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Iowa's Furry Wetland Creatures

While schools are closed, we're creating a series of "Talk of Iowa" episodes that will be fun and educational for learners of all ages. Every Tuesday, we'll learn about Iowa wildlife, and every Thursday, we'll learn about Iowa history.  

The animals we’ll learn about on this edition of Talk of Iowa excel at swimming, holding their breaths and have coats that humans envy. Wildlife biologist Jim Pease will introduce listeners to some of the hairy critters that make their homes in Iowa’s wetlands. 

We’ll learn about muskrats and beavers, two members of the rodent family that may look a little clumsy on land, but move with precision and ease in the water. Beavers are known as nature’s engineers for their incredible lodges and dams, but muskrats are also good builders. Minks and river otters belong to the mustelid family. The two species resemble each other with their glossy coats and long bodies, but river otters are much larger than minks. Unlike the primarily vegetarian muskrat and beaver these mustelids are predators. Pease will teach listeners about the biology and behavior of these fascinating species.

Vocabulary for this podcast:

Musk gland, noun – a gland (as in the beaver or the civet cat) secreting a substance with a powerful odor.

Mustelid, noun – a member of the family mustelidae. They are carnivorous mammals and the family includes weasels, badgers, otters, ferrets, martens, minks and others.

Crepuscular, (adj.) – occurring or active during twilight

Incisors, noun – a front tooth typically adapted for cutting

Population eruption, noun – a sudden increase in population.

Conversation questions for this podcast: 

  • How can you tell a muskrat from a beaver?
  • How can you tell a mink from a river otter?
  • The beaver is a “keystone species” that means it is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. What makes beavers so important to the rest of the ecosystem they live in?  
  • When the Iowa DNR wanted to re-introduce river otters to Iowa they made a trade with another state that was trying to re-introduce a different animal. What animal did Iowa trade for otters?
  • What are some of the reasons these species became rare in Iowa?
  • Which one of these animals was the subject of a 1976 pop song by the duo, Captain and Tennille?

Matthew is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa