These stereotypical “pests” are so much more than that! Although our work at NRF focuses on protecting Wisconsin’s threatened and endangered species, we have a soft spot in our hearts for all Wisconsin wildlife.

We’re highlighting some of the most well-known “unlovable” creatures in our state in honor of Valentine’s Day. With any luck, you’ll start seeing them as a bit more lovable — and maybe even make one your Valentine!

Raccoon family in a tree by Joseph Riederer

A raccoon family peeking out of a tree. Photo by Joseph Riederer

1) The Raccoon

The name “raccoon” comes from the Algonquian word meaning, “he scratches with his hands.” Known for their masked eyes and love of garbage, raccoons are highly adaptable mammals! Other fun facts: raccoon cubs are born blind and adults can lose up to 50% of their body fat during winter.

An Opossum in the grass

Opossums do not dig up yards but will eat from a garden, compost or garbage and may raid a chicken coop if given the opportunity. Photo by Peter Granka via Flickr

2) The Opossum

Did you know that the opossum is Wisconsin’s (and the United States’) only marsupial mammal? Aside from the ability to “play possum” — feigning death by rolling onto its side with eyes open and mouth drooling — the opossum also has an opposable “toe” much like the human thumb called a hallux. And according to the WIDNR, they’re nature’s garbage disposal, eating fallen fruit before it rots. 

Banded Argiope Spider By William Petersen

A banded argiope spider in a web. Photo by William Peterson

3) The Spider

Eek! Are you scared? Spiders may not be the most popular, but they’re important to our ecosystems. Without them, the world would become overrun with the insects they eat!

Contrary to popular belief, spiders are not insects. Rather, they belong to a large group of animals called arthropods. Some of the differences between insects and spiders are easy to spot, others are more difficult. Insects have three body parts — the head, thorax, and abdomen, whereas spiders have two parts — a combined head and thorax (the cephalothorax), and the abdomen.

Two mudpuppies in the sand

Two mudpuppies in the sand. Photo by John Kubisiak, WDNR

4) The Mudpuppy

Ever caught one of these accidentally while fishing? While they may look like slimy fish, mudpuppies are actually amphibians with both lungs and gills. Mudpuppies can live for more than 20 years and are sometimes called waterdogs because of the barking sound they make.

If you do catch one while fishing, please report it to the WIDNR so they can learn more about our state’s mudpuppy population. New funding from the NRF’s Wisconsin Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Fund is supporting a state-wide effort to learn more about these slimy amphibians

So now you’re in love with the mudpuppy. That’s why we created mudpuppy valentines.

Prairie vole laying in rocks.

A prairie vole laying on rocks. Photo by Jelle Devalez via Flickr

5) The Prairie Vole

Wait, what’s this cutie doing on this list? Preyed on by most medium to large predators, prairie voles use big systems of grass tunnels to protect themselves from owls, snakes, raptors and other predators.

Prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) are designated by the WIDNR as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Loss of native prairies is causing a decline in prairie vole populations in parts of the upper Midwest, including Wisconsin. While they may only live around a year, prairie voles play a very important role in prairie ecosystems. 

Red-headed woodpecker on a tree.

Red-headed woodpecker on a tree. Photo by Ben Lam

6) The Woodpecker

We’ve all been annoyed once or twice by a woodpecker hammering away in our yard, but that’s no reason to hate! Wondering how their bills stay strong enough to constantly work? Special cells on the end of their bill are constantly replacing the lost material, keeping their bill strong and resilient and allowing it to be sharpened with every blow. While excavating a cavity, a woodpecker’s head can strike a tree’s surface at speeds up to 15 miles per hour — and do it at over 100 strokes per minute. This is equivalent to a person crashing head-first into a tree while running at top speed.

Two species of woodpecker are protected in Wisconsin: the red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus, found mostly in southeastern Wisconsin) and the black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus, found mostly in northern Wisconsin). Like the prairie vole, both of these woodpeckers are designated as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

Show the unlovables some love

Take this Valentines Day to do something to help both the “unlovable” and lovable Wisconsin wildlife. 

Volunteer with Snapshot Wisconsin

Want to enjoy wildlife and contribute to science from the comfort of your home? Volunteer with Snapshot Wisconsin by helping classify photos on Zooniverse, a crowdsourcing platform where volunteers from all over the world help to identify the animals captured on camera. You can also host a trail camera on your property.

Learn more about how snapshots from Wisconsin trail cameras are supporting research on how different species coexist by reading our guest blog by Marie Jensen, Education Coordinator with Snapshot Wisconsin.

Save Our Songbirds

Want to help Wisconsin’s birds? SOS Save Our Songbirds has three simple ways that anyone can help them: add native plants to your yard, reduce window threats, and buy bird-friendly coffee. You can also join the Great Wisconsin Birdathon when it starts in spring!

Become a member

Join NRF as a member to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of the state you love. Your membership donation ensures that NRF is able to focus on Wisconsin’s highest-priority conservation needs. Plus, members can attend NRF’s popular Field Trips across the state.

More ways to volunteer

Do you love pollinators as much as we do? Join the WDNR’s Bumble Bee Brigade. Like getting your hands dirty? Get out there at a State Natural Area or State Park. And the WI Citizen-based Monitoring Network has more ways to help.