While black bears and wild turkeys are some of the most ubiquitous and popular creatures in Gatlinburg, there are dozens of smaller creatures that delight visitors to our area. In fact some of these small animals are so unusual, you likely won't see them in many other locations in the U.S. or may not see them in such great concentrations as you do here. The pristine nature of much of the countryside in this area provides a nearly perfect environment for butterflies, turtles, salamanders and many more of Mother Nature's most intriguing small creatures.
Did you know:
Cades Cove is full of butterflies; swallowtails, monarchs and others. Some visitors report that you can walk right up to bunches of them as they feed on wildflowers. In the fall since 1997 monarch butterflies have been tagged in Cades Cove so their migration patterns can be tracked. People can volunteer to work on the tagging teams which capture butterflies and tag them with a small sticker. Two different organizations do the tagging. You can contact The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and if you are back here in the fall, you can perhaps take part in this important conservation-focused effort.
Eastern painted turtles are one of eight turtle species that can be found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The brightly colored red edges of their shells (carapace) and yellow heads distinctly mark these turtles. They like marshy and wet areas and they like to climb on fallen logs and tree branches to bask in the sun.
Snapping turtles are another type of turtle that can be seen in this area. These turtles eat a variety of foods from plants to small aquatic creatures such as invertebrates and fish.
Lungless salamanders: The variety of salamanders in the National Park tagged this area with the nickname 'Salamander Capital of the World'. One of the most unique salamanders that inspires wonder is the lungless salamander. 24 species of lungless salamanders live in the National Park, which is an astounding array of diversity for this one type of salamander. How can these creatures breathe without lungs, you ask? They do so through the walls of many tiny blood vessels upon their skin. They also do this through the linings of their throat and mouth. They rarely go into the water and lay their eggs in moist spots on land.
Toads and frogs: Unfortunately in many parts of the country these small creatures have suffered from pesticide applications, increased UV exposure due to shrinkage of the ozone layer and fungus attacks. Here in the Gatlinburg area, streams, ponds, rivers and woodland pools offer ideal settings for frog and toad habitat. Cades Cove offers several top frog and toad breeding ponds. Watch areas such as Abrams Creek for the Wood Frog, American Toad, Cope’s Gray Treefrog, Pickerel Frog, and Northern Green Frog.
Bats: Little brown bats inhabit caves in the National Park. They eat a wide range of insects besides mosquitoes, including wasps, beetles and gnats. Farmers can thank little brown bats as they eat many pests that ravage crops. Recently bats in this area and elsewhere in the U.S. have contracted a deadly fungus disease, white nose syndrome. It may take time for bat populations to recover from this disease.
Snakes: 23 species of snakes live in the National Park. Only two are venomous so looking for snakes in the park is mostly safe and very interesting. One of the most unique snakes found in the area is the Northern redbelly snake which gives birth to live young. It is a rather small snake measuring only 10 inches.
Check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park site for more resources on some of the intriguing small wildlife you can see in Gatlinburg.
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