “largest of all PA salamanders” and “can reach 29 inches in length and weigh up to five pounds,” causing this slippery devil to be described as a "giant". Hellbenders only come out at night and can look quite prehistoric. I once knew an avid fisherman who told of hooking a Hellbender off an island in the Allegheny River. He described it as gross, slimy and having small little legs. He called the animal a “water dog” and although harmless, he was very grateful to finally release it from his hook and let it be on its way.
#4 Feral Pigs
According Cindy Ross on Weeklypress.com, “The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been given jurisdiction over [feral pigs] by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and has declared an open season." Feral pigs are relatives of the domesticated pig and about 3000 are roaming Penn's precious woods.
Because the pigs cause habitat damage and are a threat to other wild life, the Pennsylvania game commission is committed to their eradication. Also, according to Weeklypress.com, "...they are known to carry 18 viral diseases, ten of which can infect people, and ten bacterial diseases, all of which cause disease in humans.” No wonder these fellas are NOT welcome, but who knew they were in Pennsylvania in the first place?
According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, “Gars are primitive, ancient bony fish. Their ancestors date back more than 100 million years, as found in fossil records.” According to the site, Gars have a low oxygen tolerance that is quite ingenious. They have a swim bladder and when oxygen levels are low, they can go to the surface, gulp air and fill these reserves.
Gars have a long body and beak-like snout full of fine sharp teeth. I’ve seen young gars caught in minnow traps and they are a bizarre looking fresh water fish. The Commission notes that, “In Pennsylvania, [gars have] been reported from scattered locations including Lake Erie and the Allegheny and Ohio River watersheds.”
#6 Star-nosed Mole
Well, freak me out - according to PBS.org, the Star-nosed mole, “won’t win any beauty contests, but ... the little mole, scientifically known as Condylura Cristata, commonly lives in the wetlands and marshes of the eastern United States” including PA.
The article continues noting that the mole, "has a star for a nose — specifically, a snout made up of 22 fleshy tentacles that form a fleshy, circular star.” These tentacles help the mole identify food since it lives in darkness and it is known as one of the speediest eaters in the animal kingdom. Some research shows that the ugly star is being studied in hopes that the touch and pain receptors in the mole might lead to help for humans in chronic pain.
WEIRD PA ANIMALS POLL
How many of the above animals did you know about?
The strangest of all Pennsylvania animals is mere speculation. Does Bigfoot exist in Pennsylvania? Read for yourself and you decide at this link:
Chute, G. (n.d.). Sierra Club Allegheny Group » Endangered in Pennsylvania: The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Sierra Club Allegheny Group. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://alleghenysc.org/?p=5454
Gallery of Pennsylvania Fishes - Chapter 7, Gars. (n.d.). Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Home Page. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://www.fishandboat.com/Fish/PennsylvaniaFishes/GalleryPennsylvaniaFishes/Pages/Gars.aspx
PFBC Question and Answer - Eastern Hellbender. (n.d.). Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Home Page. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://www.fishandboat.com/Fish/PennsylvaniaFishes/GalleryPennsylvaniaFishes/Pages/Gars.aspx
Ross, C. (2009, December 9). Weekly Press - Philadelphia News. Weekly Press - Philadelphia News. Retrieved July 10, 2013
Serfass & Micheltree. (n.d.). Fishers. http://www.portal.state.pa.us. Retrieved July 8, 2013, from www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=631108&mode=2
Species Action Plan:. (n.d.). http://fishandboat.com/water/amprep/species-plan-eastern-massasauga.pdf. Retrieved July 8, 2013, from fishandboat.com/water/amprep/species-plan-eastern-massasauga.pdf
The Beauty of Ugly - Star-Nosed Moles | Nature | PBS. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/the-beauty-of-ugly/star-nosed-moles/428/