The nocturnal animals of Iowa

"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.

Photo of Honey the hedgehogopens IMAGE file

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.

(See a video of Honey on our videos page)

There are nocturnal creatures in Iowa too though.

Graphic with nocturnal animalsopens IMAGE file


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.

Photo of raccoons in a treeopens IMAGE file Bats

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.

Photo of a little brown batopens IMAGE file


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.

Photo of a barred owlopens IMAGE file


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.

Photo of a coyote in snowy grassopens IMAGE file

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.

Animals that don’t have a pattern are cathemeral

Learning about nature and animals is so interesting, because humans seem to have a desire to divide things into categories, and for those categories to be neat and clear. When learning about butterflies and moths, we want to know how to tell the difference. There are general differences, but there seems to be an exception Read More »

Read More

Diurnal animals are awake during the day

Kids learn pretty early that animals that are awake at night are nocturnal. The word for the rest of us that are awake during the day, though, doesn’t seem quite as well known. Humans and many animals are what is called diurnal. Diurnal creatures wake and sleep with the rising and the setting of the Read More »

Read More

10 fast raccoon facts

A male is called a boar. You probably didn’t know that, like a pig, that a male raccoon is called a boar and a female is called a sow. Little ones aren’t called piglets, though; they’re called kits. Its black mask may have a purpose. The raccoon’s black mask over its eyes is one of Read More »

Read More

Five differences between coyotes and wolves

I still remember the first time I heard a coyote pack howl as dusk began to settle on the Iowa Great Lakes area. On a walk at Kettleson Hogsback, the sun started to set above the calm shallow lakes, and a high-pitched howl began in the distance. Another answered it. And another. And another. My Read More »

Read More

This noodle art is so fun it’s batty

Bats are a hot topic around Halloween. (We love bats — read about how they use echolocation here.) And we love crafts that are both nature-related and fit into the season, so today we tested out a new bat craft. It’s simple, great for all ages and utilizes things you already have around the house. Read More »

Read More

Not nocturnal, crepuscular!

I remember when I first heard the word. Our environmental education coordinator was talking about nocturnal animals, and then stated that skunks aren’t always nocturnal but can also be crepuscular. “What?” Yes. Crepuscular. Cre-puss-cue-ler. It means simply that an animal is active at dawn and dusk. It’s not quite diurnal — meaning that it’s active Read More »

Read More

Bats in Iowa: Myths, facts and why we should love them

I get odd looks when I tell people that I think bats are cute. This first summer that I worked at the Dickinson County Nature Center, we had a family bring in a little brown bat that they had found on their driveway. (If you find a bat on the ground, give us a call Read More »

Read More

1 Comment

  1. Mia on November 13, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    Very interesting.