“Where is the hedgehog?” or “What is in the cage below the salamanders?”
These are two questions we often get at the Dickinson County Nature Center, because what is in the cage below the salamanders in our lower level is an African pygmy hedgehog named Honey.
And Honey is usually buried beneath one of her blankets during the day, snoozing away.
That’s because Honey is a nocturnal creature, which means that she sleeps during the day and is active at night.
If Honey was in the wild, she would wake up as the sun sets and start to look for food when the world is dark.
But you wouldn’t see a hedgehog like Honey in the wild in Iowa, because she is not native not to the state. She is found in the wild in countries in Africa.
There are nocturnal creatures in Iowa too though.
Most people think of nocturnal animals and think of raccoons, because they are common in many places in the world, including Iowa, the entire North American and South American continents and even Asia. They are awake at night looking for food such as fruit, seeds, nuts, birds’ eggs and plants. They can also swim and hunt for fish, frogs and crayfish. In cities, they also look for food in garbage and eat food scraps found on streets.
Nine species of bats are native to Iowa, but the most common in northwest Iowa are little brown bats and big brown bats. They love to eat mosquitoes after the sun goes down, and they find their food not with their eyes but with echolocation. This is a call that is in a pitch too high for humans to hear, and the bats listen to an echo of that call to build a map of their surroundings. The animals can tell how far away something is by how long it takes the echo to return.
Owls love to hunt at night because they can sneak up on the prey. They have big eyes and wide pupils that help them see their prey, and they also have good hearing that helps them find prey in the dark. Plus, because they hunt night after night in the same location, they know where branches, trees and other things that they might hit are located so they can avoid them.
You might hear a coyote howling in a prairie or forest area in Iowa when the sun is setting, because they are communicating where they are to other coyotes in the area. Most coyotes hunt at night by themselves, but sometimes in the winter they will gather together and hunt as a team.
Other nocturnal animals that live in Iowa include the opossum, skunks, foxes, bobcats, mice, rats and badgers. However, because people have moved into their native habitats, sometimes that can change these animals’ eating patterns and you might see some of these animals out during the daytime.