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We’ve talked about the legends of the human-kind which shaped our mountains’ story, but now it’s time to delve into the wildlife that only call this place home. Just like the hardy individuals that settled here, this list of the California mountain region animals, flora, fauna, and fish will astound you.

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

California mountain region animals Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Image appears courtesy: Visit Mammoth

If there’s an animal that represents the toughness and wildness of the California mountain region, it’s these sheep. These natural mountain climbers made a recovery from only 100 back in 2000 to now over 600 in population. The main difference between their Rocky Mountain cousins is their horns. They’re much less curved and broader. If you want to spot the elusive Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, their range is from north of Yosemite to Mount Whitney near Lone Pine.

Tahoe Yellow Cress

Photo by: Steve Matson – Image from: US Forest Service

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a unique climate like Lake Tahoe has a plant that ONLY exists on the shores of this jewel of the Sierra and nowhere else. It’s the Tahoe Yellow Cress or as scientists like to call it “Rorippa subumbellata.” A low-growing herbaceous perennial plant, it’s in the mustard family. With hard-work and dedication, this plant that almost went extinct in 1996 has rebounded. So much so that in 2014, biologists found the species thriving at 36 of the 49 habitat sites they’ve studied.

Mono Lake Brine Shrimp

Image from: Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Flickr user sig11

Sea monkeys are real! Every summer, millions and millions of birds make their annual migration north with a pit stop at Mono Lake. It’s so salty, not a single fish can exist there. So, what do these birds eat? Mono Lake is filled with TRILLIONS of brine shrimp, known as Artemia Monica, a species that lives nowhere else in the world. Despite only being the length of your thumbnail, they are so prevalent in the lake during summer that thick brown ribbons and underwater plumes are visible from the sky.

Yosemite Toad

Image from: Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Maeirpa

The Sierra Nevada are known for their feast or famine cycles of precipitation. This means if you’re an amphibian, you better have a long life to survive the drought years. And that’s exactly what the Yosemite Toad does. Females have been found living as long as fifteen years and males up to twelve. Another interesting fact is these toads can be found in lakes and streams at elevations from 4,800 feet to 12,000 feet. This isn’t the only amphibian that only lives in the Sierra either. For a full list of other natives, check out the Visit Yosemite | Madera County article: Hop To It But Don’t Kiss Them. Frogs & Amphibians Of Yosemite.

Owens Pupfish

Image from: Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife

As anyone that’s visited the Eastern Sierra knows, temperatures can fluctuate drastically throughout the year. For fauna and flora to live here, they must be survivors and flexible with mother nature, including the Owens Pupfish. They can tolerate water temperatures up to 91 degrees in the summer and survive under layers of ice in winter. Even pools and ponds with salinity that’s four times greater than the ocean is tolerable by them. The reason they’re called “Pupfish” is because of the highly distinctive behavior of ‘tail wagging’ during courtship and contest which resembles the action of a playful puppy.

Giant Sequoia

Giant Sequoia during winter
Image appears courtesy: Visit Visalia

How could we list all these “native” residents without mentioning the biggest, baddest, and coolest. Or, at least we think so… The Giant Sequoia. They might not be the tallest, but they’re definitely the biggest by volume. Found only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, these trees are the elder statesmen of the Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. We’re talking ancient. For example, some of them in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite are up to 3,000 years old.

It’s hard to ignore that the High Sierra is a unique ecosystem. It features massive swings in temperature and precipitation. Howling winds. And yet plenty of sunshine. These California Mountain region animals, plants, fish, and vegetation are truly hardy folk. If you’re looking for more unusual attractions that are off the beaten path, be sure to read our article: Obscure & Weird Things To See In California’s High Sierra.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at

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