Mammals are warm-blooded vertebrates that have three middle ear bones, usually have fur or body hair at some point in their life, give birth to live young, and nurture their offspring with mother's milk. There are flying mammals (bats), aquatic mammals (dolphins, whales and manatees), semi-aquatic mammals (muskrats and beavers), and land mammals. Habitats vary in a wide array from land to sea.
- Great whales are mammals and are considered to be the largest animals in the world.
- Bull elephants are the largest animals living on land.
- The bumblebee bat is the smallest mammal at less than 2 inches in size.
- Most mammals are helpless when they are babies and adult mammals protect and care for babies until they are old enough to survive on their own.
- Although some sloths may look green due to algae on their fur, there are no mammals that are naturally green.
Mammals usually fall into two categories, nocturnal and diurnal. Nocturnal animals sleep during the day and are awake and active at night, while diurnal is the opposite, active and awake during the day and sleeping at night. The majority of mammals are diurnal. Some mammals' behavior may become modified from their natural category due to circumstances such as smaller habitats with more competition and the necessity of finding food. Seeing a nocturnal animal during the daytime does not mean they are rabid.
Common mammals that might be seen in the parks and on trails are squirrels, bats, foxes, deer, opossums, raccoons, rabbits, chipmunks, bobcats, beavers, and nutria.
Black bears are frequently seen around the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail by both trail users and park rangers, and occasionally visit neighborhoods looking for food. They are very intelligent, have a natural distrust of humans and usually avoid them. Do not feed them and respect their space. Stay at least 100 yards from black bears. They are most often seen at dawn or dusk.
Common myths about black bears (referenced from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources):
Fiction: A bear standing on its hind legs is about to charge or attack.
Fact: A bear stands on its hind legs to get a better view and smell the surroundings.
Fiction: Bears are dangerous predators.
Fact: Black bears are omnivores and opportunistic feeders. Over 80% of their diet consists of vegetation, fruits and nuts, and the remaining 20% of insects and larva, carrion, fish and occasionally small mammals.
Fiction: Bears have poor eyesight.
Fact: Bears see in color and have vision similar to humans.