The following topics and resources cover the status of wildlife in Iowa – from prehistoric to present – and how that is constantly changing.
Iowa-Relevant Project WILD Activities
Activities with supplemental information are linked below.
|A Dire Diet
|Ants on a Twig
(3-5, 6-8, 9-12)
|Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
|Interview with a Spider
|Urban Nature Search
|Wildlife and the Environment: Community Survey
What is wildlife?
Wildlife is defined many ways. Some think of animals in a zoo. Others think of predators and prey – a hawk catching a mouse. Wildlife managers consider wildlife to be free roaming, naturally occurring species that live within nature’s system without significant influence by people. This section provides a brief introduction to the past, present, and future of Iowa’s wildlife.
Evidence of wildlife from prehistoric times is present in rocks that have been worn and weathered over millions of years.
- Camp Silos: Archaeology – A short summary of the archaeological history of Iowa.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: News Releases – Information about the “living fossils” that still exist in Iowa today.
- Iowa Geological Survey: Dinosaurs in Iowa – An article about the evidence of dinosaur life in Iowa.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: News Releases – Information on 11 extinct animals that once called Iowa home.
Glaciers covered Iowa for the last time about 11,500 years ago.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Landform Regions of Iowa – Scroll down to this section, the glacial history and topography of each landform affect the type and distribution of current wildlife habitats and agricultural land use.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Landforms and Geology – Iowa’s geological past is a fascinating story that can be told through careful inspection of the land beneath our feet — explores the long-view history of Iowa’s landscapes and explains how the hills and valleys we call home were formed over millennia. Companion Geological Places to Visit!
Iowa’s Cultural History
Early Euro-American Explorers
Early explorers, who originally came from Europe to settle in America, ventured into Iowa for many reasons. Those that had well-documented expeditions sighted more than 450 species of vertebrates including white-tailed deer, beaver, wolves, bison, elk, black bear, passenger pigeons, prairie chickens, cranes, and swans.
- Iowa Public Television: Iowa Pathways – A brief summary about the early American explorers in Iowa.
- American Journeys – Eyewitness accounts of the the Mississippi Voyage of Joliet and Marquette.
- Iowa Public Television: Iowa Pathways – Information on Iowa’s plants and animals when the Euro-Americans arrived in Iowa.
Impact of Settlement
Many factors contributed to the destruction of much of Iowa’s native habitat and wildlife, however it began with Iowa’s settlement.
- University of Chicago – Summary of the settlement of Iowa between the years 1833 and 1860.
Loss of Native Species
- Iowa Public Television: Iowa Pathways – Information about the plants and animals of Iowa in relation to the past and habitat loss as well as what is being done to put wildlife on a better path.
- Audubon: Magazine – Information about why the passenger pigeon went extinct.
- Audubon: Magazine – Information about why the Carolina parakeet went extinct.
Changes in the Landscape
- Iowa Public Television: Iowa Pathways – Information about Iowa’s habitats and how the landscape has changed over time.
- USGS: Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative – Information showing the dramatic changes in wetland habitat across Iowa.
Introduced vs. Native Species
Iowa’s wildlife includes both native and introduced species. America’s first immigrants introduced many species of wildlife to North America. Non-native species (animals that did not naturally occur in an area) sometimes may compete with native wildlife for food, water, and shelter and can be more aggressive than native wildlife species (animals that naturally occur in an area).
- Iowa Public Television: Iowa Pathways – A short history of the plants and animals of Iowa, including native and non-native species.
- National Wildlife Federation: Threats to Wildlife – Learn how invasive species threaten native wildlife.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds – A summary of the life history of the Rock Pigeon.
- Encyclopedia Britannica – Information about the house mouse’s life history.
- Animal Diversity Web – An introduction of the Norway Rat.
- American Ornithologists Union – The life history of the house sparrow.
- Smithsonian Magazine: Science and Nature – An introduction of the European starling.
- Iowa DNR: Aquatic Invasive Species Fact Sheet – Quick facts about the Zebra mussel (opens as pdf).
- Iowa State University Extension; Pesticide Safety Education Program – A summary of the life history of the gypsy moth.
- Iowa State University: Department of Entomology – Information about the European corn borer in Iowa.
- Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation – 5 of Iowa’s most invasive plant species.
- Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation – 5 more of Iowa’s most invasive plant species.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources – Invasive plants species
Current Status of Wildlife in Iowa
Iowa’s wildlife has changed tremendously since Euro-American settlement (160 years ago). Many species have been extirpated. Others’ populations have dwindled to the point they now are listed as endangered. Still others have increased in number and range size. Many once extirpated have been reintroduced and now have stable populations. Wide ranging species (e.g., black bear, wolf, and mountain lion) occasionally reappear in Iowa as their populations in nearby states increase.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Threatened and Endangered – Current lists of all endangered and threatened species in Iowa can be downloaded. Page also includes definitions of endangered, threatened and species of special concern.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Vertebrates – From city sewers to pristine prairies, the reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, fish, and lamprey found within Iowa’s borders are as diverse and fascinating as the people found there.
Iowa mammals belong to seven orders; carnivores (meat eaters), herbivores (plant eaters), omnivores (eat both plants and animals), marsupials (pouched mammals), insectivores (insect eaters), lagomorphs (rabbits and hares), rodents (gnawing mammals), and ungulates (hoofed mammals).
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Iowa’s Wildlife – Iowa’s mammal fact sheets can be found at the bottom of the page.
- Mammals of Iowa Field Guide from Iowa State University Extension and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, published April 2018.
Amphibians and Reptiles
- Iowa HerpNet – Online field guide to amphibians and reptiles found in Iowa
- Iowa Ornithologist Union: Iowa Birds & Birding – Information about birding and birds found in Iowa.
- Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas 2008-2012 – Data and information from the second Breeding Bird Atlas project in Iowa.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Iowa Fish Species – Fish families and species found in Iowa.
Invertebrates are the least conspicuous, but most abundant, animal group. They range in size from microscopic to larger than a baseball. Invertebrates are found throughout Iowa and range from freshwater sponges to worms and crustaceans (scuds, copepods, and crayfish), mollusks (mussels and snails), arachnids (spiders, ticks, and mites), and insects.
- Freshwater Mussels of Iowa – Mussels of Iowa information guide (opens as pdf). Includes history, life cycle, conservation, and common mussels found in Iowa.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Invertebrates – features the stories of a few of the thousands of insects, spiders, crustaceans, butterflies, moths, worms, snails, mussels, and leeches found in Iowa, everywhere from our border rivers to our homes
- Iowa’s Aquatic Macroinvertebrates – Photos and distribution maps of aquatic macroinvertebrates found in Iowa.
- Iowa Odonata Survey – Species accounts of dragonflies and damselflies as well as state and county checklists for Iowa.
Some animals have reoccupied their former ranges and others’ ranges have expanded into Iowa.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Population Harvest Trends – Annual reports on the trends in Iowa wildlife populations and harvest.
- Google Books: Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas – An excerpt from the Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas summarizing the range expansion of house finches, European starlings, rock doves, and tree sparrows.
- Google Books: Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas – An excerpt from the Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas summarizing the range expansion of sandhill cranes.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Bald Eagles – A brief history of the bald eagle’s struggles and eventual comeback and expansion.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: News Releases, Bobcats– 10 things you should know about bobcats in Iowa.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Occasional Wildlife Visitors – Occasional wildlife visitors to Iowa.