15 Animals That Live in the Taiga

These animals are tenacious enough to call the boreal forest home

Gray wolf standing on rock in the snow

John Conrad / 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 fascinating animals whose tenacity reflects their ancestors' adaptations to this beautifully harsh habitat.

Here are 15 impressive creatures that call the taiga home.

of 15


Brown bear walking along the shore of a lake

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.

of 15


American beaver half-submerged in water chewing on stick

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. They'll 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 live for only 10 or 20 years, some of their dams can last for centuries, spanning dozens or possibly even hundreds of generations of beavers.

of 15

Boreal Chorus Frogs

A boreal chorus frog sits on top of snow and ice

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 as adults. They spend winter hibernating, but they emerge early in spring, often when snow and ice are still on the ground. The boreal chorus frog's breeding call is a trilling "reeeek," like the sound of fingers running along the teeth of a comb.

of 15


Four caribou bulls foraging in an autumnal lakeside meadow

Johnny Johnson / Getty Images

Known as caribou in North America and reindeer in Europe, these bulky ungulates are icons of the icy north. They're 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 one of 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.

of 15


Close-up of crossbill perched on a branch against blurred background

Lex Aalders / EyeEm / 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 five 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.

of 15

Gray Wolves

gray wolf walking through a forest clearing at sunset

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 intelligent and resourceful, often adapting 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 be skilled fishermen. 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.

of 15

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 due to 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 three pounds, 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.

of 15


Canada lynx sitting between pines, peering over a snowy hill

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.

of 15


American marten climbing down a tree in the snow

mlorenzphotography / Getty Images

The American marten 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.

Other mustelids that thrive in the taiga include American and European minks, fishers, 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.

of 15


moose standing among vegetation in a boreal forest

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 the foliage of broad-leaf 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.

of 15


Many mosquitos flying over grassy field

Kwangmoozaa / Getty Images

The taiga may not have 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 birds and other native animals.

of 15


two ravens perched in a tree overlooking a river

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 diets have helped them become one of the few bird species to inhabit the biome year-round.

These smart birds have a symbiotic relationship with wolves in the taiga. They call out when they find a sick or dying animal, signaling to its predatory partner. Because ravens themselves can't kill animals, they rely on wolves to do their dirty work, then they'll swoop in and feed on the leftover carrion.

of 15


Pink 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.

of 15


Siberian tiger walking through deep snow in the taiga

scigelova / Getty Images

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.

of 15


A wolverine peeks around vegetation in a boreal forest

AB Photography / Getty Images

One taiga-residing 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. They are mainly scavengers, but they also hunt live prey, including deer and other animals much larger than they are.

Wolverines 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.

How Do Animals Survive the Taiga's Harsh Conditions?

Life in the taiga is rough. Winters can last six to eight months and see temperatures as low as -65 degrees Fahrenheit. Animals must have special adaptations to deal with that kind of climate. Here are some that are common.

  • Bears are the most iconic hibernators, but squirrels and chipmunks do so in the taiga, too. To conserve energy, bears' heart rate drops from 40 to 50 beats per minute to eight to 19 during hibernation.
  • Some who don't hibernate migrate to warmer climates, such as Canada geese and caribou.
  • Birds and mammals alike develop a layer of insulating feathers or fur to survive the frigid winter temperatures.
  • Some animals change colors to blend in better with the fluctuating surroundings. The snowshoe hare is great example, displaying brown fur in the summer and white in the winter.

Protect the Taiga

Climate change is a major threat to the taiga ecosystem, and all the creatures that call it home. Learn more about what you can do to help solve the climate crisis.

View Article Sources
  1. "Boreal Chorus Frog - Frogwatch". Frogwatch.

  2. "Woodland Caribou - Nature Canada". Nature Canada.

  3. "Boreal Caribou – CPAWS NWT". Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

  4. "Migratory Boreal Birds' Distant Destinations". Boreal Songbird Initiative.

  5. "The Regional Impacts of Climate Change." IPCC Report.