Palouse Prairie Foundation plants & animalsAnimals of the Palouse
The distinctive ecosystem called Palouse Prairie is more than just plants. Wildlife was abundant. Deer and elk fed on the Palouse Prairie plants, but bison were rare. Small mammals such as ground squirrels, gophers, and voles were common. Badgers, hawks, and owls fed on these prey species, and hummingbirds pollinated some of the more brightly-colored flowers. The Brewer's sparrow, which depends upon shrub thickets for nesting, was once abundant in the Palouse, but it has become extremely rare and now must rely on sagebrush stands outside of the region. In the spring, huge flocks of the sharp-tailed grouse gathered on dancing grounds, where male birds danced to attract females. Many other important members of the Palouse Prairie community were less obvious. A variety of insects played important roles pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds.
The environment below the surface of the soil also teemed with life. Fungi, bacteria, algae, and invertebrates recycled matter, breaking down the massive underground root systems of plants that died. The activities of these organisms affected and were affected by soil fertility and texture in complex ways. Areas with especially deep, moist soils provided habitat for giant earthworms that reached up to 3 feet in length! These worms were found nowhere else in the world. It is not known whether they still exist in the Palouse. They have not been seen in recent decades, in spite of several attempts to find them.
Plants and Animals of the Palouse
- Giant Palouse Earthworm (Driloleirus americanus)
- Rare Palouse prairie plants
- Invasive plants to watch out for
- white bryony (Bryonia alba) enshrouds hawthorns
Palouse Prairie Species taxonomy