Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons
In the NPS photo of a Yellowstone wildlife montage by Robert Hynes, you can compare the difference in size of various mammals we may see on the Outdoor Club trips to Grand Teton national park. And in a drawing (not to quite the same scale) of (left to right) a deer, elk, moose and a man you can compare the difference in size of various mammals versus a human.
The elk (5 foot tall) compares in size to a horse.
Moose are 6.5 to 7.5 feet tall, with antlers that spread 4 to 5 feet (record 6’9″).
NPS photo of moose in comparison to a SUV:
Both male and female bison 4-5 feet tall at their shoulder, 10-12 feet long, have a small beard, but only the male has a bushy forehead.
Yellowstone park says:
Q: How do you tell male from female bison?
A: A bull’s head is wider and shaped more like a triangle than the female bison; its ‘forehead’ fur is much thicker, as is the fur on its forelegs; and its beard is thicker. A cow’s horns are slightly more curved and slender than a bull’s. In addition, a cow’s shoulders are narrower than its hips while a male’s shoulders are broader than its hips.
In the NPS photo below, the female bison is on the left, the male on the right.
In this photo of a bison about to cross a road, note the size of the bison in comparison to the people and their cars. If the bison decided to change his direction of travel, or move quickly, people could have been injured.
Read about what may happen before a bison charges, including what people who were injured were doing before the bison charged,.
A marmot 16 inches long plus a 6 1/2 inch tail and a pika 8 inches long on a trail for a size comparison:
It is so rare to see a bobcat, lynx or mountain lion, but here are their faces for comparison:
Mountain goats (5 foot long, 3 feet tall), black horns are much smaller than bighorn sheep (6 feet tall / 3 1/2 feet to shoulder):
Pronghorn 4 foot long, (can run 30 mph for 15 miles with spurts up to 70 mph, from the Smithsonian “communicate with each other visually by raising the mane on the back of the neck into a stiff brush and erecting the white hairs on their rump”)
A golden-mantled ground squirrel has stripes that stop before it’s neck, a chipmunk 5 inches to 4 1/2 inches, is a little smaller and has stripes across it’s back and up it’s head.
The coyote (25 inches tall, large ones up to 55 pounds) compares in size to a large family dog. We’ve read that Rocky Mountain coyotes are bigger than the ones we frequently see in Yosemite on our winter trips.
two photos of one coyote in Yellowstone:
A wolf, up to 35″ tall, is much bigger than a coyote or family dog, but it can be hard to tell at a distance, which is where you will most likely see one if at all. Wolves can weight 70-120 pounds, coyotes only 25-40.
Wolves run on the average 5 mph, or up to 35 mph.
Wolves can be coal black, creamy white and everything (gray, tan) in between. Coyotes are gray, tawny, buffy or reddish gray, with some orange on it’s tail and ears. A red fox has red fur with white-tipped tail, dark legs; slender, long snout. It has a bushier tail than a coyote.
Below a NPS drawing showing the size comparison of a wolf, coyote and a fox.
And another National Park Service drawing comparing the size and coloration of a fox (front), coyote (center), and wolf (back), by Michael Warner from a Yellowstone Park webpage
The coyote often holds his tail between his legs when running. His nose is more pointed than a wolf.
The coyotes have a narrow, triangular shaped head. A wolf has a more square, blocky head.
A red fox barks, but rarely howls/sings. Wolves and coyotes both sing long howls, but the wolf does not add yips/yaps. Yellowstone park notes that that wolves howl for “intrapack communication, advertising territory, coordinating social activities.” Denali park notes that “Wolves are noted for their distinctive howl, which they use as a form of communication. Biologists do not know all of the reasons why wolves howl, but they may do so before and after a hunt, to sound an alarm, and to locate other members of the pack when separated. Wolves howl more frequently in the evening and early morning, especially during winter breeding and pup rearing. Howling is also one way that packs warn other wolves to stay out of their territory.”
To print a wolf / coyote comparison go to:
and click on wolf versus coyote comparison
Coyote front prints are usually 2 3/4 inches in length or less, some large dog breeds can have prints as big as a wolf, wolves are usually 3 1/2 inches in length not including the claws.
The International Wolf Center tells us that “The biting capacity of a wolf is 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch… In comparison, a German Shepard has a biting pressure of 750 pounds per square inch. A human has a much lower biting pressure of 300 pounds per square inch.”
First photo below of mollie’s wolfpack in Yellowstone: (in social situations like the first photo, the height the tail is carried generally relates to the social status of that wolf).
From a distance it can be hard to tell which small animal you see swimming. But each swims differently. River otters undulate through the water. One source says when a beaver swims, only his head shows above the water; muskrats show both their head and part of their back. Another source says that muskrats usually swim with their thin tails “snaking in the water behind them or arched out of the water; you never see a beaver’s tail as it swims.” Adult muskrats are the size of a football, their body about a foot long, beavers four times as big. Otters are 3 to 4 feet long, minks half that size. Below is a beaver (see the lodge and one of the dams in the background)
The main differences between a grizzly and a black bear are:
Two photos below black bears and six of grizzlies are courtesy of NPS:
grizzlies have a dished, or concave face; black bears have a straight facial profile
grizzlies have a large hump of muscle for digging and running above the shoulders
grizzly claws are visible from a distance, black bears claws are not
grizzlies are bigger (males 300-700 pounds, black bears 210-315 pounds)
coloration in both is so variable, that it isn’t a good way to tell them apart. Black bears are not just black in color, they can be light, medium or dark brown, cinnamon/reddish or blond. Grizzlies can be any of the above, sometimes with silver-tipped guard hairs that give them their grizzled gray/silver appearance.
If you have reason to report a bear sighting, try to notice the color as described above, including any colors of patches on the chest or of girth bands. Be ready to describe the size. A two year old is about 1/2 to 3/4 the size of a female, a yearling about 1/4 to 1/2 the size of a female and the cub of the year is about 1/4 the size of a female. Was there an ear tag, radio collar or paint to identify the bear?
black bears are more likely to stalk a human than grizzlies, although this is quite rare
both can climb trees
both hibernate, but sometimes awake during winter and leave their dens (occasionally some in Yosemite never do hibernate)
both have occasionally become too used to humans and/or human food and have had to be destroyed.
What do Grizzly bears sound like? Griz vocalizations (“Grizzly bears sometimes vocalize when agitated or nervous. These sounds of huffing, jaw-popping (heard at :35 and :57 seconds in), and low growls are warnings that you’re too close.”) :
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The difference between a tundra swam and a trumpeter swan is that the tundra swan has a yellow spot near the eye and the trumpeter swan has a thin pink stripe at the base of their upper mandible. The other huge white birds are pelicans if they have a huge yellow beak and throat pouch.
Park rules say do not approach wildlife, stay 100 yards from bears or wolves and 25 yards from other wildlife including nesting birds. If you have an accidental, surprise or inadvertent closer encounter with wildlife you must remove yourself to those distances.
– – – To visualize 100 yards, picture the length of a football field.
– – – To visualize 25 yards, picture four car lengths, six kayak lengths or the width of an Olympic-sized pool like ours at the college.
See also: animal sign comparisons (how to use tracks and scat to distinguish species) grizzly:
Please do not handle scat. Wolf scat, for example, can transmit tapeworm eggs to humans.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
your safety in grizzly bear territory tells you what to do if you see a bear in the distance or a bear charges you and has info about Bear Pepper Sprays and what might happen before a bison charges.
NPS chart of where grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (the blue outline) in 2008:
Grand Tetons biking has details about rare fatal (often preventable) encounters between bike riders and grizzlys.
This NPS historic photo collection shows people much too close to an elk:
For more actual incidents of injuries from animals, usually caused by approaching them too closely, go to: fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering
Look for the BEARS, MOUNTAIN LION, BISON, ELK and MOOSE sections.
For details about our next club trip to Grand Teton National Park, go to: Grand Tetons.
Grand Tetons trip pages index has brief descriptions of most of the pages about this trip.
Hiking Advice has hot weather hiking advice, hiking logistics and the answer to the question: When is the best time of day to cross a mountain stream?