Friday Facts: Alaska Critters & Native Folklore

Friday Facts :Alaska Critters & Native Folklore

Today’s Friday Facts: Alaska Critters & Native Folklore is of some of the animals we live with here in Chisana. The Native Folklore was shared with me by Gilliam Joe, Master Guide Terry Overly’s blood-brother (yes, I mean that the way you think I do).

Gillam Joe is Athabaskan Indian of the Al’Det’en’a clan, and Terry’s blood brother. Gilliam was born in Chisana, sold to the people who became his parents in every way for $10.00 and a bottle of whiskey. Gilliam Joe has been part of my life in Chisana and Alaska since I arrived and the pieces of folklore I have learned, have come from him.

Alaska Critters & Native Folklore

Grizzly Bears

Contrary to popular beliefs, bears are not nearsighted. Alaska Critters & Native FolkloreTheir eyesight and hearing are comparable to our own. (It’s their noses that help them zero in on what strikes them as interesting… or food.) They can also run (for short periods of time) up to 40 mph.

Grizzly bears can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. They eat just dang near anything, including salmon, berries, grasses, sedges, cow parsnip, ground squirrels, carrion, and roots. In many parts of Alaska, brown bears are capable predators of moose and caribou, especially newborns. They also really enjoy all those nifty treats two legged critters always seem to have nearby.

Native Folklore: You never point (with your fingers) at a Grizzly Bear (or a wolf).

Alaska-Yukon Moose

Alaska Critters & Native FolkloreMoose are known across North America, but in Europe they are called elk. The Alaska-Yukon Moose is the largest of the entire deer family, including all the different Moose. A mature bull can be up to 1,600 pounds and over 6 feet tall.

Antlers are the fastest growing tissue in any mammal and a big bull moose can grow an 80 pound rack during the summer months, adding a pound of bone as well as an inch a day.

As we Alaskans know, the Alaska-Yukon Moose is a much scarier threat to a person than a bear …in most cases.

Native Folklore: If you are going out to hunt moose, kill a porcupine first. Slit the gut open, if the guts are laid open as to look like a moose horn, you will be successful, if not, stay home.

Native Folklore: If your dog dies 7 (seven) days before you plan to be moose hunting, don’t go. Your dog will still be with you and chasing the moose away.

Dall Sheep

ka Critters & Native FolkloreThey are the white sheep that live in the subarctic mountain ranges of Alaska. (They like the view from the top, so start climbing!) Sometimes, Dall Sheep are confused with Mountain Goats (although… other than they are both white…) and usually this happens when someone mistakes a Dall ewe with a Mountain Goat.

Both the rams and ewes have horns, but the ram’s horns, after around their third year, start to curl out, away, and back towards the base of the horn. (A billy-goat’s go back, but not around.)


Wolverines have fantastic endurance, strength and foraging behaviors, but their fierceness has been exaggerated a little. They will not choose to attack a predator bigger or stronger just for giggles or nastiness.

There is an air of mystery that surrounds them because they are incredibly solitary creatures throughout most of the year. They can travel up to 40 miles a day and have home ranges as large as 115 square miles.

Native Folklore: The Natives believe that if you encounter a live wolverine, free in the wild, you have been blessed.

Native Folklore: When you kill a wolverine, whether by hunting or trapping, kill it quickly and do not let him look you in the eye or you will be cursed.

{ On a personal note, Master Guide Terry Overly gave me a wolverine tooth, while I was in the ICU of the hospital I was taken to after being shot through both legs, telling me that I had to be as tough as a wolverine now, that it (my life) was going to be very hard (learning to walk) now, for awhile.}


Alaska Critters & Native FolkloreThe Lynx is the only cat native to Alaska. They are a large, short  tailed cat, similar to a bobcat, but much taller with long legs, furry feet, the tufts of hair on the tips of their ears and black-tipped tail.

The adults can weigh between 18-30 pounds on average with males weighing up to 40 pounds or more. Lynx can be found where there are hares. When the bunny population is up, so are the Lynx.


The collared pika is the only pika found in Alaska. All but two of the 30 species of Pika live in Asia. We call them “rock-rabbits” and usually spot them after they “whistle” which is really a short, sharp bark of alarm, when they spot us.

They live at higher elevations, rock slides or around and under piles of boulders, with a natural meadow or patches of vegetation nearby.


Alaska Critters & Native FolkloreThe American Marten is a carnivorous, fur-baring member of the weasel family. They remind me of fat ferrets. Martens are solitary critters except for mating season. They range in body length from 19 to 25 inches and can weigh up to 4 pounds.

The marten is Alaska’s most widely trapped animal and at current prices brings into the state an estimated $1-2 million each year. A trapper may take from 100 to 400 martens per season, but most average 20 to 30.


A porcupine is a short legged animal that is usually between 25-31 inches long and weigh between 22-30 pounds. They have a heavily muscled tail which helps in their self defense and with climbing. They are covered with quills or varying length except for on their belly and the underside of their tail.

Native Folklore: You should never kill a porcupine for anything but survival (food), because it is the only animal available in the Alaska wilderness that you can easily chase down and kill with your bare hands. It provides more protein than a caribou. If you do kill a porcupine, you must eat it.

So, what did you think? Some of the Native Folklore, I respect with obedience, some I just look at Gilliam and say “mmm” and leave it at that. Are you going to be joining us to see some of the Alaska Wildlife with us? Are you ready to see Alaska as it was meant to be? On horseback, into the untouched wilderness that is the Last Frontier.

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8 Responses to Friday Facts: Alaska Critters & Native Folklore

  1. Very Interesting and Fun Facts ad Native Folklore! I never heard of a Pika. The Marten look like cute little buggers. I think my favorite is the Lynx, they have always fascinated me, I’d love to see one in the wild.
    Between Terry and Gilliam Joe you must hear some Awesome Campfire Stories!

    As Always ~*~

    • Pika! Really? They are cute. Marten are pretty special in the cute range too. I’ll never forget leaving the Lodge one day and seeing one only a few yards away. Pretty intense, for sure!
      Oh, Man, the two of them together are an absolute prize, to be sure…I’ll have to make sure you get to meet Gilliam when you visit!

  2. Hey good stuff! Always interesting to hear the native perspective. It’s ironic that one of the main indian groups where I do my tours(AZ mainly) are the Apache, who are an Athabaskan people who migrated to the southwest in about 1400!

    • I was so amazed by what you said, I had to start asking questions before I got back to you, Brian! ALL the Native Americans came from the Athabaskan people… ALL the American Native cultures, walked across the Bering Land Bridge, originally. I did not know that! Thank you, Brian, for bringing that up here.

    • I’m thinking the only rack you should be inspecting is the one your bicycle sits in…
      Prehistoric insects, eh? Well, just you wait.

    • Josh! LOL
      We-llll, yeah it did! Still does, actually. But ya know the real funny part? My life completely changed that day. Ended and began again. I wouldn’t go back, not even for perfect legs. So, were you surprised today or giggling in the background? You are the first #TeamBlogJack I’ve been in on and it was fun!
      Take care and keep exploring (and find that hospital, ya never know when you might need one)!
      ~ Amber-Lee, aka Alaska Chick

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