Three physiographic areas lie within the boundaries of South Carolina, the Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and coastal plain provinces. Each has its own characteristic habitats, and each contains certain animals that are adapted to those habitats and do not occur in the other two areas.

The rich diversity of the fauna of South Carolina has been of interest to naturalists for more than three hundred years. Early accounts were published by the English naturalist James Petiver in 1705, by John Lawson in 1709, and by Mark Catesby, who produced two large illustrated volumes on the natural history of South Carolina in 1731 and 1743. Stephen Elliott, John Bachman, John E. Holbrook, Edmund Ravenel, and Lewis R. Gibbes were prominent investigators of the natural history of the state in the nineteenth century.

Three physiographic areas lie within the boundaries of South Carolina, the Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and coastal plain provinces. Each has its own characteristic habitats, and each contains certain animals that are adapted to those habitats and do not occur in the other two areas. The Blue Ridge province encompasses the mountainous area of the state in Oconee, Pickens, and Greenville Counties and is typified by steep hillsides, rocky cliff faces, and narrow ravines and valleys cut by small waterways. The Piedmont province extends from the foothills of the mountains to the fall line across the middle of the state. A region of rolling hills and elevated plateaus, it is underlain by crystalline rocks that can be seen in the beds of the Saluda and Broad Rivers near their junction on the fall line at Columbia. More than two hundred years of extensive agricultural activities have driven much of the remaining Piedmont wildlife into forested river bottoms. Largest of the three regions, the coastal plain province descends from the Sandhills along the fall line to the Atlantic seashore through a series of terraces of marine sediments laid down from Cretaceous to Pleistocene time. The narrow belt of arid sand hills along the fall line provides a unique habitat favored by certain species. Typically low and flat in its seaward half, the coastal plain is traversed by dark, slow-moving streams and broad river swamps that afford excellent habitat for many animals.

Vertebrates include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, bony fishes, and sharks and rays. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes are year-round inhabitants of the state, but some birds are permanent residents and others are seasonal migrants.

Because of the cool, moist conditions in the Blue Ridge province, more salamanders occur there than in the larger but drier Piedmont area. There are numerous types of salamanders in the region, including blackbelly, mountain dusky, seal, seepage, green, blackchin red, mud, Carolina spring, slimy, southern Appalachian, Jordan’s, and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders. Other amphibians of the mountains are the wood frog and the American toad, which also ranges southward into the northwestern Piedmont. The bog turtle, coal skink, northern water snake, northern ringneck snake, and northern copperhead are the only reptiles that do not occur south of the mountains in South Carolina.

Among the fishes occurring in the rocky streams of the mountains are the brook trout, blacknose dace, spotted sucker, and channel catfish. Formerly occurring throughout the state, the black bear is now restricted almost entirely to the mountains. Other mammals of this region are the smoky and pigmy shrews, Keen’s bat, swamp rabbit, woodchuck, chipmunk, deer mouse, eastern wood rat, meadow jumping mouse, and the spotted skunk, which also ranges southward to the Sandhills along the Savannah River drainage. Birds of the Blue Ridge region include the blackpoll, black-throated green, and blackburnian warblers; broad-winged hawk; ruffed grouse; common nighthawk; eastern phoebe; common raven; and rose-breasted grosbeak.

Many of the vertebrates found in the Piedmont also occur in the mountains and coastal plain, but some do not range south of the fall line. Among the reptiles the latter group includes the painted turtle, midland water snake, queen snake, and northern black racer. Piedmont amphibians include the red-spotted newt and the northern dusky, northern red, Webster’s slimy, white-spotted slimy, four- toed, and Chamberlain’s dwarf salamanders; Fowler’s toad; and the upland chorus and green frogs. Fishes confined to Piedmont streams are the bluehead chub and the sandbar, yellowfin, and whitefin shiners. Birds that seem to prefer Piedmont habitats include the killdeer, whippoorwill, horned lark, cliff swallow, and Cape May warbler. The white-footed mouse is a Piedmont mammal, and the muskrat occurs there primarily but has been recorded from the eastern counties on the coastal plain.

The coastal plain, with its many streams and heavily wooded swamplands, is home to many more species of vertebrates than the Piedmont. Fishes of this region include the sailfin, ironcolor, and taillight shiners; banded pigmy, banded, mud, and spotted sunfish; flier; longnose gar; bowfin; eastern mudminnow; chain pickerel; pirate perch; tadpole madtom; swampfish; black-spotted topminnow; swamp darter; and striped bass, a marine fish that ascends the larger rivers to spawn and has been introduced into some of the larger lakes of the state.

Seven kinds of aquatic salamanders occur in the coastal plain: the greater, lesser, and dwarf sirens; two-toed amphiuma; dwarf waterdog; and the central and broken-striped newts. Terrestrial forms include the mole, Mabee’s, southern dusky, southern red, rusty mud, many-lined, South Carolina slimy, Atlantic Coast slimy, and flatwoods salamanders. Other amphibian inhabitants of the region are the southern and oak toads; green, pine woods, barking, squirrel, and pine barrens tree frogs; upland, Brimley’s, southern, and ornate chorus frogs; and the little grass, southern cricket, pig, river, carpenter, bronze, and Carolina gopher frogs.

Reptiles of the coastal plain include the American alligator; the diamondback terrapin of the coastal salt marshes; the chicken and spotted turtles; Florida cooter; southern fence lizard; eastern, island, and mimic glass lizards; banded, redbelly, and brown water snakes; glossy crayfish, black swamp, pine woods, southern hognose, rainbow, and eastern mud snakes; southern black racer; northern and Florida pine snakes; black and yellow rat snakes; eastern coral snake; eastern cottonmouth; copperhead; and the diamondback rattlesnake. Waterfowl abound in the waterways and marshes of the coastal plain, among them the pied-billed grebe; common loon; double-crested cormorant; anhinga; American and least bitterns; great and snowy egrets; little blue and tricolor herons; black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons; white ibis; glossy ibis; wood stork; green-winged teal; black duck; northern pintail; northern shoveler; gadwall; canvasback; black scoter; and hooded merganser. Other avian species include the black vulture; swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites; bald eagle; black rail; clapper rail; purple gallinule; semipalmated plover; American avocet; willet; marbled godwit; semipalmated and least sandpipers; laughing gull; Caspian, royal, sandwich, and least terns; black skimmer; ground dove; yellow-bellied sapsucker; red-cockaded and pileated woodpeckers; marsh wren; blue-gray gnatcatcher; black-throated green warbler; prothonotary warbler; painted bunting; Bachman’s, seaside, and song sparrows; bobolink; and the boat-tailed grackle. Along the coast, the brown pelican is a familiar sight.
The mammals occurring only on the coastal plain are the yellow and free-tailed bats; marsh rabbit; cotton mouse; and the eastern wood rat. Although most numerous in the mountains, the black bear is still present in small numbers in the large coastal plain river swamps.

Most of the mammals of South Carolina are found throughout the state. These are the opossum; southeastern, short-tailed, and least shrews; eastern and star-nosed moles; eastern pipistrelle; big brown, silver-haired, red, Seminole, hoary, evening, and big-eared bats; eastern cottontail; gray, flying, and fox squirrels; rice rat; eastern harvest mouse; golden mouse; cotton rat; pine vole; gray fox; raccoon; long-tailed weasel; mink; striped skunk; river otter; bobcat; and white-tailed deer. Formerly extirpated by trappers, the beaver has reestablished itself throughout much of the state. Originally occurring only in the mountains, the red fox was introduced into the rest of the state by hunters. The cougar once occurred through- out South Carolina, but its modern-day presence is questionable, and the few that possibly remain are restricted primarily to the river swamps and bottomlands.

Reptiles that occur throughout all or most of the state include the snapping, musk, eastern box, and mud turtles; eastern river cooter; yellowbelly slider; spiny softshell; green anole; northern fence lizard; ground, five-lined, southeastern five-lived, and broad- head skinks; six-lined racerunner; slender glass lizard; eastern garter, eastern ribbon, brown, redbelly, rough earth, smooth earth, southern ringneck, eastern hognose, worm, scarlet, rough green, northern pine, black rat, and southeastern crowned snakes; eastern coachwhip; eastern, mole, and scarlet kingsnakes; copperhead; and Carolina pigmy and timber rattlesnakes. Several amphibians also are found throughout all or most of the state: the eastern tiger, spotted, marbled, southern two-lined, and southern three-lined salamanders; eastern spadefoot and eastern narrowmouth toads; gray tree frog; spring peeper; bullfrog, and southern leopard frog.

Fishes occurring in all or most of the drainages of the state include the American eel, American shad, gizzard shad, redfin pickerel, golden shiner, eastern silvery minnow, spottail shiner, silver redhorse, white catfish, yellow bullhead, brown bullhead, mosquito fish, black crappie, largemouth bass, warmouth, bluegill, and the yellow perch.

More than one hundred species of birds are found throughout the state either as permanent residents or seasonal migrants. Among them are the great blue heron; wood duck; blue-winged teal; ring-necked duck; bufflehead; turkey vulture; osprey; red-shouldered hawk; American kestrel; peregrine falcon; northern bobwhite; American coot; Wilson’s plover; upland sandpiper; Hudsonian god- wit; common snipe; American woodcock; herring gull; mourning dove; yellow-billed cuckoo; barn, screech, great horned, and barred owls; chuck-will’s-widow; ruby-throated hummingbird; red-headed woodpecker; downy woodpecker; northern flicker; great crested and scissor-tailed flycatchers; purple martin; bank and barn swallows; blue jay; American crow; Carolina chickadee; white-breasted nuthatch; Carolina wren; golden-crowned kinglet; eastern bluebird; wood thrush; American robin; gray catbird; northern mockingbird; brown thrasher; loggerhead shrike; white-eyed vireo; magnolia, hooded, and yellow-throated warblers; common yellowthroat; yellow-breasted chat; northern cardinal; blue grosbeak; indigo bunting; rufous-sided towhee; field, savannah, and house sparrows; red-winged blackbird; eastern meadowlark; brown-headed cowbird; orchard oriole; and American goldfinch.

Several hundred species of marine fishes occur in the coastal waters of South Carolina. Although vertebrates are more noticeable because of their relatively larger size, they are vastly outnumbered by the thousands of species of invertebrate animals that inhabit South Carolina and its seacoast environments. Comprising about ninety- five percent of all living species of animals, invertebrates include insects, spiders, mollusks, worms, sponges, bryozoans, cnidarians, and echinoderms.

“An Account of Animals and Shells Sent from Carolina to Mr. James Petiver, F.R.S.” Philosophical Transactions [of the Royal Society of London] 24 (1704–1705): 1952–60.

Barnes, Robert D. Invertebrate Zoology. 3d. ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1974. Catesby, Mark. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahamas. 2 vols. London, 1731–1743.

Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. 3d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Golley, Frank B. South Carolina Mammals. Charleston, S.C.: Charleston Museum, 1966.

Harrison, Julian R., III, and Sheldon I. Guttman. “A New Species of Eurycea (Caudata: Plethodontidae) from North and South Carolina.” Southeastern Naturalist 2, no. 2 (2003): 159–78.

Lawson, John. A New Voyage to Carolina. 1709. Reprint, Chapel Hill:

University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
Page, Lawrence M., and Brooks M. Burr. Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes: North America North of Mexico. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Post, William, and Sidney A. Gauthreaux. Status and Distribution of South Carolina Birds. Charleston, S.C.: Charleston Museum, 1989.

Sanders, Albert E., and William D. Anderson, Jr. Natural History Investigations in South Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

Zingmark, Richard G, ed. An Annotated Checklist of the Biota of the Coastal Zone of South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Animals
  • Author Albert E. Sanders
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/animals/
  • Access Date July 20, 2019
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date April 15, 2016
  • Date of Last Update June 30, 2016