Iowa’s Wildlife

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
Color Crazy
Environmental Barometer
(3-5, 6-8, 9-12)
First Impressions
(K-2, 3-5)
Insect Inspection
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
(6-8, 9-12)
Interview with a Spider
(3-5, 6-8)
Natural Dilemmas
(6-8, 9-12)
Owl Pellets
(3-5, 6-8)
(3-5, 6-8)
What’s Wild?
(K-2, 3-5)
Urban Nature Search
(3-5, 6-8)
Wildlife and the Environment: Community Survey
(6-8, 9-12)

Supplemental Resources

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.

Historical Perspective

Evidence of wildlife from prehistoric times is present in rocks that have been worn and weathered over millions of years.

Glaciers covered Iowa for the last time about 11,500 years ago.

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.

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.

Loss of Native Species

  • Iowa Public Television: Iowa PathwaysInformation 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: MagazineInformation about why the passenger pigeon went extinct.
  • Audubon: MagazineInformation about why the Carolina parakeet went extinct.

Changes in the Landscape

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).

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.

Endangered Species

Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Threatened and EndangeredCurrent 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 – VertebratesFrom 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).

Amphibians and Reptiles

  • Iowa HerpNetOnline field guide to amphibians and reptiles 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 IowaMussels of Iowa information guide (opens as pdf). Includes history, life cycle, conservation, and common mussels found in Iowa.
  • Iowa’s Nature Series – Invertebratesfeatures 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 MacroinvertebratesPhotos and distribution maps of aquatic macroinvertebrates found in Iowa.
  • Iowa Odonata SurveySpecies 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.

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