The Central Ohio Big Five

The African Big Five are the primary goal of safari trekkers to Africa. The lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo make up the big five. Thinking about this group I wondered what would be the Central Ohio Big Five? Here is my answer. It includes the biggest, rarest, most boss creatures Central Ohio sports. It goes without saying that this is MY list. Your list may vary.

The List
  1. American Bison (Bison bison)
  2. White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
  3. Coyote (Canis Latrans)
  4. Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
  5. Osprey (Pandion Haliaetus)
The American bison is only just extant today in Central Ohio. There is a herd that lives in the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. There really cannot be any arguing that this one belongs on the list. It is the North American version of the cape buffalo. A massive beast that dwarfs even large domesticated farm animals, these beasts are scary powerful and easily defend themselves against any lone predator. These images were captured at Battelle Darby Creek in a couple of different seasons.

The white-tailed deer is the next largest wild animal we host in Central Ohio. I can’t imagine that anyone who lives here in Central Ohio for any length of time has not seen a wild deer. They make the list because of their mass and because a big five list would be incomplete without them. You can see more of these in backyards, golf courses and public parks across Central Ohio. While white tails are not generally threatening, again, they can hold their own against most threats. Particularly threats they are likely to encounter here in Central Ohio.
The coyote is the next smaller species on the list. It beats out other canids like the fox since it is harder to see in the wild. The are more common than they seem, but they are excellent stealth masters and avoid humans for the most part. The are some areas in Central Ohio where they are almost routinely seen as the become more accustomed to human activity. Personally, I welcome them, although I understand they come with tradeoffs. I like their appetite for Canada geese which have attained weed status in several areas across Central Ohio. These animals are again, more than prepared to defend themselves and indeed to go on the offensive and hunt most other species in Central Ohio. Because they hunt in pairs rather than in packs, they could not bring down a bison or a healthy adult buck, anything else, they probably can and have predated.

The snapping turtle may surprise some, but I felt we should have a reptile on here and the formidable snapping turtle is certainly close to, if not at the top of the reptile list in terms of mass and habitat dominance. The are a challenge to find and capture on film, but if you know where they are, it can be done. They are certainly formidable.  While the urban legend of them snapping broom sticks is probably exaggerated, a finger would not be too much for them to bit off. I suspect they are responsible for a fair amount of predation on waterfowl chicks on ponds, where they could attack, unseen, from below. These were mostly photographed in wild areas in a neighborhood setting in and around June when the females come out of the water to lay eggs in a sandy nest.

The osprey, while not obvious is the next choice. The trumpeter swan has more mass and certainly IS formidable, especially if you approach when they are caring for cygnets. However, in my experience, ospreys are harder to find, perhaps due to their size, perhaps due to their habitat choice which is wooded areas near open water. And the osprey wins on the formidable scale since it is a predator and the swan is an herbivore. The osprey’s specialized feet and talons, ability to see into the water with special eye lids and ability to see polarized light make it the winner in the bald eagle matchup. Also, ospreys seem to be able to take advantage of a wider variety of habitats. Bald eagles need fairly deep water, but I have seen ospreys dive from 50-100 feet up into a shallow pond and pull out a good sized carp, seemingly to weigh almost as much as the bird itself.

Runners UP
Here’s a concise list of the near misses for the Big Five list with the reasoning for each outlined.
  1. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – Bald Eagle and Osprey rarer
  2. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) – Osprey rarer and more impressive stats
  3. Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) – Bald Eagle and Osprey bigger and rarer
  4. Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) – tough call… could replace heron
  5. Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) – Coyote is bigger and rarer
  6. Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) – Not in Central Ohio …yet
The Code …more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.
So how did I tally the winners? The following is my list of criteria for making the list. While I would go to the mat for the top three entries, I understand there could be alternative choices for the final two. Here are the criteria I used to assess which species should make the list and which would have to wait for next year:
  1. Bigger is better – It IS the big five
  2. Rarer is better – just finding the African Big Five is tough
  3. Formidable – the African Big Five are dangerous, hunting them on foot was very perilous
  4. Must be extant – no dinosaurs or saber tooth tigers
  5. The zoo is out of bounds – should be obvious, the zoo will be another article
  6. Ties broken on stats – more impressive animals win
  7. Animal kingdom only – other big fives like plants and fungi will be later… maybe
Central Ohio only – the black bear, wolf and feral pig make the Ohio list but not Central Ohio

Jim Lane, Wildlife Photographer, Explorer
Jim Lane is an American wildlife photographer, naturalist and author who has contributed to an appreciation of wildlife and the natural world immediately around us. His view of the world zooms out to sweeping natural sunrises and zooms in to reveal the detail on a bird’s plumage.  While he has been to remote locales such as Galapagos and the Caribbean, he is also known for his dozens of photographic articles on wildlife you do not have to travel to appreciate.  His art graces homes across the country and you can find it @jblane001 on Instagram