Mammals of North America

More than 70 species of wild mammals live in Missouri: opossums; shrews and moles; bats; rabbits; woodchuck, squirrels, beaver, mice, voles, and other rodents; coyote, foxes, bear, raccoon, weasels, otter, mink, skunks, bobcat, and other carnivores; deer and elk; and more. Most of us recognize mammals easily — they have fur, are warm-blooded, nurse their young, and breathe air.

Many of mammals’ characteristics help to maintain a fairly constant body temperature. Mammals eat heavily and fatten up to survive winter’s cold. Fat and fur provide insulation, and shivering fluffs the fur, which creates air pockets between the hairs, holding heat against the body. Some mammals hibernate. Many build burrows or special nests to avoid temperature extremes.

Missouri has only one mammal in the marsupial group — the opossum. It gives birth to tiny young that seem premature compared to other mammals. Newborn opossums complete their development as they nurse inside their mother’s pouch.

All the other mammals in Missouri are classified as placentals. The mothers develop a placenta to nourish their young while pregnant.

Missouri’s mammal orders are familiar to us as general groupings. Rabbits, rodents, moles and shrews, bats, and carnivores. Carnivores include cats, dogs, weasels, badgers, bears, skunks, raccoons, and otters. Two more mammal orders in our state are ungulates (mammals with hooves). These are even-toed ungulates (such as pigs, deer, sheep, and cattle) and odd-toed ungulates (such as horses and donkeys).