Of chief importance among mammals found in South Carolina is the Virginia or white-tailed deer, which occurs in the coastal area in numbers seldom exceeded elsewhere. The black bear, once plentiful, is occasionally seen in swamplands of the Low Country. Others in the varied list range in size down to the shrew, tiniest mammal on the North American continent. This ferocious little beast, living mainly underground and seldom seen, will quickly kill a house mouse twice its size. The least shrew, found all over the State, is the smallest of the family. Bachman's shrew was originally identified in South Carolina by John Bachman, the collaborator of Audubon.
The wildcat or 'bobcat' still ranges the State from the mountains to the coast in the wooded regions. Opossums (two varieties) and raccoons (three varieties)--the 'possums' and 'coons' dear to the heart of the country Negro--are plentiful. One subspecies of raccoon, the Hilton Head, occurs nowhere in the world except on Hilton Head Island in Beaufort County. The gray fox and the rarer red fox are also found in various sections. There are three varieties of squirrels, the common gray, the flying squirrel, and the big fox squirrel, the latter with the striking black coat worn by occasional specimens. The cottontail rabbit abounds everywhere, and on the coast there is also the darker and heavier short-eared marsh rabbit.
Though the muskrat occurs north of the fall line and far up into the northeastern States, he perversely ignores the South Carolina Low Country. Here the coastal rice fields appear to have all the requirements of his ideal habitat, but something that is probably connected with the food supply has kept the muskrat away from this region. The Carolina otter is rare today, but not quite extinct. That highly important fur bearer, the beaver, was wiped out as early as 1840. Wolves were still plentiful at that time, but have disappeared completely. Vanished long before the 1840's were the puma (panther), elk, and bison, all common in the early days of the province. Still earlier inhabitants of South Carolina were camels and elephants, fossil remains of which have been uncovered by phosphate miners.
About a dozen varieties of rats and mice are found in the State, including both house and field or woods types. The common house mouse, a European immigrant, when isolated on one of the sandy barrier islands, becomes gradually paler and in time nearly matches the color of the sand. Other animals include the mole, bat, weasel, mink, and the woodchuck or 'groundhog.' The last named is confined to the Piedmont and the mountains.
There are six species of lizards, plus their cousin the alligator; 43 species of snakes, including the poisonous rattlesnake, copperhead, water moccasin, and coral snake; and 17 species of turtles, including the once commercially important diamondback terrapin. The prehistoric-looking salamanders, actually farther removed from the early types than their lizard relatives, number 34 species. These include the 'water dogs' or 'mud puppies,' valued as purifiers of springs. Of frogs and toads there are about 27 species.
Every few years harbor seals are reported off the South Carolina coast, although their normal range is from New Jersey to Labrador. The odd pigmy whale, a creature occurring the world over but scarce in all localities, has chosen the South Carolina coast as one of the most favored places for its rare appearances. Its relatives, the big finback, right, and sperm whales, also appear from time to time, with such others of smaller size as the bottle-nosed dolphin, the grampus, the socalled blackfish (really a whale), and the bottle-nosed and beaked whales. Sharks are numerous and of many varieties, but they do little damage. The odd little sea horse is sometimes taken in fishermen's nets offshore. Of more than 160 species of salt-water fish inhabiting the coastal waters, some 20 are valuable for food.
About 70 species of fresh-water fish found in the State include 22 edible varieties. A Federal fish hatchery has been established at Orangeburg, and another near Walhalla in Oconee County. The State maintains hatcheries at Anderson, Greer, Greenville, Spartanburg, Lancaster, Table Rock Park, Newberry, and Orangeburg.
Of the 360 species of birds that have been recorded in South Carolina, some are wanderers from the Arctic and some from the tropics, but many either visit at regular seasons or spend the entire year in the area. The coastal country is richer in bird life than the interior. This region lies along one of the great migration routes and is semitropical in character, drawing such species as the nonpareil, snake bird, brown pelican, and others associated with tropical climes. Vast armies of ducks and shore birds come annually to the barrier beaches; great colonies of black skimmers, royal terns, and brown pelicans make their teeming cities on the sandbars offshore; willets, Wilson plovers, oystercatchers, Wayne's clapper rails, and least terns frequent the inlet shores. Congregations of the lovely American egret and snowy heron gather in moss-draped cypress swamps. The Louisiana, little blue, and black-crowned night heron build their frail homes of sticks among the marshland myrtles. The old rice fields constitute a paradise for ducks; bob-whites abound in certain parts of the lowlands; and wild turkeys are still plentiful on some of the plantations. Doves, Wilson snipes, and woodcocks also are found in the State.
The favorite among songsters is doubtless the mockingbird, whose powers of melody and mimicry are unrivaled. Catbirds, orioles, warblers, thrushes, sparrows, swallows, vireos, and wrens delight many with their songs. The 'State bird' was formerly the cheery Carolina wren, which nests about houses and sings in mild winters straight through the cold months.
The so-called birds of prey are well represented throughout the State. Many of them are highly beneficial, and the importance of their role in keeping down injurious rodents can hardly be overestimated.
Bird refuges and sanctuaries are maintained by the Federal Government, the National Association of Audubon Societies, the Charleston Museum, and a number of private individuals. The two Federal sanctuaries are the great Cape Romain Migratory Waterfowl Refuge near McClellanville, and the sanctuary on the Savannah River near its mouth, extending partly into Georgia.