An animal doesn’t need to be endangered to receive legal protection. In Iowa, there are plenty of animals that might frighten or startle you, but these animals have important roles in our state’s ecology. So the next time you see one of these animals don’t panic, and consider what they contribute to the environment around you.
Snakes Iowa has almost 30 species of snakes, which help keep rodent and small mammal populations in check. A snake can swallow animals and eggs bigger than its head – that’s like a person swallowing a watermelon whole. From the small snakes less than a foot long to large, 6-foot-long black rat snakes, Iowa’s snakes vary in size to serve the needs of the ecosystem. Smaller snakes eat worms, slugs and insects, while larger snakes eat small mammals like mice and ground squirrels.
Iowa has only four venomous snakes, and their bites are rarely fatal if treated. The massasauga and timber rattlesnakes are rare, but found in eastern and southern Iowa. The prairie rattlesnake and copperhead are even rarer in our state. Only garter snakes can be legally caught, collected or killed in all counties. Timber rattlesnakes are protected in 14 of Iowa’s 99 counties, excluding within 50 yards of an actively occupied residence. All other Iowa snakes are protected in all counties, and cannot legally be collected (without a scientific collector’s permit) or killed.
Crayfish Frog While catching frogs is a common pastime for kids and a source of bait for anglers, be sure to keep an eye out for endangered crayfish frogs, which can’t be collected or killed. These frogs have not been seen in Iowa for years, but populations in neighboring states are found primarily in floodplains or near bodies of water, living in old crayfish burrows to hide outside of breeding season.
Over the winter, they allow themselves to freeze into these shallow burrows, only emerging for a short period of time when the weather warms up. These frogs are approximately 3 inches long and very secretive, although they are sometimes mistaken for leopard frogs if seen.
Hawks Hawks help keep other wildlife populations in check, eating smaller birds, snakes, reptiles, mice, fish and sometimes insects. While hawks and other predators may take small game, harsh winters, wet springs and lack of habitat continue to have the largest impacts on Iowa's pheasants. So while you may not be a fan of the hawk scoping out your birdfeeder, the hawk’s just doing its job.
All hawks and owls are legally protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and cannot be caught, killed, or kept without special permits in Iowa. Scare tactics – like increased human activity, loud noises and scarecrows can sometimes help keep hawks away from an area.
White Deer Whitetailed deer are common throughout Iowa, and there are assorted hunting seasons for them throughout the fall and early winter. However, any particular deer that has coloring that is more than 50 percent white cannot be legally taken.
The Iowa Legislature created the protection in 1987, following an uproar when a white deer was killed in the state. However, removing these deer from the gene pool with hunting would not be a benefit, just the same as protecting them is not a benefit. Any changes to this law would require the action of the state legislature.
Mudpuppy This species is the largest salamander in Iowa, and it lives in large streams or connected ponds. They are the only entirely aquatic salamanders in the state. Reaching lengths up to 16 inches, mudpuppies are occasionally caught accidentally by anglers.
Formerly listed as endangered, they are now considered threatened in Iowa, and cannot legally be collected or killed. Mudpuppies are easily identifiable based on the long, feathery gills on the sides of their heads, extreme sliminess, and a flattened, paddle-like body.
Birds All birds in Iowa are protected except for game birds in season, European starlings, and house sparrows. Minus the exceptions, it is illegal to collect bird feathers, nests, or eggs, and to kill, collect, or keep any bird without a special permit, such as a one for an educational facility or a wildlife rehabilitation center.
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