15 Animals That Live in the Taiga

These animals are tenacious enough to call the boreal forest home.

A great gray owl looks toward the ground while flying through snow in a forest
Great gray owls are taiga residents in both North America and Eurasia.

Scott Suriano / Getty Images

The taiga, also known as the boreal forest, is the largest land biome on Earth. It wraps around the planet at high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, stretching between tundra to the north and temperate forests to the south. It spans most of inland Canada and Alaska, large swaths of Scandinavia and Russia, and northern parts of Scotland, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Japan, and the continental United States.

This biome is not particularly famous for its biodiversity, especially compared with warmer, wetter regions at lower latitudes. Yet while it may not rival the ecological bounty of a tropical rainforest, the taiga still teems with many fascinating animals, whose tenacity reflects their ancestors' adaptations to this beautifully harsh habitat.

Here are just a few of the impressive creatures who call the taiga home.

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Bears

A brown bear walks along the shore of a lake in eastern Finland.
A brown bear walks along the shore of a lake in eastern Finland.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Boreal forests are often excellent habitats for bears. They support brown bears across both Eurasia and North America, as well as Asiatic black bears and North American black bears in their respective continents.

Bears' thick fur helps them endure frigid taiga winters, as does their habit of fattening up in fall and hibernating in the coldest months. As omnivores, their diets can vary widely by species and habitat. Bears in the taiga may eat anything from roots, nuts, and berries to rodents, salmon, and carrion.

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Beavers

An American beaver chews on a stick in water in Alaska
Beavers engineer the ecosystems around them, which can benefit other species, too.

Frank Fichtmüller / Getty Images

Boreal forests host both of Earth's remaining beaver species: the North American beaver and the Eurasian beaver. Both species eat wood and bark, and also chew down trees to build dams in waterways, creating cozy shelters to help them survive the biome's brutal winters.

In addition to providing homes for their builders, beaver dams reshape the ecosystems around them, transforming streams and rivers into wetlands that benefit an array of other wildlife. Although beavers themselves only live for 10 or 20 years, some of their dams can last for centuries, spanning dozens or possibly even hundreds of generations of beavers.

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Boreal Chorus Frogs

A boreal chorus frog sits on top of snow and ice
Boreal chorus frogs are among the few amphibians to thrive in the taiga.

Roberta Murray / Uncommon Depth / Getty Images

The taiga is not an easy place for amphibians to live, thanks to its cold winters and short summers, but a few still eke out a living here. One is the boreal chorus frog, which inhabits much of central Canada, including taiga and even some tundra habitats, as well as the central U.S.

Boreal chorus frogs are tiny, measuring less than 1.5 inches (4 cm) as adults. They spend winter hibernating, but they emerge early in spring, often when snow and ice are still on the ground. Their breeding call is a trilling "reeeek," like the sound of fingers running along the teeth of a comb.

Listen to the boreal chorus frog's call on the National Park Service's sound library.

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Caribou (Reindeer)

A woodland caribou stands in a boreal forest in the snow
Woodland caribou live in every province of Canada except the Maritimes.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Public Domain

Known as caribou in North America and reindeer in Europe, these bulky ungulates are icons of the icy north. They are famous for their massive migrations through open tundra habitat, but some herds and subspecies also make their home in boreal forests.

One subspecies, the boreal woodland caribou, is larger than most other caribou and among the largest animals in the taiga. Found across a vast region of Canada and Alaska, these caribou spend the majority of their lives among trees in undisturbed boreal forests and wetlands. Unlike the huge migratory herds formed by some subspecies, woodland caribou generally live in small family groups with 10 to 12 individuals.

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Crossbills

Crossbill bird perched on a pine tree with pine cones
Crossbills' distinctive beaks help them access enough seeds to survive taiga winters.

hannurama / Getty Images

The taiga in summer is bustling with birds, as more than 300 species use the biome as a breeding ground. Most only live there seasonally, though; as winter approaches, up to 5 billion birds will migrate out of the taiga toward warmer climates to the south.

Insects and many other food sources vanish in winter, but a few carnivorous or seed-eating bird species still live in the taiga year-round. The latter group includes some crossbills, for example, whose namesake beaks help them open pine cones and access other hard-to-reach seeds, providing a reliable food supply during the harsh boreal winter.

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Gray Wolves

gray wolf walking through a forest clearing at sunset in Manitoba, Canada
A gray wolf walks through a forest clearing near the shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada.

Andy Skillen Photography / Getty Images

Wolves have adapted to a variety of environments around the world, from deserts and rocky mountains to grasslands, wetlands, and taiga forests. They commonly hunt in packs, helping them take down large ungulates like deer, elk, moose, and caribou. Wolves are also intelligent and resourceful, and often adapt their diet as needed based on the season and location. They can shift from large prey to smaller animals like rabbits, rodents, and birds, for example, while some populations near rivers may learn to focus on fish. Wolves are also known to eat a variety of tree fruit, berries, and other vegetarian fare; they will capitalize on carrion if conditions call for it.

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Great Gray Owls

great gray owl perched on tree branch in snow

DGwildlife / Getty Images

Boreal forests are the primary home of great gray owls, ethereal raptors who glide silently among trees as they search for prey. They're native to North America, Scandinavia, Russia, and Mongolia.

They look big, and they are one of the tallest owl species, although that bulk is largely feathers. Both the great horned owl and snowy owl weigh more than a great gray owl, and both have larger feet and talons. Great gray owls weigh less than 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms), but in winter they may still eat up to seven vole-sized animals per day. Thanks to their excellent hearing, they're able to pinpoint their prey before striking, even through snow.

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Lynx

Canada lynx peering over a snowy hill
The Canada lynx is one of two lynx species that thrives in boreal forests.

Kathleen Reeder Wildlife Photography / Getty Images

There are four species of lynx on Earth, two of which typically live in the taiga. Canada lynx occupy a huge area of boreal forests across Canada, Alaska, and the northern contiguous U.S., while Eurasian lynx range across much of northern Europe and Asia. Canada lynx mainly hunt snowshoe hares, while the larger Eurasian lynx is also known to take on prey as big as deer.

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Martens

American marten climbing down a tree in the taiga
The American marten is one of several mustelid species found in the taiga.

mlorenzphotography / Getty Images

A variety of mustelids thrive in the taiga, including American and European minks, fishers, and several species of martens, otters, stoats, and weasels. These animals vary widely in their diets and behavior, living anywhere from trees to rivers, but each is well-adapted in its own way to life in the taiga. The American marten, for one, is an opportunistic predator whose diet may shift with the seasons, allowing it to capitalize on a rotating roster of food sources, from small rodents and fish to fruit, foliage, and insects.

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Moose

moose standing among vegetation in a boreal forest
Moose are some of the largest herbivores found in boreal forests.

Patrick J. Endres / Getty Images 

Moose are the largest members of the deer family, and some of the largest herbivores found anywhere in the taiga. They are not grazers but browsers, focusing on higher-growing, woodier plants like shrubs and trees more than grasses. They eat foliage of broad-leaves trees and aquatic plants in summer, then feed on an array of woody twigs and buds in winter. Moose are also a valuable food source for gray wolves.

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Mosquitoes

Culiseta alaskaensis mosquito in Alaska
Mosquitoes abound in the taiga; more than 30 species live in Alaska alone.

D. Sikes / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The taiga may not boast the insect diversity of some other, more southerly biomes, but the insects that do live there often explode into huge populations during summer. Perhaps the most notorious examples are mosquitoes, whose swarms sometimes grow into blood-sucking clouds in the taiga, especially in wetland areas. These mosquitoes may be a nuisance, but they're also a valuable food source for many birds and other native animals.

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Ravens

two ravens perched in a tree overlooking a river
Intelligence and adaptability help ravens survive in the taiga year-round.

Owl Mountain / Getty Images

The common raven is an intelligent and adaptable corvid, having figured out ways to survive in habitats all over the Northern Hemisphere. That includes the taiga, where their resourcefulness and flexible diet have helped them become one of the few bird species to inhabit the biome year-round.

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Salmon

pink (or humpback) salmon swim through a stream in Khabarovsk Krai, Russia.
Pink (or humpback) salmon swim through a stream in Khabarovsk Krai, Russia.

Mike Korostelev / Getty Images

Boreal forests often feature lots of streams and rivers, where fish can play important roles not just in the water itself, but also in their broader taiga ecosystem. Several species of salmon can be found in boreal forests, including chinook, chum, and pink salmon. After hatching in the taiga's rivers, salmon head out to sea to mature, then return to reproduce in the same rivers where they were born. This yearly influx of salmon into the taiga provides a key food source for bears and other animals.

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Tigers

Siberian tiger walking through deep snow in the taiga or boreal forest
Tigers still roam the taiga in some parts of Siberia.

scigelova / Getty Images

Yes, the taiga has tigers. While Earth's largest cats are more commonly associated with warmer forests in Southeast Asia, they also inhabit the boreal forests of Siberia, where they serve as an important keystone species for their ecosystem. Tigers of the taiga typically hunt ungulates like musk deer, sika deer, wild boar, wapiti (elk), and moose, along with smaller prey like rabbits, hares, and fish.

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Wolverines

A wolverine peeks around vegetation in a boreal forest

AB Photography / Getty Images

Many mustelids live in the taiga, such as the aforementioned minks, martens, otters, stoats, and weasels, but one mustelid stands apart from the rest, due to both its size and tenacity. The wolverine is the largest mustelid on land (only sea otters grow larger and heavier), and is renowned for its outsized strength and ferocity. Wolverines are mainly scavengers, but they also hunt live prey — including some animals much larger than they are, such as deer. They inhabit taiga in both North America and Eurasia, although their numbers and range have dwindled in some places due to hunting and habitat degradation by humans.