Creature Feature: Western Banded Gecko

The Western Banded Gecko, or Coleonyx variegatus, is no stranger to beating the heat. Their nocturnal lifestyle is ideal for the sizzling desert climate. You are more likely to encounter them on a night stroll under the stars than in the mid-day sun. Though many confuse the Western Banded Gecko with young Gila monsters, they are much smaller and lack venomous characteristics.

Creature Feature: Wandering Wolverines

Is that a black bear cub? A badger? No, it’s a wolverine! Wolverines have distinct color patterns on their face, neck and chest making each individual animal unique, and are referred to as “skunk bears” by the Blackfeet Indians. Though their appearance leads most to believe them to be a relative of bears, they are the largest members of the weasel (mustelidae) family that exclusively live on land.

Creature Feature: Some Squirrels Really Can Fly

Humans weren't the only ones stocking up for a feast this month. Flying squirrels, which call a number of national parks home, have been busy with their own meals with winter coming.

Creature Feature: A Whale Of A Big Blue Leviathan

Blue whale Channel Islands National Park, California.
The blue whale is one of the earth’s loudest (its song travels thousands of miles), longest-lived (80-90 year lifespan) and largest animals known to have ever existed. Though long and slender, with a tapered body and a small dorsal fin, blue whales measure in at up to 100 feet in length. These more than 200-ton leviathans are truly creatures to be reckoned with.

Creature Feature: Gray Wolves At Voyageurs National Park

Gray wolves are fairly well-known to be loping about Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Teton, and Isle Royale national parks. But they're also roaming the forests of Voyageurs National Park.

A Halloween Creature Feature: The Burrowing Owl, Not Your Average Raptor

The classic picture of an owl is typically one associated with Halloween: large, nocturnal creatures with wide eyes and a wise mind. With Halloween here, it’s the perfect time to take a look into a lesser-known owl species that can be found in some national parks: the Burrowing Owl.

Creature Feature: Piping Plovers Face Challenges But Keep On Piping

The piping plover, Charadrius melodus, sparks recreation area closures in many parts of the national park system drawing critics and champions all across the country and causing a much larger stir than its tiny size suggests.

Creature Feature: A Fairy Of A Different Sort

Dotting the sandstone floors of the Colorado plateau are countless potholes -- shallow depressions that hold water only for short periods after rains. But during those wet periods, these potholes come to life with a variety of intriguing creatures, including fairy shrimp.

2010 in Review: Creature Features

Tarantulas, banana slugs, crocodiles, muskoxen and more. The Creature Features we posted in 2010 represent quite a menagerie. Here's a complete list with handy links.

Creature Feature: The Desert Tarantula Looks Big, Hairy, and Scary

The tarantula's fearsome appearance belies the fact that this docile, reclusive creature is nearly harmless.

Creature Feature: A Lightning Whelk Knows What to Do With a Clam

The lightning whelk, a sea snail with a lovely southpaw shell, is very proficient at finding, opening, and eating clams.

Creature Feature: The Common Raven is an Uncommonly Intelligent Bird

The common raven is one of the brainiest birds you'll encounter in the national parks, but the same keen intellect that makes this species interesting and amusing also makes it troublesome.

Creature Feature: The American Crocodile is Florida’s Comeback Kid

There are crocodiles, including some genuinely huge ones, living in South Florida. Not everyone is happy about it, but these fascinating creatures have made a dramatic comeback from near extinction.

Creature Feature: The Banana Slug is Living Proof that a Slimy Little Gastropod Mollusk Can be Loaded with Charisma

You’d think that a mucus-covered, shell-less, forest-dwelling gastropod whose diet includes animal droppings couldn’t get much love, but the lowly banana slug has acquired a huge fan following. Among other things, it is the star of a community festival, official state mollusk of California, and one of America’s most beloved sports mascots.

Creature Feature: The Hawaiian Hoary Bat (‘ōpe‘ape‘a) is Hawaii’s Only Native Terrestrial Mammal

How hoary bats ever managed to cross thousands of miles of open sea to colonize the Hawaiian Islands is a mystery we may never solve. Scientists do think we’ll figure out how to make their place in the islands secure for the foreseeable future.

Creature Feature: The Marbled Murrelet is a Flagship Species in the Old-Growth Forest Preservation Movement.

Logging in the old-growth forests of the North Pacific Coast is being blamed for the sharp decline of the marbled murrelet population. More logging restrictions are needed to save the little seabird, and that is causing quite a stir.

Creature Feature: The Prehistoric-Looking Muskox is One Ice Age Relic That's Doing Just Fine

Thanks to translocations that began 80 years ago, herds of prehistoric-looking muskoxen once again roam Alaska’s tundra. Could these shaggy Ice Age survivors be emergent stars of the watchable wildlife world?

Creature Feature: Yosemite's Great Gray Owls

Great gray owl.
Great gray owls are not only an endangered species, they're also the largest North American owl. Yosemite National Park is home to about 75% of California's population of these impressive birds, and new research suggests they're even more unique that previously believed.

Creature Feature: Invasives At Biscayne National Park Often Come By Sea

It is at the same time both one of the most striking fish you'll encounter as well as one of the most dangerous to appear in the waters of Biscayne National Park.

Creature Feature: Synchronous Fireflies Work Their Magic at Great Smoky

What some call the most beautiful mating ritual on the planet takes place at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in June when synchronous fireflies do their thing.

Creature Feature: Meet the Asian Swamp Eel, "the Animal Equivalent of the Kudzu Vine?"

The Asian swamp eel is prolific, hardy, voracious, ecologically disruptive, and on its way to becoming the scourge of the Everglades. Is it already too late to stop it?

Creature Feature: Yellowstone National Park, Home to Wolves, Grizzlies, Elk, Moose, and ... Crystal Salamanders

Yellowstone National Park is "charismatic mega-fauna" defined. Spend a handful of days in the park and you're likely to spy wolves, elk, grizzlies, black bears, moose and more. But salamanders?

Creature Feature: The Pacific Treefrog

If you've ever heard a frog doing its “ribbet” thing anywhere along the Pacific Coast, it's probably been a Pacific Treefrog. And if you’ve ever seen one of these little critters up close, you know why many consider it one of the most fascinating of all the amphibians.

Creature Feature: Texas Banded Gecko

Big Bend National Park is remote and dry – not exactly a place that most people think of right away when they plan a vacation. But the desert is full of interesting things, some of them so small that they might escape notice. Take, for example, the ghostly Texas banded gecko.

Creature Feature: The American Marten

The American Marten is a rare North Woods animal that you'll probably never see, save for paw prints in the snow. This brown, bushy-tailed little critter, which looks something like a cross between a mink and a house-cat, was prized for its luxurious fur and darn near trapped to extinction in the United States during the 19th century. Today, despite habitat losses and related problems, the American Marten still inhabits much of its historical range.

Creature Feature: The Red-Throated Loon

Red-throated Loon, copyright Ashok Khosla.
The red-throated loon is the smallest, most widely distributed, and most distinctive of the world’s five loon species. Annually migrating from summer nesting sites in the Arctic reaches of North America and Eurasia to wintering grounds in the Lower 48, Mexico, Europe, and Asia, this bird can really move.

Creature Feature: the Many-Colored Fruit Dove

A tiny clutch of islands in the South Pacific harbors not only the National Park of American Samoa, one of the National Park System’s oft-overlooked delights, but also some of the last vestiges of the many-Colored Fruit Dove, a colorful bird that long has captivated those lucky enough to spy it.

Creature Feature: Hellbenders

Despite their curious name, “hellbenders” are not demons of the night but rather amphibious environmental monitors of Southeastern creeks and streams. Known to some old-timers as “walking catfish,” these super-sized salamanders gained the “hellbender” moniker for their freakish size and dark, moody color.