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Weekend Getaways

Discover 12 Animals Roaming Atop Missouri’s Tallest Mountain

Missouri is a midwestern state with numerous life-filled biomes from the northern plains to large river bluffs, sinkholes, and caves, but it’s a mountain range we’re looking at today. Let’s jump straight in and discover 12 animals roaming atop Missouri’s tallest mountain.

The Highest Point in Missouri

The vast forest at the top of Taum Sauk Mountain is the home of many animals.

©Steven Schremp/

The highest point in Missouri is 1,772 feet tall Taum Sauk Mountain. The very top spot is a mountain ridge that looks out on a vast forest filled with invertebrates, mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles.

Missouri’s Tallest Mountain: What Animals Roam There?

Let’s kick off with a really odd-looking bird.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Turkey Vulture perched on rock
With a 32-inch-long body and wingspan that can reach six feet, turkey vultures are not small.

©Attis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License

The turkey vulture is a large bird with a 32-inch-long body and six-foot wingspan. In North America, it’s chiefly called the turkey buzzard due to its vast size and resemblance to turkeys that have red bald heads and dark brown shiny plumage.

You can identify a turkey vulture in flight because they fly in circles looking for carrion below. Their distinctive wings have finger-like tips and turkey vultures hold them in a V shape as they rise and fall on air currents.

Scavenger turkey buzzards eat carrion, that’s dead meat, they very rarely take live prey. Excellent eyesight and an incredible sense of smell help them discover food, which they tear up with a small hooked beak.

They can stomach rotting meat because their strong stomach acid digests it. They can eat what would make other animals, like humans, dogs, and cats very sick indeed. In fact, if a predator gets too close, they vomit up their rotting meal as a deterrent.

Turkey vultures are frequent sights on Missouri’s tallest mountain. They build bare necessity nests on huge ridges and cliffs that overlook the forest and its open areas. Very few animals prey on turkey buzzards, those brave enough include golden eagles and great horned owls.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

Slowest animals in North America
Unique and curious as they are, American woodcocks are a fun sight at the top of Taum Sauk Mountain.

©Andrea J Smith/

Amusing American woodcocks are also called bogsuckers, timberdoodles, and hokumpokes. They have short legs, chunky round bodies, and large heads with a long bill. They walk comically, bobbing their head to a beat. Black, gray, light brown, and orange-toned plumage coats American woodcocks. They spend most of their time on the ground.

Brushwood, tangled overgrown forests, and long grass fields are their favorite places. You might spot one where open ground meets undergrowth as they hunt for worms, insects, and invertebrates in the soft moist soil. 12-inch long female American woodcocks are much larger than squat males.

Missouri Woodland Swallowtail (Papilio joanae)

A Side view of a colorful  male swallowtail butterfly  feeding on purple blossom of butterfly bush, with green lawn in the background.
The woodland swallowtail is a rare and beautiful butterfly that you may see atop Taum Sauk Mountain.

©Jay Gao/

Missouri’s tallest mountain is home to numerous beautiful butterfly species. One of the rarest is the woodland swallowtail. It’s a large butterfly that’s endemic to the Ozark mountain range which Taum Sauk mountain sits in. The best time to spot it is April to September.

With almost black coloring, this butterfly is hard to spot. Its wings are margined with tiny spots of blue and white plus two small orange eyespots on the bottom wings.

Open wood is a woodland swallowtail’s favorite place. That’s where females lay eggs on yellow pimpernel, golden alexander, and meadow parsnip. A chrysalis overwinters and emerges in April to drink nectar from wood betony, false garlic, and rose verbena. If you manage to spot this rare butterfly, congratulations because it’s a small-ranged species of concern.

Devil Crayfish (Cambarus diogenes)

Painted Devil Crayfish
As common as devil crayfish are in the United States, few have seen a wild one.


Devil crayfish are the most common crayfish in the U.S. but not many folks have spotted a wild one. They live in freshwater rivers, streams, and ponds where they dig burrows and chambers to shelter in. Their burrows reach groundwater during drought spells and they are deep enough to avoid freezing.

Devil crayfish only venture outside their burrows to hunt for food, which includes aquatic vegetation, detritus, worms, insects, snails, and any small creature unfortunate enough to fall into the water.

If you sit by a river’s edge in Missouri’s tallest mountain range you may spot a dark reddish-brown or gray lobster-like creature edging along the bankside. That’s a devil crayfish! Youngsters often appear green and sometimes a bright red or blue individual appears. With their hard exoskeleton, they are a tough meal, but predators include northern water snakes, hawks, turtles, salamanders, and fish. In fact, over 200 species prey on poor old devil crayfish. They evade predators using excellent eyesight (their eyes top movable stalks so they can see 360 degrees), and they fight off attackers with their large claws.

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

A black yellow-spotted Fire Salamander sitting on a rock.
If you see a spotted salamander, you’ll certainly know it.

©Marek R. Swadzba/

Spotted salamanders are commonly called the black and yellow salamanders. It’s no surprise they are black with yellow spots. It’s the only salamander with this coloring, so you can be pretty sure you’ve identified the right creature.

These elusive but cute creatures reach 10 inches long and they have large snouts used to sniff out and grab their prey, which includes crayfish, fish, and insects. Ponds are their preferred breeding habitats and there are plenty of pools on Missouri’s highest mountain, so the chance of spotting one is high in March to May’s breeding season.

The rest of their time is spent underground. They go dormant in cold spells, so spring and summer is the best time to see them.

Lots of animals prey on salamanders such as hawks, turtles, and foxes. Salamanders’ first line of defense is hiding, but if they are uncovered, they pop off their tail and excrete a stinky white substance. In the predator’s confusion, a salamander makes his escape. Regeneration is one of the spotted salamanders’ greatest abilities. They can grow back body parts, so a new tail will emerge in time.

Coyote (Canis latrans)

How and Where Do Coyotes Sleep - Coyote Resting
Historically shy, coyotes try to avoid humans. If any begin to approach you, though, wave your arms, shout, and clap. Never run lest you initiate their chase instinct.


Wolf-like coyotes are intelligent canines with yellow eyes, large ears, and floppy tails. Their gray, brown, and yellow coats with red-brown muzzles are thick enough to keep off Missouri’s winter chills.

Coyotes measure approximately 37 inches long plus a 16-inch-long tail and weigh 50 lbs. That’s around the same size as a labrador or retriever dog. Large packs are rare, coyotes sometimes live in families, and hierarchy groups, but tend to seek out solitude, especially young males.

They have a wide range of noises to communicate that includes yapping, whining, and their terrifying howl. Some experts think they have the most verbal communication sounds out of all North America’s animals.

If you see coyotes on a hike, keep walking. If they approach, wave your arms, shout, and clap your hands. Do not run, because this transforms you into a prey animal, and a coyote’s instinct is to chase. Coyotes are naturally shy animals; they are very unlikely to roam near humans.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

white-tailed deer
Male white-tailed deer grow antlers annually, shedding them in the fall. Keep an eye out for a discarded pair during your fall hikes!

©Tom Reichner/

White-tailed deer are common animals roaming atop Missouri’s tallest mountain.

These attractive deer have red-brown coats with white throats, white eye surrounds, and of course a white tail. In the fall, their coats turn gray-brown. Uncommon albino deer are spotted on Taum Sauk Mountain every year.

Whitetails are tall deer that stand up to 47 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 150-300 lbs. Males grow annual antlers and shed them in the fall, so keep an eye out for a discarded pair on your hike!

White-tailed deer like shelter, so they live in forests, and graze where open fields and woodland meet. In the fall and winter, they hide away in thick forests for shelter and search for twigs, shoots, leaves, and evergreen plants. White-tailed deer predators include black bears, coyotes, and human hunters.

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Black Bear - Dangerous Animals in West Virginia
While black bears are smaller than many other bear species, they are still dangerous and adept runners, climbers, and swimmers.

©Ghost Bear/

Black bears are medium-sized black, red-brown, or tan bears native to the U.S. A heavy, thickset body is covered with soft and short but thick fur. Even though they are smaller than brown bears, they still reach 41 inches at the shoulder, and adult males weigh 126–551 lbs.

Black bears climb, run, leap and swim. They are ferocious predators, but they would rather keep their distance from humans. They’re a rare spot roaming atop Missouri’s tallest mountain, but they’re still a reason to keep bear spray in your bag. Black bears hunt white-tailed deer and other mammals at night, but they also eat a lot of plants in order to build up fat reserves for winter’s semi-hibernation. Their powerful sense of smell enables them to root out plants beneath the soil, bee nests, and picnics!

Caves and hollows are ideal homes for black bears. Not only do they hibernate there, but females raise cubs in the spring months.

Did you know black bears are incredibly dexterous? They can open screw-topped jars, car door handles, and trash cans.

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Snapping Turtle on grass
Snapping turtles can be an intimidating sight, and since they are generally at the top of their food chain, they won’t fear you.

©Moondigger / Creative Commons

The common snapping turtle is a freshwater turtle found in Taum Sauk Mountain’s pools and rivers. They are one of the aquatic animals roaming atop the highest point in Missouri and an easy spot.

Adults reach 18 inches long and weigh up to 35 lbs. Small eyes and a strong, snake-like neck protrudes from their small shell. They have distinctive long tails as long as their shell length, but it’s the powerful beak they are best known for. Never put any body part near a common snapping turtle, they can do real damage to soft tissue.

Common snappers can live for 45 years in the wild. Not much is brave enough to prey on an adult, but the eggs and youngsters are predated by skunks, foxes, snakes, and fish. Adults may be caught by desperate bears or coyotes. Snappers are omnivores that eat vegetation, but they hunt fish, frogs, snakes, birds, and small mammals too.

Common snapping turtles are close to the top of their food chain, so they show little fear of humans. Stop near water, and it’s likely you’ll see one watching you and not bothering to run away.

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber Rattlesnake coiled on ground. - Dangerous Animals in West Virginia
If you’re near a timber rattlesnake, you’ll likely know it. They’ll make sure you do with the distinctive rattle of their tails.


On Missouri’s highest mountain, timber rattlesnakes are called timber rattlers, but at ground level, they are chiefly called canebrakes. This large snake is the most common venomous snake in the eastern U.S.

Timber rattlers are easy to identify because they have dark zigzag bands on brown or gray bodies, plus an orangish stripe running down the spine and onto the head. Don’t get too close to check. A timber rattlesnake bite is dangerous because its venom prevents blood clotting. It’s also extremely painful. Rattlers are not aggressive to humans; they will rattle and perform defensive tactics before striking.

You are more likely to hear rattling before you spot an actual snake. Keratin rattles, (the same material as our fingernails) form tail-tip buttons that rattle when shaken. This warning sign is a clear danger signal. Call back your kids and dogs, and stand still until you can locate the rattler, then walk away slowly.

Timber rattlesnakes can reach five feet long and weigh up to two lbs. They prey on birds, small mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates and they live in hollows, caves, or beneath logs. They are rarely seen in the open due to hawk predation, but they sometimes bask in early spring sunbeams.

Rangers say timber rattlesnakes are the most dangerous animals roaming atop Missouri’s tallest mountain if you have free-roaming dogs. It’s best to keep Rover on a lead, just in case.

Five-Lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus)

Five-lined Skink Lizard on the sand.
With five stripes that run down their backs, five-lined skinks have an appropriate name.

©James DeBoer/

Five-lined skinks are endemic to North America. It’s a common lizard that reaches 8.5 inches long with five distinctive white-yellow lines running head to tail. Juveniles have bright blue tails that fade as they mature, but female five-lined skinks sometimes keep their blue coloration.

This pretty skink lives underground in wooded areas near a water source. It too is a spring sunshine basker, but because it’s heavily predated by hawks, foxes, snakes, and snapping turtles, skinks tend to shelter beneath logs, stones, hollows, or thick evergreens. This environment is perfect prey territory for skinks’ preferred spider, cricket, and beetle diet.

You’ll need sharp eyesight to spot five-lined skinks atop Missouri’s tallest mountain! They are lightning fast.

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Tamias striatus, Eastern Chipmunk- common rodents in Kentucky
If you see just one animal while hiking Taum Sauk Mountain, there’s a good chance it will be an eastern chipmunk.

©R. A. Nonenmacher / Creative Commons

Eastern chipmunks are common in the Taum Sauk Mountains, where they are frequently spotted in trees, shrubs, and woodland canopies. Did you know the name chipmunk derives from Ojibwe for “the one that descends the trees headfirst”? It’s a fitting name for these small rodents that do indeed descend vertically headfirst.

Adult chipmunks reach 12 inches long and weigh up to 5 ounces. They are reddish-brown with five distinctive dark brown and white stripes running head to tail. Undersides are bright white and their long, flat tails aid balance.

Chipmunks are preyed on by numerous animals in Missouri’s’ highest mountain range, from snakes to foxes, and hawks to coyotes. They are chiefly herbivores that eat shoots, nuts, and seeds, but they also take birds’ eggs and worms. Brave individuals approach human picnics for snacks, and in the fall, they cache nuts to eat in the lean winter months.

If you spot just one animal roaming atop Missouri’s tallest mountain, it’ll be a chipmunk!

12 Animals Roaming Atop Missouri’s Tallest Mountain

There are hundreds of animals on Taum Sauk mountain according to Missouri’s state park service. They include mammals, birds, insects, invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles all taking advantage of the numerous ecosystems thriving there.

If you want to spot animals on Missouri’s tallest mountain there’s plenty of parking, hiking trails, a campground, and clean picnic areas waiting for you.

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