Large and medium-sized mammals known to occur in the central and southern Adirondacks are also believed to be common inhabitants of the Lake George watershed and include the white-tailed deer, moose, black bear, coyote, raccoon, red fox, gray fox, bobcat, fisher, river otter, mink, striped skunk, long-tailed weasel, short-tailed weasel, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, and snowshoe hare.
There are several mammals that spend a good deal of time foraging along the water’s edge. They have an integral part to play in the Lake’s food web. Some, such as deer and fox, will come to the Lake to drink, but others make the shoreline their primary home and feeding ground.
North America’s largest rodent and New York’s official state mammal, the American beaver (Castor canadensis) is found along the shores of Lake George. It has a smooth brown coat and a large black, flattened, paddle-shaped tail. With waterproof fur, webbed hind feet and the ability to hold its breath for 15 minutes, the beaver is well adapted to life in the water.
Growing up to 46” long and weighing an average of 45-60 pounds, the beaver is also known for its large chestnut-colored incisors, used to gnaw bark, twigs and fell trees. A single beaver can chew down hundreds of trees each year. Builders of dams and large stick lodges, they alter the landscape, turning a stream into a vast marshland habitat. See more information about the American beaver from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
The mink (Mustela vison) has a sleek, lustrous chocolate-brown to black coat with white spotting on the chin and throat. Weighing about four pounds, their average body length is 19 – 28 inches with a somewhat bushy seven-inch tail.
Living along riverbanks, streams, ponds, marshes and lakes, their dens are protected places where they find most of their food. Muskrats are the preferred prey, but many rabbits, mice, chipmunks, fish, snakes and frogs are eaten as well. Unlike many small mammals, mink generally are not preyed on by larger predators. They occasionally fall victim to red and gray fox, bobcat, or great horned owls.
The muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is a large vole-like rodent with dense glossy, dark brown fur and a long scaly tail. Its scaly, laterally compressed tail has a fringe of coarse hair along the underside, a feature muskrats share with no other New York State mammal.
Living along streams, lakes or marshy areas, the muskrat makes houses similar to beaver lodges, only made of cattails, grasses and plant material, rather than sticks.
Muskrats eat primarily aquatic vegetation such as cattails and pondweed, but will also eat some freshwater clams, fish and frogs.
River otters (Lontra canadensis) have a dark brown, elongated body with a large, thick tail and webbed feet. The river otter is found along rivers, ponds and lake shores where it will forage mainly for fish.
In murky water, they can find their prey by sensing vibrations with their whiskers. They will often hunt in pairs, driving a school of small fish into an inlet where they can be easily caught. They will also eat small mammals such as mice and terrestrial invertebrates.
The otter is a swift and agile swimmer, using its muscular tail to make sharp turns and steering with its neck and webbed feet. It swims rapidly like a flexible torpedo both underwater and on the surface and is noted for its playful antics and “slides” on land and in the snow.
The raccoon (Procyon lotor) has a reddish-brown to grayish-black coat, a bushy tail with four to six alternating dark rings and a dark mask on its face, giving it the “bandit” look. Weighing up to 30 pounds and growing two to three feet in length, raccoon are most active at night. They are omnivorous and will eat fruits, plants, small mammals, crickets and bird eggs.
These opportunistic foragers will also find a feast in the compost or garbage can! Raccoon will also forage along the water’s edge for other favorites: crayfish, mussels, frogs, worms, small turtles and fish. Not only are they good swimmers, they actually love spending time in the water. You can often find their foot prints along the shoreline, in muddy or sandy areas. If you find a pile of empty mussel shells, chances are you are looking at last night’s dinner table.