Fauna of West Virginia

Fauna of West Virginia

Fauna of West VirginiaThe life zones of West Virginia transitions from large low-land farming valleys bordered with forest and meadow to high-land ridge flats and heavy forestlands, some with rocky ridge-line peaks. The geology allows for a diversity of habitats. The "Mountain State" harbors at least 56 species and subspecies of mammals. The state has more than 300 types of birds and more than 100 species of fish. Many common Insects of the Eastern United States can be found in West Virginia. The state's beetle number about 15 species with more than 70 species of Odonate, some 18 species of spiders and a dozen species of Stonefly. There are about 17 Moth species. There are a little over seven dozen Cave invertebrate. The West Virginia Division of Wildlife (WVDNR) uses hunting and fishing license fees for wildlife habitat conservation. The state has guidelines for persons applying for West Virginia scientific collecting permits. [West Virginia Division of Wildlife http://www.wvdnr.gov/Main.shtm]

Diversity, mountain & low land

As with West Virginia's remote mountain forests, the farms and lands with meadows and woodlots near urban areas also hold whitetail deer, chipmunk, raccoon, skunk, groundhog, opossum, weasel, field mouse, flying squirrel, cotton-tail rabbit, gray foxes, red foxes, gray squirrels, red squirrels and a cave bat to name a few. Bobcat, snowshoe hare, wild boar and black bear are not strictly found in deepest forests and parks of West Virginia. But, the mink, beaver and eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) have become very rarily seen near farms, even the farthest from towns.

Deep in the heart of the state's mountains is a unique natural botanical treasure. Along with very rare boreal plants, several species of orchids and carnivorous plants are found at Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. It provides a chance for the public to see mink, beavers, snowshoe hare, black bear with its unique flora and other fauna. Cranberry Glades is the southern-most breeding pocket for some northern breeding species of birds like the purple finch and the northern waterthrush in the state's mountains. [Cranberry Mountain Nature Center at (304)653-4826 and during the winter months at the Gauley Ranger District at (304)846-2695.] West Virginia's western valley contrasts the mountains with another natural treasure, the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge. These islands serves as a habitat for great blue heron, wood ducks, cormorants, Canada geese, migrating loons and tundra swans.


North American migrant birds such as the tufted titmouse, scarlet tanager, brown thrasher, American robin and humming bird live throughout the warmer seasons, save-but, the highest peaks. Some of the Icterid birds visit West Virginia as well as the Hermit Thrush and Wood Thrush. The northern cardinal, bluejay, catbird, mocking-bird, American sparrow, some wrens and even crows can be found passing through urban lawns to meadows and cattail pond or a farmer's field. Major game birds are the duck, goose, bobwhite quail, ruffed grouse and wild turkey. Pairs of buzzard can be seen while driving along the open highway. The Sandhill Crane lumbers at flight over the large rivers to conservation ponds. Occasionally, Osprey and Eagle can be found watching over or snatching a fish on remote lakes and larger streams. Although, the hawks and owls are the most common birds of prey.


West Virginia has over twenty species of reptiles represented as lizard, skink, turtle and snake. While the maccasin can be seen crossing over brooks and along larger rivers, the timber rattlesnake is found among rocks and fallen tree in the highland forests and mountainous areas. The Copperhead is the most common poisonous snake throughout the state. Green Snake, Rat or Barn Snake and Garden Snakes are examples of those seen across the hollows and wide bottoms along the major rivers which are not poisonous, but, sharing the same habitat as the Copperhead. Painted turtles live in most ponds and brooks. These and major rivers also hold snapping turtles and they are hunted for a tablefare delicacy with a WVDNR permit. The Box turtle is found in nearly every meadow and woods.

Family: Colubridae includes:
Queen Snake, Common Watersnake, Northern Brownsnake, Northern Red-bellied Snake, Common Ribbonsnake, Eastern Gartersnake, Eastern Smooth Earthsnake, Mountain Earthsnake, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, Northern Ring-necked Snake, Eastern Wormsnake, Northern Black Racer, Rough Greensnake, Smooth Greensnake, Cornsnake, Black Ratsnake, Northern Pinesnake, Eastern Kingsnake, Black Kingsnake and Eastern Milksnake

Family: Viperidae includes:
Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) & Timber Rattlesnake.


The Mountain State's water habitat holds 24 families of fish, to include, Umbridae-Mudminnow, Salmonidae-Trouts, Percopsidae-Trout-perches, Fundulidae-Killifishes, Poeciliidae-Livebearer, Atherinidae-Silversides, Gasterosteidae-Sticklebacks, Cottidae-Sculpins, Percichthyidae-Temperate Basses, Centrarchidae-Sunfishes, Percidae-Perches, Sciaenidae-Drums, Petromyzontidae-Lampreys, Acipenseridae-Sturgeons, Polyodontidae-Paddlefish, Lepisosteidae -Gars, Amiidae-Bowfins, Hiodontidae-Mooneyes, Anguillidae-Freshwater Eels, Clupeidae -Herrings, Cyprinidae-Minnows, Carps, Catostomidae-Suckers, Ictaluridae-Freshwater Catfishes, Esocidae-Pikes. The 3 hybrid sport fish are the Hybrid Striped Bass (Morone chrysops x M. saxatilis), Hybrid Saugeye (Stizostedion canadense x S. vitreum) and Hybrid Tiger Musky (Esox lucius x E. masquinony). With the exception of a small portion of the New River in Virginia, the candy darter is foundexclusively in West Virginia.

During the early half of the 20th century, the West Virginia Department of Resources accidentally hatched a somewhat golden rainbow trout. This excitement in the state hatchery fueled the effort to produce the West Virginia "Golden Rainbow Trout." Some anglers claim the state received a golden trout from the west to help culture this. Just the same, today's "Goldy" was developed from breeding-back to rainbow trout. As the case may be expected, these special fish are very aggressive fighters and excellent tablefare.

Various water habitats of West Virginia hold the following sport fish:
American Eel, Black Crappie, Bluegill, Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Bullhead catfish, Burbot, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Freshwater Drum, Green Sunfish, Hybrid Striped Bass, Lake Trout, Largemouth Bass, Longear sunfish, Muskellunge, Northern Pike, Pumpkinseed, Rainbow Trout, Redear Sunfish, Rock bass, Sauger, Saugeye, Smallmouth Bass, Spotted Bass, Striped Bass, Walleye, Warmouth, White bass, White Crappie, White Perch and Yellow Perch.

A partial list of non-game fish follows:

Blacknose dace, Bluntnose minnow, Bigmouth buffalo, Black redhorse, Bowfin, Brook silverside, Brook stickleback, Buffalo, Carp, Creek chub, Central stoneroller, Channel darter, Emerald shiner, Fathead Minnow, Gizzard shad, Golden redhorse, Golden shiner, Grass carp, Grass Pickerel, Greenside darter, Johnny darter, Leastbrook lamprey, Logperch darter, Longnose gar, Mosquitofish, Northern hogsucker, Paddlefish, Quillback, Pugnose minnow, Rainbow darter, Shovelnose sturgeon (Ohio R), Silver lamprey, Silver jaw minnow, Southern redbelly dace, Stonecat, Striped shiner, Sturgeon, Trout-perch, Western banded killfish, White sucker and so on.


Amphibian species in West Virginia number about twenty one. Among them are hellbenders and salamanders to included toads and frogs such as the Northern Leopard Frog and Mountain Chorus Frog.


Many common Insects of the Eastern United States can be found in West Virginia including Aquatic insects. The state's beetle number about 15 species with more than 70 species of Odonate, some 18 species of spiders and a dozen species of Stonefly. There are about 17 Moth species. Wasps, some meadows may have a burrow of yellowjackets and the forest can hold a hive of Hornets hanging from a branch. Sweat bee and mosquito are no stranger to the shaded wet-land which delights the sunfish and catfish in deeper pools nearby. West Virginia trout has but one Mayfly, the West Virginia Burrowing Mayfly (Ephemera triplex) along with the mountain stream's terrestrials and insects on which to feed. The Mountain State's warmer seasons flora glitter with about two and a half dozen species of Butterfly. [West Virginia DNR - Wildlife Resources http://lutra.dnr.state.wv.us/cwcp/appendix2.shtm]


Gastropoda, slugs, leech, earthworms and grub worm otherwise larva are among the common invertebrate in West Virginia. The state's streams and lakes provides habitat for about 54 species of mussel which are protected from harvest by WVDNR.

Crayfish amount to eight different species in the stream both above and below ground. The Cave Crayfish (Cambarus nerterius) is endemic to caves within the Greenbrier and Elk river drainages in West Virginia for example. Speaking of caves, there are a little over seven dozen Cave invertebrate in the state. Of these to example, the Madison Cave Isopod (Antrolana lira) has a conservation threatened ranking priority one and lives on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers area.

There are eleven species of Land Snails. The Flat-spired Three-toothed Landsnail (Triodopsis platysayoides) is listed as a threatened prority one according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A recent estimate has only 84 of these snails living on the Cheat Mountain Watershed. [West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. http://lutra.dnr.state.wv.us/cwcp/flatspiredthreetoothedlandsnail.shtm]


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