NH's Wild and Weird Animals

In honor of New Hampshire Fish and Game’s 150th anniversary, artist Marc Sutherland created amazing, detailed illustrations of some of NH’s common wildlife. You might be surprised by what you’ll learn.

Nope, we don’t have a lake monster (that’s Vermont) or Bigfoot (hmm, or DO we?), but even our “common” critters are pretty fascinating — if you know who to ask about them.

We asked NH Fish & Game wildlife artist Marc Sutherland, who provided the incredible drawings and facts on the following pages.

Sometimes called the “wildcat” (especially at UNH where she serves as mascot), this bundle of muscle can take down a small deer. The “bob” in the name comes from the short tail. Bobcats are at least twice the size of a house cat and weigh as much as a 2-year-old child. They are obligate carnivores, which means they eat nothing but meat, including, but not limited to, rabbits, rodents, foxes, domestic cats and small dogs. They are generally elusive and solitary ghosts, rarely seen. Females mark their five-mile territories with urine, feces and claw marks, and they will not admit another female (males are tolerated to a degree). They raise their young (average litters of two to three) alone, so mortality rates are high — as much as 46 percent. Blind at birth and helpless for two months, kittens are kicked out of mom’s territory after about eight months to go find their own turf. They, like deer, are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn or dusk when the low light suits their vision best. Unlike their cousin the lynx, bobcats are not fond of deep snow and will wait out heavy storms in sheltered areas.

Bounties for bobcats began in NH in 1809, and by the 1970s the population had plummeted, until a ban was finally placed on hunting and trapping bobcats in 1989. A UNH study began in 2011 and is still underway to assess the size and health of the bobcat population in New Hampshire. So far, it has been estimated that the bobcat population is around 800 to 1,200, which is up from just 100 to 150 in the ’80s.

Moose have hollow hair that allows for better buoyancy in water. They can dive down 20 feet underwater and swim six miles per hour (nearly twice as fast as you). It’s been claimed they can swim for 10 miles continuously. They can run non-stop for 15 miles at a top speed of 35 mph (more than twice as fast as you, assuming you are a runner).
Moose racks can weigh up to 40 pounds. The largest bull rack measured in NH was 5.7 feet across.

Referred to as “the cow of the forest,” moose have always been vulnerable, despite their great stature. They were hunted out of western Europe in the Roman era (they now reside only in Scandinavia) and out of early America too, during the Colonial period. In a recent NH Fish and Game study, it was determined that the moose herd has declined 40 percent in the last decade to approximately 4,500. Climate change has allowed deer ticks to survive the winter, contributing to nearly half of moose mortality. Moose are found dead of anemia, covered with upwards of 50,000 ticks.

Ninety-one moose were killed by hunters in the 2014 moose hunt. Roughly 250 were killed or injured in car collisions.

Although much feared, you are more likely to be killed in a bee attack than a bear attack. Bears will bluff a charge when they feel threatened, but then generally run off or climb a tree. Bears are intelligent, with a range of grunts to express contentment and blowing noises to express fear. Research shows black bears can count. They have been known to sabotage traps.

Though bears have lost 60 percent of their range due to increasing human population (male bears need up to 50 square miles of exclusive territory), as omnivores they are adapting by scavenging our garbage. They eat 85 percent plant material, and the remainder is mostly insects with an occasional scavenged animal carcass.

Hibernation: Bears become very "drowsy" by reducing their heart rate from 40 all the way down to 8 beats per minute while lowering their body temperature and metabolism only a bit. The sleepy bear can resume normal activity in minutes, if necessary. During hibernation, bears somehow recycle body waste into protein. The bears go without food for three to five months, typically losing a quarter of their body weight.

Young bears are born blind, deaf and hairless, and are only about eight inches long.

Once the brief courtship is over between males and females, they can no longer tolerate each other and will go their separate ways.

NH Fish and Game allows 500 bears to be killed annually to reach a target population of 5,000 bears by 2015.

Most of the year, the spotted salamander lives in small burrows beneath the forest litter, emerging at night to hunt crickets, worms, spiders and millipedes. In early April (usually the first spring rain above 40 degrees), they collectively get the urge to return to the vernal pool where they were hatched. Vernal pools are small, shady, springtime ponds that dry up in summer. The spotted salamander has adapted to breeding in these pools to avoid being eaten by fish in larger bodies of water. Once eggs have been deposited and fertilized, they return to the forest.

Like all salamanders, they have the ability to regenerate lost limbs, tails, various organs, eyes and spinal cords. This miraculous feat is under close scrutiny by human scientists. Essentially, a bump is formed over a wound called a "blastema." Below this enters a flood of undifferentiated cells similar to our own stem cells. Somehow, the neighboring damaged tissues (muscle, nerves, bones, etc.) seem to "remember" the missing limb and they tell the blank cells what to become. Regeneration takes roughly three weeks and the subsequent limb is a perfect copy.

Humans currently share this gift to an extent in utero and in our ability to perfectly regenerate our own fingerprints. Researchers agree that it's only a matter of time until we are able to mimic the salamander's amazing ability.

The common crow — trickster, thief and harbinger of doom in literature and mythology — is actually one of the most intelligent animals on the planet along with chimpanzees, elephants, kangaroos and dolphins.

Facial Recognition

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, funded by the US Department of Defense, study facial recognition in crows. Biologists don masks, capture certain crows on campus, tag and then release them. The paroled crows will later recognize the masked assailants by screeching and dive bombing them. These crows will transfer the knowledge of their capture to the rest of the flock and to their fledglings. Researchers, as long as they are wearing the masks, are treated as enemies for years to come.

Threat Aversion

When a crow is shot among a migrating flock, known as a murder, the flock will collectively avoid said area for years. If shot at, they learn the range of rifles and stay just outside of that range.

Pattern Recognition

City crows will observe the pattern of traffic lights. During a red light, a crow will drop acorns in the path of oncoming traffic, the cars then crush the shells on a green light and the crows can then harvest the meat during the next red light. In the absence of cars, crows will drop nuts from just the right height in order to crack their shells (but this requires more effort). Crows also learn garbage truck routes for the best scavenging times.

Ability to Use Tools

Once thought to be strictly a primate gift, crows will not only use tools, but they will construct them in order to get at carrion or insect larvae. A crow will quickly fashion a piece of wire into a hook, place it in its beak and carefully fish a piece of meat from an enclosed space.


Young crows stay with their parents for up to five years, giving them more time to absorb the knowledge of their elders. Other members of the group will assist in the rearing of the young by providing food and protection. Crows have distinct squawks to distinguish for cat, hawk or human threats, and they have separate "dialects" when addressing the group or the family unit. When a crow dies, the other members of the flock will gather en masse to briefly sit in silence before collectively flying away.

Reading the Other

Crows will hide their food, guard it and "fake cache" it by publicly hiding it and privately re-caching it, thus demonstrating the ability to anticipate the thinking of other beings.

When we experience frostbite, our cells are permanently damaged. The wood frog can freeze solid, thaw out and be just fine. How?

Once the temperature drops below freezing, the frog’s blood draws water (which expands upon freezing) out of the delicate cells of its body, and its liver produces glucose and urea that enter and protect the cells — a bit like anti-freeze. Once temps rise, the heart starts and within hours the frog is as good as new.

Eight-legged arachnids, female deer ticks (males attach but do not suck blood) are the size of sesame seeds, living for about two years as they transition from egg to larva to nymph to adult. They contract a coiled bacteria called a spirochete from rodents and deer, which they can in turn transmit to humans in the form of Lyme disease. Ticks will “quest” by finding a suitable perch on grass or low brush. Upon sensing certain carbon dioxide levels (a mammal!), they hold their forelimbs outstretched in order to attach to a host. A female mates and then feeds for several days. She then lays about 3,000 eggs in early spring, which dine on blood from her engorged body. Then she dies.

Fireflies are actually beetles that produce light without generating heat (cold light) — consequently, they are the world's most effective light producers. Ninety percent of the energy used in our standard light bulbs is lost to heat.

The compounds luciferin (a glowing, heat-resistant molecule) and luciferase (an enzyme that triggers the light to emit) are combined in the thorax while the firefly consciously pumps oxygen via an abdominal trachea. Thus, the flashing of that tiny lantern is controlled by a kind of bellows.

From eggs to pupae to larvae, fireflies emit this bioluminescence. Their entire life cycle is 1.5-2 years but their time as the adult beetle we know lasts just two weeks. The sole purpose of that adult firefly is to breed, and it is not known if they even bother to eat at this stage.

Males advertise their health to females through the intensity of their species-specific flash patter, and if a female is suitable impressed, then she signals the male to come hither.

Scientists in Korea have improved the efficiency of LED light lenses by mimicking the skin pattern on a firefly's thorax.

A synthetic version of firefly luciferase is used in medical research to detect blood clots and to track the progression of cancer and diabetes through bioluminescent imaging (BLI).

Largely due to our use of pesticides and fertilizers on lawns and on farms, the firefly population is in decline.

The largest rodent in North America, the beaver was trapped and hunted to extinction by the late 1800s in New Hampshire. Six beaver were released in the 1920s and by 1955 the state was repopulated with these unassuming, chubby, partially blind vegetarians who change their environments to suit their needs. Beavers want big, still bodies of water to escape from predators and that water has to be deep enough not to freeze in winter. It must also be in close proximity to aspen, alder, birch and willow trees.

The ecosystem created by beavers and their dams benefits everyone as it is a critical step in preventing freshwater run-off from rushing too quickly into the sea. Beaver ponds are sponges, slowing the loss of rain and winter meltwater as a precaution against drought, and storing nutrient-rich sediments.

Beaver ecosystems are a buffet for moose and deer, and a safe haven for fish, frogs, insects of every fashion and many other animals.

To mitigate conflicts with humans, states are employing "Beaver Deceivers" that allow for a perpetual small leak in a dam that the beaver can't plug. 

The beaver lodge is an "edible home" for the long, cold winter, housing two parents and as many as eight kits of various ages, along with a few frogs and insects or even muskrats that "crash" for the winter.

By the way, beavers mate for life, which is about 15 years.

Deer live on the edges: between forests and fields, fields and water, and now, forests and suburbs. The edge of a habitat means more plant diversity, hence more to eat. They also live on the edge of day and night (crepuscular) as their vision works best at dawn and dusk. The placement of their eyes allows vision in a 270-degree arc (ours is 180 degrees). Like cats and dogs, deer have more rods than cones in their eyes and a membrane that reflects light to their light receptors twice, improving their ability to see in the dark. The "deer in headlights" phenomenon occurs when excessive light temporarily shuts down the visual cortex in the deer's brain — it's not a function of fear at all. The deer's sight is more limited during the day, but remains amazingly adept at sensing motion. Studies indicate that a deer can see in the ultraviolet range, which is invisible to humans. In order to see accurately in three dimensions, deer have to bob their heads up and down, creating multiple pictures in their minds from which to triangulate distance.

Seeing isn’t that important when you can smell a threat from up to a half mile away. A white tailed deer’s nose is 60 times more perceptive than ours and 1.3 times better than a dog’s. They can recognize specific animals and the age of the smells. Smell is also critical to mating. They have seven scent glands to communicate chemically with one another.

A whitetail's ears are auditory "scoops" that rotate independently of one another, thereby triangulating sound location. They can also detect sounds at higher frequencies.

The Rut

Since females can only get pregnant five to six times a year and within only a 24-hour period, there's no time to waste. Dwindling daylight triggers the beginning of the deer's breeding ritual. A buck's antlers begin growing between March and April, and by October the "velvet" or blood-rich skin that grew on the antlers is rubbed off on trees, revealing the solid bone. It takes about 100 days to grow a set — at times they grow an inch every two days, making it the fastest-growing tissue on earth.

By late September or early October, bucks spar with one another to test strength. Does are not receptive at this point.

Bucks will shadow does for two to four weeks, with the dominant bucks staying closest. The does are beginning to give chemical indications of interest in suitors.

By the middle of November, the does are in estrus and will sit for a male. Does can be bred more than once in that 24-hour period and can produce twins from different fathers.

By January, all the does have been bred. The bucks are exhausted from all of the fighting and romancing, and have lost as much as 20 percent of their body weight. Antlers are shed, all is forgiven, and the does and bucks generally retire to separate groups.

As the guardian of the state’s fish, wildlife and marine resources, New Hampshire Fish and Game works with the public to conserve, manage and protect natural resources and habitats and to inform and educate the public about them while providing opportunities to use and appreciate them. That’s a tall order and they’ve been delivering for a century and a half. Their 150th anniversary party runs through the year 2015 and features a number of chances to celebrate, spoiled only by a recently proposed state budget that threatens to reshape its future. Visit wildlife.state.nh.us/150 for updates and a detailed timeline. (And check out their cool line of “Since 1865” fish and game gear.)