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Arkansas Critters (JHARVNC)

TopicWildlife - Mammals
Participants learn about Arkansas mammals with the aid of interesting facts and touchable furs.
Recommended SettingClassroom, seated on the floor
LocationJanet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith
ContactEducation Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993
Duration30 - 45 minutes
Suggested Number of ParticipantsUp to 30
  • Be able to identify common mammals and their characteristics
  • Appreciate diversity of Arkansas mammals
  • Observe adaptive characteristics of mammals
Key Terms*










Mammal furs

Mammal ID cards, if playing optional game



A great variety of mammals live in Arkansas. How do we know something is a mammal? Mammals in Arkansas have hair or fur, feed their babies milk, give live birth (as opposed to laying eggs) and are warm-blooded.

Mammal Characteristics
Mammals belong to Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata. Notochord is bone or cartilage to form vertebrae. Other vertebrates are fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds.

  • Mammary glands – All mammals nourish their young from specialized milk glands (exception of monotremes)
  • Hair – At some point in their lives, all mammals possess hair.
  • Warm-blooded – They can control their own body temperature with the hair by sweating to cool, shivering to warm up.
  • Give birth to live young – viviparous - (exception of monotremes)

Mammal Species

  • Virginia Opossum
    • Only North American marsupial (pouched mammal) – presence of a marsupium or pouch in the female to raise the underdeveloped young
    • Has an opposable thumb
    • Common statewide in typically heavily timbered bottomland and damp areas versus high dry uplands
    • “Plays possum,” or when it’s surprised, it feigns death.
    • Nocturnal
    • Omnivorous – eats anything available with persimmons being a favorite fruit
    • Opossum young are born in the pouch, the size of a honeybee or a pencil eraser, and are dependent on milk to develop for about 60 days when they reach the size of a mouse. At 70 to 80 days, they are more rat-sized and can leave the pouch in stages.
  • Eastern Cottontail
    • Typically has white underbelly
    • Common statewide, typically in brushy upland thickets and woodlands or near forest edges and mostly absent in wetter environments
    • Often nocturnal
    • Herbivore – favors clovers, grasses, broad-leaved weeds but can eat twigs and roots in winter
    • Prolific breeders – They’ll have three to four litters a year on average, but records show that in Arkansas they can have five or six litters a year. The young grow, are weaned and leave the nest in just two to three weeks, but predation and hunting keep the populations in check.
  • Woodchuck
    • Also known as ground hogs or marmots
    • Primarily found in the interior highlands of Arkansas, near forest edges, open fields or along low, brushy areas
    • Often diurnal (daytime active) but can have nocturnal activity as well
    • Herbivore primarily (less than 1 percent snails or grubs) and prefers grasses, clover, legumes, succulents
    • Typically hibernate
  • Beaver
    • Has a flat, paddle-shaped tail that is scaly and hairless and webbed hind feet
    • Found statewide in aquatic environments. The beaver was exterminated in Arkansas shortly after 1900 and was reintroduced in 1926. However, it is often a nuisance today.
    • Nocturnal
    • Herbivore feeding on aquatic and terrestrial vegetation such as sedges, rushes, cattails, bark, leaves, twigs
    • Beavers, being rodents, have teeth that grow their entire life, so they must chew hard surfaces such as bark and twigs.
    • Beavers are monogamous and live in a colony with the adult male and female and young.
  • Muskrat
    • Slightly webbed back feet
    • Fur is dark brown above with lighter sides and nearly buff below
    • Found statewide in slow-moving streams, ditches, ponds, swamps
    • Chiefly nocturnal
    • Mostly an herbivore and likes to eat bulbs, roots, rice sedges and stems of aquatic plants but can include a small amount of animal food such as crayfish or frogs
    • Can stay under water as long as 15 minutes
  • Coyote
    • Size of a small German shepherd dog with a bushy tail barely tipped with black
    • Found statewide, more commonly in western Arkansas, and typically inhabits open fields, brushland or second-growth forests
    • Mainly nocturnal
    • Omnivore – chiefly considered carnivorous on the rodent species, but it eats a lot of plants in summer and fall such as persimmons and muscadines. Very opportunistic
  • Red Fox
    • Smaller than the coyote with a red bushy tail, the end being black with a white tip
    • Found statewide but rare in the southwest and prefers upland forests or farmlands with meadows or pastures
    • Mostly nocturnal but has been known to hunt during the day
    • Omnivore – though typically considered a carnivore, eating small birds and insects, a large portion of its diet is plants. Feed on carrion but rarely kills on its own
    • Activity is centered around a pup-rearing den, and red foxes are monogamous
  • Gray Fox
    • Slightly smaller and shorter legged than the red fox with a long, bushy tail that has a black stripe on the upper side and a black tip
    • Found statewide mostly in hardwood forests, wooded bottomlands or fields with brushy areas, but less common in the Delta
    • Nocturnal and makes a den in the day in a hollow tree or log because it likes to climb compared to the red fox
    • Omnivore – eats more plants than coyotes or red foxes
  • Black Bear
    • Black bear is the only bear species in Arkansas and is typically black but can be cinnamon brown
    • Once found statewide but was reduced to less than 25 black bears in the state by the ‘40s and ‘50s. AGFC began the most successful large mammal re-introduction plan in 1959, and today the population is very stable with estimates of more than 2,000.
    • Now found statewide but mostly in the Ozarks and Ouachita Mountains and along the White River (due to habitat). Lives in remote, heavily forested areas and impenetrable thickets along rivers or bottomlands
    • Nocturnal usually, forages near dusk
    • Herbivore, feeding on a wide variety of food including nuts, fruits, mice, insects, fish, grass roots
  • Raccoon
    • Known for the conspicuous black mask across the eyes and the five to seven rings on the tail
    • Found statewide and prefers bottomland hardwood stands or wooded uplands but can be found in most any environment as long as it’s close to water
    • Nocturnal and spends most of the day sleeping in its den (typically hollowed trees or logs, crevices in rock outcroppings, cavities beneath tree roots)
    • Omnivorous and opportunistic – feeds on anything available, including human garbage
    • Most important fur bearer in Arkansas
  • Mink
    • Slender, medium- to small-sized member of the weasel family
    • Found statewide but is semi-aquatic, so it’s found near permanent bodies of water
    • Chiefly nocturnal
    • Carnivorous and eats frogs and especially crayfish but is also opportunistic and will eat most meat available
    • Is an accomplished swimmer but dens under the tree roots in stream banks or in hollow trees and logs and has been known to take over muskrat homes
  • Striped Skunk
    • Fur pattern can be variable and can be used to identify specific skunks
    • Found statewide in open meadows, brushlands, rocky outcroppings, forest edges, farmlands, but rock cavities and crevices are favorite den sites
    • Nocturnal
    • Omnivore – more than half of summer diet is insects with winter diet consisting of rats and mice
    • Best natural predator is the great horned owl
    • Skunks give warning signals before spraying: arching the back, stamping feet, shuffling backward
  • Bobcat
    • About twice the size of a house cat with a very short tail
    • Found statewide and prefers rocky outcroppings or canyons but has been found in heavily wooded uplands and bottomland forests
    • Nocturnal and is seldom seen due to solitary lifestyle
    • Carnivore, with the most important food being rabbits, followed by rodents
  • White-Tailed Deer
    • Found statewide, inhabiting forest edges, open woodlands, brushlands and second-growth forests as well as fairly early successional stage forests
    • Primarily diurnal, but regions of the state show different activity patterns (northwest Arkansas – midmorning, mid-afternoon and early evening; southeast Arkansas – dawn to midmorning and early afternoon)
    • Herbivore – browser feeding on leaves, twigs and shoots of young plants
    • Ruminants – has four chambers food passes through before reaching the intestines, aiding in breakdown. (Food is also regurgitated from the rumen, the first chamber, and rechewed to further enhance digestion.)
    • Antlers are deciduous, covered with velvet (skin and fine hair) during the growth stage, then shed during the breeding season or rut in November. New antlers start in April.
  1. Ask participants to sit on the floor and introduce speaker.
  2. Introduce mammals and their characteristics. (See above notes.)
  3. Present one fur at a time and have participants guess identification. With correct guess, ask for characteristics of animal and give others not mentioned.
  4. Alternate method: Blindfold participant and have him grab a fur out of a bag and identify it by feel and hints of characteristics given by speaker or other participants.
  5. Wrap up with review of general characteristics of mammals, conservation, etc.

Use mammal identification cards to play “Who Am I?”  Attach an ID card to the back of each participant, but do not disclose which animal they have.  When all participants have an animal card, allow time for them to interact to guess the name of their animal. They may only ask questions that have a “yes” or “no” answer. For example: Is my animal brown?  Does my animal have fur? Can my animal fly? Participants may guess the name of their animal when they have collected enough information. Continue until all participants have guessed correctly.

  • Discuss the carnivorous, herbivorous and omnivorous mammals that live in Arkansas. Discuss the meaning of “food chain” or “web.”  Which animals discussed during the program are near the top? Near the bottom?
  • How are mammals camouflaged? Can you tell if an animal is nocturnal or diurnal by looking at it? How?
  • How is the fur of mammals that live in water different from those living in the forest?
  • Some animals have been hunted to near extinction in Arkansas. They have been reintroduced and have flourished in recent years. Which animals have this history in our state? 
  • What role does conservation play in preserving our wildlife resources? 
  • Sealander, John A. and Gary A. Heidt. Arkansas Mammals: Their Natural History, Classification, and Distribution. University of Arkansas Press.
  • Keith Sutton, ed. Arkansas Wildlife: A History. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. University of Arkansas Press.

Carnivore – any animal that consumes other animals that are living (predation) or dead (scavenging)

Characteristic – a distinguishing feature or quality

Diurnal – active by day (as opposed to nocturnal)

Herbivore – a plant-eating animal

Mammal – any of a class of higher vertebrates, including man, that produce milk for their young, have fur or hair, are warm-blooded and, with the exception of the egg-laying monotremes, bear young alive

Marsupial – a pouched mammal that does not have a placenta connecting the embryo with its mother. The young are born undeveloped and, immediately after birth, crawl to the mother's nipples and remain attached while continuing to develop. The female's nipples are covered by a pouch, or marsupium, formed by an abdominal skin fold.

Nocturnal – active at night (opposite of diurnal)

Omnivore – an animal that eats both animal and vegetable matter