Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version

May 1998


From An Atlas of the Sand Hills. Ann S. Bleed & Charles A. Flowerday, Editors. Resource Atlas No. 5b. Third edition (expanded)–May 1998. Conservation and Survey Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Pages 193–200.


Of approximately 81 species of mammals present in Nebraska today, 55 occur in the Sand Hills, with an additional three species that are associated only with the Niobrara River. Nebraska as a whole is truly a crossroads for mammals because two-thirds of the species reach their distributional limits in the state (Jones, 1964). Most of these mammals are widespread species or are specific to the grasslands as a whole and are not affected by this sandy zone. Jones (1964) wrote that “only a few mammals are restricted to this area. Mostly it serves to filter western species moving east and, in part, eastern species moving west, although some of the latter have passed through the area along the riparian [river] community bordering the Platte River.”

On the other hand, the Sand Hills appear to be a barrier to the distribution of some mammals. The eastern woodrat is a southern species that during a warmer, wetter time moved north. Today an isolated population occurs only along the Niobrara River in central Nebraska. Another mammal, the olive-backed pocket mouse, is found north of the Niobrara River in Cherry County and in the Panhandle, but evidently it does not inhabit the Sand Hills.

The Sand Hills, with their extraordinary variety of habitats from dune top to interdunal wetland and river bank, provide habitats for many different types of mammals. The drier upland Sand Hills have an abundance of plains pocket gophers, plains pocket mice, Ord’s kangaroo rats, prairie voles, and deer mice. Wet areas are characterized by the masked shrew, jumping mouse, meadow vole, and muskrat. The open areas, such as ridge tops and blowouts, tend to be the best microhabitat for kangaroo rats, which are bipedal and fast-moving; the dense grass microhabitat is favored by voles, which are quadrapedal and slow moving. Typically, kangaroo rats are from western, drier habitats, and voles are from eastern, moister habitats. In the Sand Hills, however, these two mammals occur together because of the mosaic of sand and grass (Lemen and Freeman, 1986).

Marsupials: Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
Insectivores: Masked shrew (Sorex cinereus); Short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda); Least shrew (Cryptotis parva); Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus)
Bats: Keen's bat (Myotis keeni); Small-footed bat (Myotis leibi); Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans); Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus); Red bat (Lasiurus borealis); Hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus); *Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)
Rabbits: Desert cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni); Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus); Black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus); White-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus townsendi)
Rodents: Franklin's ground squirrel (Spermophilus franklini); Spotted ground squirrel (Spermophilus spilosoma); Thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus); Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus); Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger); Plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius); Plains pocket mouse (Perognathus flavescens); Silky pocket mouse (Perognathus flavus); Hispid pocket mouse (Perognathus hispidus); Ord's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordi); Beaver (Castor canadensis); Western harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys megalotis); Plains harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys montanus); White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus); Deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus); Northern grasshopper mouse (Onychomys leucogaster); Eastem woodrat (Neotoma floridana); Southem bog lemming (Synaptomys cooperi); Prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster); Meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus); Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus); Meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius); Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum); House mouse (Mus musculus); Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus)
Carnivores: Coyote (Canis latrans); Swift fox (Vulpes velox); Red fox (Vulpes vulpes); Gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus); Raccoon (Procyon lotor); Long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata); Least weasel (Mustela nivalis); Mink (Mustela vison); Badger (Taxidea taxus); Spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius); Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis); Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Artiodactyls: Elk (Cervus canadensis); Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus); White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus); Pronghom (Antilocapra americana); Bison (Bison bison)