Minnesota’s terrain and climate make it the perfect home for myriad animals. Minnesota’s animal kingdom is much more diverse than the moose and elk that may come to mind when you think of the state.
Read on to learn more about Minnesota animals!
Black bears are the only remaining species of bear in Minnesota. They are mostly found in the northern third of the state, where they live in forests, swamps, and other areas with dense cover. However, they do venture into clearings to feed. Some may even roam as far south as to where the forest and agricultural zones meet to nosh on corn and other tasty crops.
Black bears stand about 5 to 6 feet tall (or long when they’re walking on all fours). They have stout legs, a very short tail, erect ears, and large heads. Although their eyesight and hearing are okay, they gave an amazing sense of smell.
If you happen to encounter one of these signature Minnesota animals in the wild, spread your arms as wide as possible (better yet, spread your coat) to make yourself look big, then make as much noise as possible (yell, bang pots and pans, blow a whistle). It’s a good idea to carry bear spray in the forests of northern Minnesota, just in case, though black bears hibernate in the winter for up to 7 months.
Bison (or buffalo) used to be a prolific species of Minnesota animal before they were nearly wiped out by hunting humans. Now, only a handful remain in the state, and all are in captivity (including in Blue Mounds State Park, Minneopa State Park, and the Minnesota Zoo).
White-tailed deer live throughout Minnesota, and folks sometimes have trouble distinguishing between them and elk. White-tailed deer can be recognized by their reddish-brown coats in late spring and summer, which turn gray in fall and winter. Their bellies are white, and they have a white throat patch. Their tails are all white when they’re up but are brown with white fringe when they’re down.
Mature bucks have antlers with one main beam with three to five tines pointing upward, whereas yearling bucks have short spikes or forked antlers.
Males are larger than females, with males weighing in around anywhere from 100-300 pounds and females mostly capping out at around 130 pounds.
Elk are considered a rare species among Minnesota animals, which is why it’s so important that hunters can tell the difference between them and deer. Like bison, elk populations in Minnesota were decimated by the early 1900s due to hunting and habitat being turned into agricultural land.
Elk are much larger than deer; a full-grown male can reach upwards of 900 pounds. They have reddish to tawny brown fur and a slightly darker mane. Male elk have large antlers, which can help hunters distinguish them from deer in the area.
Grazers who prefer open brushlands and grasslands for foraging, elk also tend towards woodlands and forested areas when they need security cover and during colder months, when grasslands are less productive.
Minnesota is one of the few states in the country to have moose, and moose are the largest of Minnesota’s animals. Moose can weigh over 1,200 pounds, and their antlers, which might stretch over 5 feet, can account for up to 40 pounds of that weight!
At shoulder height, moose are taller than most humans, measuring, on average, over 6 ½ feet tall. They have very dark brown to black hair, and males sport antlers from spring until mid-winter.
Moose prefer to live in young forests, and you can find them mostly in the northeastern and far northwestern parts of Minnesota, where they eat aspen, maple, and cherry trees. In the summer, moose like to hang out near lakes and ponds, dining on any water plants they can find. Moose can even dive to the bottom of pounds to find food.
Cats of various types are among Minnesota’s animals that amaze them. The three native cats are bobcats (the most common, though rarely seen by humans), cougars, and Canada lynx.
Bobcats, so named for their “bobbed” tails, are on the smaller side, measuring about 2- to 4 feet long. They have gray or brown fur on top, with white bellies below, and they’re often covered in black spots.
Bobcats can be found throughout Minnesota, but they are most prevalent in the north-central and northeastern parts of the state. They normally live in younger forests or near bodies of water where they can easily find prey, such as white-tailed deer and smaller game.
The Canada lynx is much more reclusive than the bobcat. You can tell when these cats are having a population boom by the obvious decline in the population of their favorite prey, snowshoe hares.
Although similar in size and color to bobcats, Canada lynx have big, wide paws that allow them to walk more easily on soft, deep snow. Their hind legs appear longer than their front legs, and they have an obvious goatee beneath their chins.
You will mostly find this cat in the far northern parts of the state.
Cougars–also referred to as mountain lions or pumas–don’t tend to stay long in Minnesota, but they have been known to traverse the state. If they stay in the state, they usually choose to settle down in heavily forested areas with lots of prey (mainly large hoofed Minnesota animals).
Cougars can range from reddish-brown to grayish-brown and have a distinctive black patch on their tails and behind their ears. Their tails are long, which helps set them apart from other Minnesota wildcats.
Alaska is the only US state where gray wolves–or timberwolves–are more prevalent than in Minnesota. However, after being removed from the endangered species list a decade ago, gray wolves were returned to the list as a species of concern in 2022. Presently, they may only be killed to protect human life.
Gray wolves, whose fur can range from white to coal black, can weigh anywhere between 40 and 175 pounds. In Minnesota, they primarily hunt hooved mammals, such as moose, elk, white-tailed deer, and bison. Accordingly, they have long legs to facilitate fast and far running and large skulls and jaws that are well-suited to catching and eating large Minnesota animals.
Wolves have an impressive sense of smell, hearing, and vision.
Resembling a small German shepherd with a bottle-shaped tail, coyotes are the most plentiful of Minnesota’s animals. Their habitat spreads throughout the entire state.
Coyotes have shaggy, grayish coats that are long and coarse, with a white patch at the throat and on their bellies. Their tails and ears are long and bushy.
They mostly feed on small animals but have been known to take out livestock like sheep and small calves. Accordingly, coyotes prefer to live on farmland and in forests. They are becoming increasingly abundant in the southern part of Minnesota.
Minnesota is a great place to be a fox! The state is home to two varieties–red and gray.
The red fox is very common throughout the state, even in bigger cities. These dog-like animals live in ground dens or brush piles and are particularly active at night, so it’s not uncommon to spot one dashing through a Twin Cities neighborhood if you’re out late at night.
Red foxes are about 3 feet long and can weigh up to 15 pounds. Their size, combined with their rusty-red, shaggy coat; bushy, white-tipped tail; black legs and nose; and adorable erect, fluffy black ears, make them easily mistaken for small dogs. In Minnesota, in addition to rust red, red foxes may also be nearly solid black or a silvery black and red that’s bisected with dark bands across the animal’s back and shoulders (this is called a “cross fox”).
Red foxes can run 30 mph and can jump 15 feet in a single bound (which is farther than a kangaroo!).
Gray foxes are similar to their red cousins in body size and features but with grayish fur and a prominent black stripe on the top of their backs and tails.
Gray foxes, unlike their red cousins, can climb trees and like to live in hardwood forests for that reason, inhabiting woodlands in southeastern and northwestern Minnesota, but are uncommon in the farmlands in the southwest and in the northeastern forests. Gray foxes have recently been seen more and more in north-central Minnesota, likely because of climate change and an increasing number of cottontail rabbits.
Rodents and Other Small Furries
Minnesota is home to myriad little creatures, as well, which makes sense, right? The big carnivores need to live close to their next meal!
Badgers spend most of their time underground, digging for food and hiding from their enemies. These flat, furry Minnesota animals weigh between 15 pounds (females) and 24 pounds (males) and stretch to about 2 feet long. They have sharp teeth, thick necks, broad shoulders, and short, powerful legs with long, sharp claws. A distinctive white stripe runs down their yellowish-gray fur.
Badgers are not the violent aggressors they’re sometimes made out to be, especially when compared to other Minnesota animals. They’re merely well-equipped for self-defense. In fact, they get along well with many animals, even sharing their dens with red foxes.
If you’re squeamish about weasels, fishers are the stuff of nightmares. Fishers belong to the weasel family, but they can be as large as a red fox and even sport a bushy tail. They have dark brown or blackish fur on their rump and tail and a cream or white patch on their chest.
Fishers are one of the few Minnesota animals that can kill a porcupine. Otherwise, they eat other small animals, carrion, berries, and nuts. They live in the western part of Minnesota, in older forests.
American–or pine–martens are among the cutest of Minnesota’s animals, with golden fur, long bodies, and small, rounded ears. But don’t let that cuteness fool you–the American marten is a meat-eating predator.
You may see martens in western Minnesota near your birdfeeder, where they like to stake out their next meal.
Minnesota has all the squirrels! Most interesting, though, is the flying squirrel. In fact, Minnesota has two species of flying squirrel–the northern and the southern. The two squirrels both have soft, silky, olive-brown fur on top and white on their undersides. The northern flying squirrel is about 2 inches longer than its southern cousin, measuring 11 inches long and weighing in at 2-3 ounces.
Despite their description, flying squirrels don’t actually fly. Instead, a flap of skin between their front and hind feet allows them to glide–up to 150 feet!–from tree branch to tree branch. They can be found in the central and northwestern parts of the state.
Minnesota Gopher (Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel)
The thirteen-lined ground squirrel is another Minnesota animal that’s worth noting. These squirrels look like little gophers with thirteen stripes, alternating between light and dark, running down their backs, and they can be seen throughout the state (except the northeastern corner).
The Minnesota gopher is about 11 inches long, but 4 of those inches are just the tail!
Minnesota is full of other small mammals. You can find different types of the following all over the state:
- River otters
Minnesota is home to myriad species of birds, including 33 that are considered rare or endangered.
Minnesota’s marshes are great places for bird-watching. Among the other marsh birds, you’ll spy on the American coot.
American coots look a lot like dark-colored ducks with white, chicken-like beaks. They spend most of their time swimming with their flock–which can number up to 50,000 birds!
Other marsh birds that are prevalent in Minnesota are the American bittern, least bittern, pied-billed grebe, sora, Virginia rail, and yellow rail.
Among Minnesota’s animals are several large birds of prey. In addition to falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, kites, and vultures, you might spy a rare bald eagle. Raptors all have hooked beaks, eight sharp talons, and amazing eyesight.
From the wetlands to the upper prairie land, Minnesota provides habitat for dozens of types of songbirds. Robins, orioles, wrens, warblers, and sparrows are some of the more common varieties.
Minnesota also provides a good home for four types of swan, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and others.
You may not think of fish when you think of Minnesota animals, but these water-dwellers make up a large part of the state’s animal population! Bass, dogfish, catfish, drum, gars, salmon, trout, sturgeon, and pike are some of the common fish you’ll find in Minnesota’s waters. Read more about all of Minnesota’s freshwater fish here!
Minnesota’s Countless Wildlife Wonders!
With its varied habitats and wide-open spaces, it’s no wonder so many members of the animal kingdom call Minnesota home. Learn more about life in Minnesota for all creatures, great and small, on our Minnesota Outdoors page!