Wildlife of Iowa through the alphabet

American wigeon (Anas americana)

This dabbling duck migrates through Iowa. It is known for its whistle-like call and its short, stumpy bill that allows it to pluck vegetation to eat with ease.

Blue-winged teal (Anas discors)

Blue-winged teal are the second most abundant duck in America, behind the mallard.

Common mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus)

This salamander has a blunt nose and a flattened head and grows up to 13 inches long.

Dickcissel (Spiza americana)

Although classified as part of the cardinal family, some scientists don’t agree. In the past, it has also been placed in the New World sparrow, oriole and blackbird families.

ermine with a winter coat

Ermine (Mustela ermine)

Part of the weasel family, ermines can easily be identified by the black tip on their tail. It is most noticeable when they have white winter coloring, but it also exists with its brown summer coat.

Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri)

Fowler’s toads are lighter than other Iowa toad species and can appear from brown to gray or almost white. To differentiate them from an American toad, look for an all-white belly.

Green darner dragonfly (Anax junius)

America’s most common dragonfly, the green darner is quite large. It can grow up to 2-3 inches in length and has a wingspan of about 4 inches.

Hickorynut (Obovaria olivaria)

The hickorynut is a freshwater mussel that lives in the Mississippi River drainage from eastern Minnesota down to Arkansas.

Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis)

This bat is on the Federal Endangered Species list and is protected at all times and in all places. It is primarily found in Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky, but its range also includes parts of Oklahoma, southeastern Iowa and Wisconsin. This bat grows to 3.5 inches, with a 10-inch wingspan.

Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii)

Like the cottontail rabbit, the jackrabbit is considered nocturnal as it’s least active during the day. But, as with many mammals, they show a crepuscular tendency – that means, like deer, they’re most active at dusk and dawn.

Kingsnake (Lampropeitis calligaster)

Known as the prairie kingsnake or yellow-bellied kingsnake, this snake grows 30-40 inches in length but is rarely seen.

little brown bat

Little brown bat (Myotis lucifigus)

Little brown bats are about 3.5 inches in length and have a 9.5-inch wingspan. They are found in most of North America except the southern Great Plains to central Mexico. It is one of Iowa’s most common bats. In the winter, some migrate south while others hibernate in eastern Iowa caves and mines.

Muskellunge (Exox masquinongy)

The muskie is the largest member of the pike family.

Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus)

The northern harrier preys on small mammals and birds, but it sometimes captures larger prey such as rabbits and ducks, which it may subdue by drowning them.

ornate box turtle

Teddy the ornate box turtle

Ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata)

Most turtles can tuck in their head, legs and tail to protect themselves inside their shell, but the ornate box turtle can do even better. It has a special hinge in the lower half of its shell that lets it bend upward, completely closing off its body from predator attacks. Blanding’s turtles are the only other Iowa species that can do this!

Plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius)

These small gophers can run backward in their burrows as fast as they can run foward.

Question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

The adult question mark butterflies eat rotting fruit, tree sap, dung and carrion.

Regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia)

This butterfly is a species of concern in Iowa. Its host plant is violets.

Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Unlike most turtles, common snapping turtles can’t hide in their shells. Most turtles can pull the head and legs into the shell to protect themselves from predators, and some species, like Blanding’s turtles and ornate box turtles, have a hinged lower shell that can actually move upward and totally enclose the head and front legs. A snapping turtle’s plastron — the lower shell — is only big enough to barely cover the body. It can retreat slightly underneath the carapace — the upper shell — but not anywhere near how a typical turtle can.

Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka)

An endangered species, this small minnow lives in small and mid-size prairie streams in the central U.S. In Iowa, topeka shiners tend to live in oxbows and off-channel ponds.

Upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda)

You may have heard this bird called an upland plover, which was its common name until 1973. It is considered an “indicator species” of quality prairie habitat along with the Sprague’s pipit and Baird’s sparrow.

Veery (Catharus fuscenscens)

These small birds can fly up to 160 miles in one night at altitudes of more than 2,000 meters, or 1.2 miles high.

Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

The American woodcock is also known as the timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge and bog sucker.


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Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

This species is one of the only birds that can eat hairy caterpillars, which are usually moth caterpillars.

zebra swallowtail

Zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

This butterfly is rare in Iowa but does make its way into the southern portion of the state. It likes to breed in woodlands near swamps and rivers.