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Appalachian Mountains
Appalachians
MonNatForest.jpg
August 2007 view from the slopes of Back Allegheny Mountain, looking east; visible are Allegheny Mountain (in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia, middle distance), and Shenandoah Mountain (in the George Washington National Forest of Virginia, far distance)
Highest point
Peak Mount Mitchell
Elevation 6,684 ft (2,037 m)
Dimensions
Length 1,500 mi (2,400 km)
Geography
Greatvalley-map.png
Countries United States, Canada and France
States/Provinces
Range coordinates Script error: The function "coordinsert" does not exist.
Geology
Orogeny Taconic, Acadian, Alleghanian
Age of rock OrdovicianPermian
Appalachians NC BLRI9242
The Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina

The Appalachian Mountains (French: les Appalaches) are a large group of North American mountains. They are partly in Canada, but mostly in the United States. They form an area from 100 to 300 miles wide, running 1,500 miles from the island of Newfoundland in Canada to central Alabama in the United States.

The individual mountains average around 3,000 ft (900 m) in height. The highest is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina (6,684 ft or 2,037m). Mt. Mitchell is also the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River as well as the highest point in eastern North America.

The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east-west travel. Ridgelines and valleys run north-south and travelers must climb them again and again. Only a few mountain passes run east-west. The Erie Canal was built through one of them. In most places the Appalachians are the watershed between the drainage basins of the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean.

The term Appalachia is used to refer to regions associated with the mountain range. It refers to the mountain range and the hills and plateau region around it. The term is often used to refer to areas in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. These areas usually include all of West Virginia and parts of the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, and sometimes extending as far south as northern Georgia and western South Carolina, as far north as Pennsylvania, and as far west as southeastern Ohio. In 1965 the United States Congress created an Appalachian Regional Commission to include these areas and more, as far west as Mississippi.

History of the range

Appalachian orogeny
Appalachian orogeny (sequence starts at the bottom)

The Appalachians today are the worn-down remains of a once huge mountain chain. They first formed about 480 million years ago during the Ordovician. They once were as high as the Alps and the Rocky Mountains.

The birth of the Appalachian ranges, some 480 million years ago (mya), was the first of several mountain-building plate collisions as the supercontinent Pangaea formed. The Appalachians were at the center of the newly formed Pangaea. North America and Africa were connected, and the Appalachians were part of the same mountain chain as the "Anti-Atlas" or Little Atlas Mountains in Morocco. This mountain range, known as the Central Pangean Mountains, extended into Scotland, from the North America/Europe collision (see Caledonian orogeny).

  • Point of interest: The Appalachian National Scenic Trail in the US is about 3,500km (2,190 miles) long and travels through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

Animals

Animals that characterize the Appalachian forests include five species of tree squirrels. The most commonly seen is the low to moderate elevation eastern gray squirrel. Occupying similar habitat is the slightly larger fox squirrel and the much smaller southern flying squirrel. More characteristic of cooler northern and high elevation habitat is the red squirrel, whereas the Appalachian northern flying squirrel, which closely resembles the southern flying squirrel, is confined to northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests.

Southern Flying Squirrel-27527-3
Southern flying squirrel

As familiar as squirrels are the eastern cottontail rabbit and the white-tailed deer. The latter in particular has greatly increased in abundance as a result of the extirpation of the eastern wolf and the cougar. This has led to the overgrazing and browsing of many plants of the Appalachian forests, as well as destruction of agricultural crops. Other deer include the moose, found only in the north, and the elk, which, although once extirpated, is now making a comeback, through transplantation, in the southern and central Appalachians.

In Quebec, the Chic-Chocs host the only population of caribou south of the St. Lawrence River. An additional species that is common in the north but extends its range southward at high elevations to Virginia and West Virginia is the varying of snowshoe hare. However, these central Appalachian populations are scattered and very small.

Another species of great interest is the beaver, which is showing a great resurgence in numbers after its near extinction for its pelt. This resurgence is bringing about a drastic alteration in habitat through the construction of dams and other structures throughout the mountains.

Other common forest animals are the black bear , striped skunk, raccoon, woodchuck, bobcat, gray fox , red fox and in recent years, the coyote, another species favored by the advent of Europeans and the extirpation of eastern and red wolves. European boars were introduced in the early 20th century.

Characteristic birds of the forest are wild turkey, ruffed grouse, mourning dove, common raven, wood duck, great horned owl, barred owl, screech owl, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and northern goshawk, as well as a great variety of "songbirds" (Passeriformes), like the warblers in particular.

Of great importance are the many species of salamanders and, in particular, the lungless species that live in great abundance concealed by leaves and debris, on the forest floor. Most frequently seen, however, is the eastern or red-spotted newt. It has been estimated that salamanders represent the largest class of animal biomass in the Appalachian forests.

Frogs and toads are of lesser diversity and abundance, but the wood frog is commonly encountered on the dry forest floor, while a number of species of small frogs, such as spring peepers, enliven the forest with their calls. Salamanders and other amphibians contribute greatly to nutrient cycling through their consumption of small life forms on the forest floor and in aquatic habitats.

Although reptiles are less abundant and diverse than amphibians, the mountains have a number of snakes. One of the largest is the non-venomous black rat snake, while the common garter snake is among the smallest but most abundant. The American copperhead and the timber rattler are venomous pit vipers.

There are few lizards, but the broad-headed skink, at up to 13 in (33 cm) in length, and an excellent climber and swimmer, is one of the largest and most spectacular in appearance and action.

The most common turtle is the eastern box turtle, which is found in both upland and lowland forests in the central and southern Appalachians. Prominent among aquatic species is the large common snapping turtle, which occurs throughout the Appalachians.

Appalachian streams are notable for their highly diverse freshwater fish life. Among the most abundant and diverse are those of the minnow family, while species of the colorful darters are also abundant.

A characteristic fish of shaded, cool Appalachian forest streams is the wild brook or speckled trout, which is much sought after as a game fish.

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