Eastern Spotted Skunk
The smaller of North Carolina’s two skunk species, the Eastern Spotted Skunk is only found in the mountainous, Western region of the state. The Eastern Spotted Skunk is about the size of a squirrel and is considered to be far faster and more agile than the more common Striped Skunk. In fact, the Spotted Skunk is often found climbing trees! Like all skunks, the Spotted Skunk excretes a foul smelling sulfuric “spray” from two anal scent glands to defend itself and its offspring from predators. When it feels threatened, the Eastern Spotted Skunk will warn predators by doing a handstand on its front paws and while spreading its hind legs. This acrobatic defense both makes the skunk appear larger as well as positions the skunk for a more effective spray.
Diving at speeds over 200 MPH, the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest land animal on Earth. This small raptor typically hunts pigeons and other small birds, dive bombing them at incredible speeds. By approaching from above, the falcon is often able to kill prey midair upon impact. Peregrine Falcons typically nest on small ledges on steep cliffsides, which makes the granite rock faces of Western North Carolina perfect habitat. Nesting pairs can be observed in the Summer months at the North Face of Looking Glass Rock. Peregrine falcons have made an incredible recovery after populations dwindled in the 1950-60’s due to exposure to the pesticide, DDT. After reintroduction efforts in North Carolina began in the 1980’s, populations have rebounded, and nesting pairs return each year to nest on the exposed rock faces of Pisgah National Forest.
The Hellbender is North Americas only species of Giant Salamander, and can reach lengths up to 29 inches. This enormous entirely aquatic salamander requires swift, cold streams with rocky bottoms and eats mostly crawfish. Like many amphibians, the Hellbender breathes through its skin, so human contact is often harmful. These giants also have a flap of skin that runs from their neck all the way to its tail that’s meant to increase its surface area and ability to breathe. Many mistakenly think the Hellbender will attack humans, or even delivers a venomous bite, neither of which are true. Although the Hellbender looks quite scary, it is in fact a harmless salamander. If you see a Hellbender, please report your sighting to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Beavers are a recognizable creature to most Americans, and are widely referred to as natures best engineers. Beavers build amazingly extravagant lodges and dams, and have the amazing ability to chew through wood! The Beaver will gnaw the base of the tree in a circular motion until the tree falls. Because their diet is made up of mostly tree bark, the Beaver will first strip the tree of bark before trimming the limbs into useful lengths. Once the tree has been stripped and limbed the beaver will drag it to the dam site and incorporate it into the structure. Beavers also construct lodges, typically in the ponds resulting from their dams. As North America’s largest rodents, Beavers can reach weights in excess of 80 pounds, and can have enormous fat stores leading up to the winter months
Native to Western North America, Rainbow Trout are regularly introduced to Eastern waterways. This iconic species prefers cold (less than 70°) moving mountain waters, and have a tendency to hang in faster moving shoals. Rainbow Trout are often sought after by sport fisherman, and have been known to reach 48 lbs. However, the North Carolina state record is 20 lbs 3 oz. In its natural habitat, Rainbow trout from their mountain homes to the ocean, where they will spend several years fattening up before returning to their birth stream to spawn.
The largest of our three Trout Species, the Brown trout is found naturally in Europe and Asia and has been stocked in North American waters for over one hundred years. Although all trout are carnivores, Brown Trout are often described as the most aggressive predators of our three species. Large Brown Trout have a very diverse diet and have been known to take prey such as mice, small birds, and snakes. These ambush predators are often found near underwater structure, such as stumps, rocks, or logs and prefer a murkier water clarity.
The Brook Trout is North Carolina’s only native trout species. Often referred to as “Brookies” or “Speckled Trout”, native populations have been pushed to small mountain headwaters by the two non-native trout species. Both Brown and Rainbow Trout outgrow the native Brook trout, forcing Brook trout to move into waters too small for the other two species. The Brook Trout sports a beautiful burnt orange underbelly that is sometimes accented by beautiful red and blue spots during the fall spawning season.
The Eastern Hemlock is one of the most common trees in Western North Carolina, however in recent years has been under threat. A small aphid known as the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, has been eradicating much of the population since it was introduced in 1951. Native to East Asia, the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid feeds on the sap of both hemlock and spruce trees. As a common tree in the forests of Eastern North America, it serves many important ecological functions. Scientists speculate that shade provided by Hemlock trees is a major factor in keeping mountain streams cold enough to allow for the native Brook Trout to spawn.
The temperate rainforests of Western North Carolina are a perfect habitat for American Ginseng, which prefers a shady, moist environment. Due to its high demand in East Asian markets, populations of American Ginseng have steeply declined, and is now considered threatened in most of its natural range. The root is often incorporated into energy drinks as a heart stimulant and is also said to be an aphrodisiac. East Asian markets have long been interested in American Ginseng, as it is said to be more potent than Asian varieties. Locals have been sending “sang” overseas for nearly 200 years.
Green Pitcher Plant
This critically endangered carnivorous plant is one of the most unique species in all of Pisgah National Forest. The Green Pitcher Plant uses its tubular, pitcher-shaped leaves to guide insects toward digestive fluids that collect in the bottom, where the insect becomes trapped. Green Pitcher Plants prefer low lying, swampy areas, which help provide excess moisture required to make its sticky trap. The biggest threats facing the Green Pitcher Plant are habitat destruction and over-collection.
Chicken of the Woods
This bright orange, shelf like fungus is one of hundreds of species of mushroom found in Pisgah National Forest. It gets its name from its flavor, that some say resembles chicken. Local chefs consider it a delicacy, and regularly cultivate it for use in restaurants. Chicken of the Woods is a parasitic species that prefers oaks, and typically leaves rot the wood of the host.