Life on the Land
When the massive ice sheets of the Alaska Range retreated, they left behind a devastated landscape devoid of life. It took many hundreds of years for soils to build. Slowly plant life returned. Today, more than 650 species of flowering plants and many species of mosses, lichens and fungi blanket the slopes and valleys of Denali. But life is not easy. Only species adapted to long, cold winters, short growing seasons and a thin layer of unfrozen topsoil can survive.
As plants recolonized the landscape so, too, did the wildlife. Within park boundaries, researchers have recorded 39 species of mammals, 167 species of birds, 10 species of fish and one species of amphibian.
Animal life and activity in Denali is dictated by the seasons. Resident animals are well-adapted to survive a subarctic winter, a time of extreme cold, darkness and scarcity. The return of light and heat in the spring brings a flurry of activity. Hordes of mosquitoes hatch, attracting birds from around the world to feast and breed. Bears emerge from their dens. Grazers like Dall sheep and caribou find much to eat. Summertime is spent nurturing young and preparing for winter—either migration, hibernation or active winter survival. In autumn, migrating birds fill the skies and head south to areas with abundant food. Bull moose with polished antlers compete with one another for the right to mate. Wood frogs burrow deep into leaf litter where they freeze solid for the winter.