Every Thanksgiving, our naturalists speak at Harris-Lake Park Elementary for a grandparent program, and this year, our environmental education coordinator Bryanna Kuhlman discussed what animals are thankful for.

I thought her topic was so creative that I decided to share her ideas with you. Many of the things animals are thankful for are what humans can also be thankful for --- the ability to play, coats that keep up warm, agile hands that help us with work, tools, families communication skills, warm homes for the winter and so much more.

Photo of a squirrel eating

Squirrels are thankful for:

  • Teeth that don't stop growing. A squirrel's teeth grow throughout it entire lifetime so that it can chew through acorn hulls, pinecones and walnuts without wearing out its teeth.
  • Agile paws. Squirrels have human-like, primitive thumbs and strong claws that help it grasp tree bark when climbing. They also have hind feet that can rotate 180 degrees, allowing them to climb down trees head first.
  • Whiskers that grow on their face and legs, because these highly-sensitive hairs held them decide if a hidey hole is too close.
  • Fluffy tails that are good for a variety of purposes. Squirrel tails are used to communicate with other squirrels, to make their bodies appear larger to avoid predation and for extra balance as they navigate tree branches.
  • Iowa forests that provide them with an array of nuts, berries and roots to keep them happy and healthy all year long.

(Tell apart a chipmunk and a ground squirrel)

Photo of a black bear

Black bears are thankful for:

  • Strong bodies that are able to roam long distances to find food-rich areas to help them stay healthy during the winter and the ability to store fat in their bodies for times when food is harder to find.
  • Quiet and secluded spaces where they can hibernate for six-seven months.
  • Thick, shaggy coats that keep them warm during the winter and during hibernation.
  • Sharp claws that help them climb trees.
  • A strong sense of smell that helps them avoid humans and animals and helps them find food.

(Are there bears in Iowa?)

Photo of a river otter on its back

River otters are thankful for:

  • Belly flopping, somersaulting and being able to play.
  • Clean water, mostly rivers, where they can play, live and hunt for fish, crustaceans, amphibians, snakes and water insects.
  • Body parts designed for life in the water including a nose with nostrils that can close to keep the water out, long tails that act as rudders and strong bodies and webbed feet to propel themselves through the water quickly.
  • Tools that help them to pry things open. River otters are creative at finding natural items to open clam shells, mussels and other food items.
  • Dense fur coats! River otters have between 350,000-1 millions hair per square inch on their bodies, keeping them dry and warm in even the chilliest of rivers.
  • Their bevy, romp or lodge --- all of these mean a group of otters.

(Nine adorable Iowa mammals)

Photo of a turkey in the grass

Turkeys are thankful for:

  • Vocal skills. Turkeys have 27 different vocalizations that help them communicate.
  • Vision that is three times better than humans and hearing that is 10 times better than humans.
  • Their family and friend groups that are known as rafters.
  • Trees to roost in.

(Why turkeys look so odd)

Salamanders are thankful for:

  • Their unique and vibrant colors. Tiger salamanders can be a wide variety of designs and colors.
  • A long lifespan. They can live 10-15 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.
  • The ability to burrow. Salamanders can dig up to 2 feet below the ground to find a cozy place.

(Tiger salamander fun facts)

Animals are grateful for many things. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Fall leaf color guide

Fall is a beautiful time to take a drive to look at all of the beautiful trees changing color. Leaves begin to change color because of the lack of chlorophyll that is present in the spring and summer, revealing the other colors in the leaves that is present beneath the green. The colors present in…

Read More

Animal Baby Name Game

Baby names are so much fun. Whether you’re planning for your own child, getting ready for a baby shower or just having fun thinking of names, it can be quite a crazy world to look into. There are literally thousands upon thousands of names, and some can be quite crazy. It is the same with…

Read More

Wonder why leaves change color in the fall?

Read More

Can you find them all? Try our indoor/outdoor fall scavenger hunt

The weather is chilly, but that doesn’t mean that kids hibernate. Your kids are still as active as ever, and they want something to occupy their time. You want something to occupy their time too. Why not print off our fall scavenger hunt? There are indoor and outdoor items to find, and you can add…

Read More

This turkey is unbe-leaf-ably cute

To go along with our blog about turkeys this week (read it here), we thought we might as well make a turkey-themed nature craft too. You will just need a few supplies: Turkey template printed on white paper (Find the template here) Leaves White computer paper Crayons Scissors Glue Begin with a trek outside. Pick…

Read More

Why turkeys look so odd

Turkeys are odd-looking creatures. With their bumpy red heads, hanging flaps of skin around their faces and large tails, wild turkeys are quite a sight. The odd parts of their bodies also have interesting names and purposes. Let’s look at some of the body parts that make a turkey unique. What’s a snood? The snood…

Read More

Ten turkey facts we bet you didn’t know

If you want to be the stand-out at Thanksgiving, bring these 10 turkey facts with you. Soy de Mexico. All turkeys originated in Mexico. Now it imports about 400 million pounds of turkey from the U.S. for consumption. They were wanted for their feathers. Wild turkeys can have a wing span — their wings stretch out to…

Read More

The perfect fall craft — a handprint acorn!

‘Tis the season of acorns. Come to Kenue Park and you will see many, many of the tasty morsels that animals like squirrels love to munch on during the winter. That makes an acorn craft the perfect fall activity, one that we did during our Colors of the Wind-themed Nature Tots program in September. The…

Read More