Animals of the Temperate Rainforest

by Ethan Shaw
Animals of the temperate rainforest adapt to a cool, dark, dripping environment.

Animals of the temperate rainforest adapt to a cool, dark, dripping environment.

True temperate rainforests are some of the rarest ecosystems in the world today, found in only a few locations, most commonly along coasts where moist marine air supports luxuriant growth. The most extensive anywhere are in the Pacific belt of North America, but smaller tracts persist in countries like Chile, Australia and New Zealand. In these cool, misty forests of towering trees, animals are often elusive.


Pumas are top predators in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.

Pumas, called by a wide variety of other names including mountain lion and cougar, are widely distributed in the Pacific Northwest temperate rainforests of North America and also range into those of Chile. But they are certainly not rainforest specialists: The most widely distributed large carnivore in the Western Hemisphere, pumas can be found in the Dakota badlands, the high Rockies and Cascades, South American savannas, Florida swamps and elsewhere. In the Pacific Northwest rainforest, these large, solitary cats, which can weigh over 200 pounds, hunt Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer, in addition to smaller mammals.


Both brown and black bears inhabit North America's Pacific temperate rainforests.

The mountainous Pacific Northwest temperate rainforests are redoubts of bears. Huge brown bears roam here from southeastern Alaska into British Columbia, feasting on salmon, berries and other rich pickings. Black bears inhabit a greater range of rainforest, from Alaska to northern California. The famous “spirit bear”—a white color phase of the black bear—inhabits a few rainforest islands off the coast of British Columbia.

Spotted-Tail Quoll

In Tasmania’s temperate rainforest, the spotted-tail quoll functions as top carnivore alongside the well-known Tasmanian devil. These marsupial carnivores have thick-set jaws and sharp teeth, which they employ when hunting birds, possums, wallabies and other prey. White spots decorate their rust-colored coats, including along the long, heavy tail. They typically forage under cover of darkness, roaming on the ground and in the trees.

Roosevelt Elk

In much of their range, Roosevelt elk are the largest mammals of the Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest. Indeed, it can be surprising to imagine such a big creature negotiating the massive deadfalls, alder and devil’s-club thickets and sword-fern beds of these cold jungles—and yet the forests are laced with elk pathways. Named for Theodore Roosevelt, who as president established Mount Olympus National Monument in western Washington (now Olympic National Park) to protect them, this elk subspecies is larger than any other, with bulls sometimes exceeding 1,200 pounds. They are darker and thicker-bodied than Rocky Mountain elk, and have shorter, wider antler crowns. Wolves and pumas prey on adults, and bears may sometimes take elk calves.


Bald eagles are common in Pacific Northwest temperate rainforests.

The twitter of birdsong can enliven the deep, dark interior of temperate rainforests. In the cold jungles of the world, birdlife is varied and often relatively conspicuous compared to mammalian inhabitants, from the black currawong of Australian-Tasmanian temperate rainforests to the ubiquitous ravens of the American Northwest. Even true seabirds utilize temperate rainforests: In the coastal ranges of Washington, Oregon and California, for example, the marbeled murrelet, a small auk, forages in the Pacific but nests in old-growth conifers of the adjoining rainforest.


About the Author

Ethan Shaw is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written extensively on outdoor recreation, ecology and earth science for outlets such as Backpacker Magazine, the Bureau of Land Management and Atlas Obscura. Shaw holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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