Polk County Conservation

Mammal Questions

  • When do deer shed their antlers and where are the best places to find them? I have always wanted to find one. If I do find one, can I keep it?

    Male deer grow antlers to impress females during mating season. By January or February the antlers will drop because they are no longer needed. Shed antlers are difficult to find because rodents eat them quickly for the calcium. Sometimes you can find ones that are partially eaten. You’ll want to look along deer trails between where deer bed down at night and their feeding areas. Deer often bed down on south facing slopes out of the wind. If you do find a shed antler you can keep it. You don’t have to wait until the snow melts. I was lucky enough to step on a shed last winter while snowshoeing. Good luck!

  • Are deer are color-blind? Is this why hunters can wear bright orange clothing and the deer don’t seem to notice?

    Yes, deer have a form of color blindness. All mammals have a retina located in the back of the eye that consists of two types of light sensitive cells called rods and cones. Rods function in the absence, or near absence, of light and permit vision in darkness. Cones function in full light and permit daytime and color vision. Deer have more rods (nighttime cells) and fewer cones (daytime and color cells) than humans. Therefore, deer have better nighttime vision than humans but poorer daytime and color vision. Deer lack red cones so they can't distinguish between green, yellow, orange, red or brown. All of these colors appear as shades of yellow. So the blaze orange color hunters wear appears yellow, as does almost everything else to a deer.

  • My dog was sprayed by a skunk on our farm. I bought a whole bunch of tomato juice and tried bathing him in it, but the stench still remains. I’m desperate! Is there anything else I can use to get rid of the skunk odor?

    My sympathies go out to you! When skunks are alarmed or threatened they spray a yellow-tinted oily liquid from two sacks in their behind. Skunks are able to adjust the spray to a mist or stream and can aim at a specific target up to 20 feet away. The musk can temporarily blind or stun individuals sprayed in the face. Victims can experience watery eyes, nasal irritation, and nausea. Needless to say, not a pleasant experience!

    Contrary to popular belief, tomato juice does not effectively neutralize skunk odor. There are several over the counter products that claim to remove the odor, but there is an easy home remedy you can try instead. A chemist named Paul Krebaum created a solution that chemically neutralizes skunk odors. The ingredients for the solution are: 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (fresh bottle), 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1-2 teaspoons liquid dish soap. Mix the ingredients in an open container and use immediately! The solution can be used on people or pets; avoid splashing the product in the eyes or mouth. Allow the solution to remain on hair for five minutes before rinsing with water. Repeat as needed. Do not use this solution on clothing because it may discolor the fabric. This solution will not bleach pet hair.

  • I live near Johnston and we see and hear coyotes in my backyard. Is this normal for them to be so close to the yard and house? Tell me a little more about coyotes. Thank you.

    It doesn’t surprise me that you have seen and heard coyotes near your house. Coyotes are common around here and can be found near wooded stream valleys, parks, farm fields, and even in metro areas. One of the reasons we don’t see more of them is because they are nocturnal animals, hunting mainly at night. Coyotes are very adaptable animals. They have been known to eat carrion, foxes, dogs, rabbits, mice, other small mammals, birds, frogs, snakes, insects, and fruit.

    There are no natural predators of coyotes in Iowa except humans. There is an open continuous hunting season on coyotes. This means if you have a valid hunting license you can hunt coyotes any time of the year. There is also a trapping season November – April.

    If you and your family are out in your yard I wouldn’t worry about coyotes running up to you. Coyotes avoid humans and will run away. If you see them during the daytime, most likely that animal is very hungry and is looking for food.

  • I found a bat flying around in my living room and wondered what the best way to remove it is?

    When a single bat is found inside the home or garage, it is often a lost young bat whose primary goal is to escape. As long as no direct contact with the bat has been made, it can be released outside. Open up the doors and windows and the bat will usually leave on its own. If the bat does not leave on its own, wait for it to land on something. Take a box or small bucket and cover it. Slide a piece of cardboard between the wall and box, slide the bat into the box, and release it outside. Bats are rarely aggressive even if chased, but may bite if handled. As with any wild animal, bats should not be touched with bare hands. Bats are protected by Iowa state law, which means it is illegal to capture, harm, or kill any of the nine species of bats in Iowa. However, homeowners have the right to remove them from their property.

  • I found a fawn in my yard without its mother. I think it’s been abandoned. What should I do?

    Leave it alone. Don’t pick it up or try to feed it. The fawn’s best chance of survival is in the wild. Mother deer leave their young alone on purpose. She will only visit her fawn a few times a day to nurse and clean it, staying for only a few minutes at a time. She will go and feed nearby and is never too far away from her fawn. A fawn’s natural instinct is to lie down in the grass and be still. The white spots on their fur help them be camouflaged in the grass. Fawns also have no scent so they are undetectable by predators. If a fawn is threatened, the mother’s instinct is to run away to get the predator to chase her instead of the fawn.

  • There is a raccoon living in my attic. It is so noisy at night when I’m trying to sleep and it’s driving me crazy! How can I get rid of this raccoon? Will you come and remove it?

    It is the time of year when we often have encounters with wildlife, good or bad. For your peace of mind, your situation does warrant removal of the animal from your property. This can be a little tricky because there might be a nest of baby raccoons in the attic as well. Polk County Conservation can offer advice over the phone but does not have staffing or equipment to remove problem wildlife from homes or businesses. There are several businesses in the Des Moines area that provide this service for a fee. To find a list of businesses that remove wildlife from homes or businesses, look under the yellow pages under pest control. Good luck!

  • I’ve been seeing a lot of dead deer on the side of the road lately and wondered why there are more car/deer accidents at this time of the year?

    White-tailed deer are in breeding season or rut right now and don’t pay attention to traffic. Bucks are chasing the does, and does are running from the bucks. Rut lasts from October to January. Your highest chance of hitting a deer is from sunset to midnight and shortly before and after sunrise. To avoid hitting a deer drive with caution through deer crossing areas. Deer rarely run alone. If you see one deer, more may be nearby. If a deer is in your path, brake firmly and stay in your lane. Many serious crashes occur when drivers swerve to avoid a deer and hit another car or lose control of their car. Devices such as deer whistles and reflectors have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions. So remember, "Don’t veer for deer!"

  • I live on one acre in the country and am having big problems with field mice. I have trapped 20 in the last three weeks and they are driving me crazy. Any suggestions on how to get rid of the critters? What about poisons?

    It’s that time of year when rodents are seeking warm places with food to spend the winter. The first thing you should do is eliminate the food supply. Start in the garage. Keep dog food, bird seed, grass and garden seeds, in covered containers. Inside, all food in the kitchen must be kept in containers. Your next step should be plugging all the obvious holes. Use fine steel wool to stuff around pipes and drainage holes. Mice can not chew through it. You can also try covering up the holes with duct tape. Walk around the house foundation and fix any obvious entry ways. Remember that mice can fit through tiny spaces much smaller than their bodies! I would advise against using poisons. Poisons are harmful to children and pets. Animals like hawks, owls, and snakes could feed on a poisoned mouse and then become poisoned themselves. I would also invest in mousetraps that can be used over and over again. The last thing to consider is getting a cat. Cats are natural predators and can be very effective at getting rid of mice in and around your house.

  • What’s your policy regarding feeding the elk and bison at Jester Park? I saw someone feeding potato chips to the elk the other day. Surely that can’t be healthy!

    It’s not! We strongly discourage anyone from feeding the elk and bison for your safety and the animals’ safety. The male elk have huge antlers that can poke through the fence and if the animal gets spooked, it could hurt someone. We feed them a specific diet to keep them healthy. Elk and bison do not digest large quantities of human foods very well. Some visitors love to feed the elk apples and carrots, which are healthier than chips; however those foods upset their stomachs. For example, if a park visitor feeds the elk two apples, and then someone else feeds them a few more apples, by the end of the day, one elk has eaten 20 apples. When these animals get sick, we can usually trace it back to their diet. Next time you are visiting Jester Park, please do not feed the elk and bison. Thank you!

  • I have bats living in my attic and recently had someone come to remove them. He said there were baby bats in the attic and he wouldn’t do anything until all of the babies were old enough to fly on their own. When are bat babies born and when are they old enough to fly? I want them out of my house!

    Maternity colonies of big brown bats are typically found in buildings or attics like yours. Big brown bats give birth to two babies in June. The young grow rapidly and are able to fly in about three weeks. The nursery colony will not disperse until all the young are weaned. By late July, early August most young of the year have left the nursery to find temporary roosts elsewhere. To keep the bats from returning to your attic, it would be safe to seal up the holes in the house by mid-August.

    If you do find a bat flying around in your house, you can try a couple of things to remove it. First, open the windows and doors and turn off the lights. Bats will use echolocation to find their own way out. Or you can try catching the bat with a net, cloth or leather glove and release it outside.

    Bats are important members of the ecological community. In North America they help control insect populations. A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 18 million rootworms each summer. In the tropics, bats that eat fruit and nectar help pollinate and disperse seeds of tropical plants.

  • A woodchuck has dug a huge hole under the backside of my garage. I’m concerned about the damage it’s causing to my garage. What’s the best way to remove the animal from my property?

    Woodchucks are also known as groundhogs and are the largest members of the squirrel family. Woodchucks are burrowing animals and can dig tunnels up to 30 feet long. Woodchucks will eat just about any kind of plant or flower. They particularly like tomatoes, fruit or any ground growing vegetable.

    If a woodchuck is destroying your property, you have the legal right to remove it. In your case, you can try using a live trap to remove the woodchuck from under your garage. Live traps can be purchased for at least $20 at some hardware stores or lawn and garden centers. Bait the trap with fruit or vegetables. Place the trap alongside the hole where the woodchuck is living. Once the woodchuck is trapped, you can relocate it to a wildlife area. Do not release the live woodchuck in another part of the neighborhood. Otherwise the woodchuck may become someone else’s problem.

    It is important to fill in the hole once the woodchuck has been removed. Many other animals like opossums, snakes and other woodchucks will take advantage of an empty burrow.

  • I’ve been hearing a lot about mountain lions lately. How common are mountain lions in Iowa and how did they get here?

    Mountain lions (puma, cougar, and panther) were once found throughout the state but not in great numbers and disappeared from Iowa in the 1860s. The chance of mountain lions returning to Iowa was slim due to the lack of suitable habitat. In recent years, populations of mountain lions have increased in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Missouri. Recently there have been reports of mountain lion sightings in Iowa. The increase in deer populations in the Midwest may be one explanation why they are increasing. The mountain lions showing up in Iowa have been young males perhaps looking for a new territory. It’s possible that some of the lion sightings have been escaped pets.

    The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has not released any mountain lions in Iowa, nor do they plan to. The Iowa DNR has received numerous reports of sightings in the state. However, a report can not be verified unless a carcass, photo, or track is preserved. Mountain lions are by no means "common" in Iowa.

  • I found a nest of baby rabbits in my yard and I think their mother has abandoned them. How can I help them?

    It’s natural to want to help these animals, but the best thing to do is leave them alone. Most likely the mother is still in the area and knows exactly where her young are. Baby rabbits spend most of the day and night by themselves. The mother only comes back to the nest at dawn and dusk to feed the young. If the nest has been damaged it can be repaired. Look for a shallow depression lined with fur or grass. Place the babies in the nest with a light layer of grass on top to hide them. Leave the area because the mother won’t return if you're there. It is an old wives tale that if the young are touched, the mother won’t return. If you find healthy bunnies that are 4-5 inches long, can hop, with eyes open and ears up, they do not need help. They are able to survive on their own.

  • I see in your upcoming talk about Mammals of Iowa that you've listed the civet cat as one of the mammals. This has been a long running debate between my father and a friend of my brother's as to a civet cat's true existence. You've proven my dad correct. But, what exactly is a civet cat? I've not really ever figured that out. Thanks for the information.

    People once referred to spotted skunks as civet cats. Spotted skunks are smaller and faster than the more common striped skunk and weigh around 2 pounds. They can climb trees to escape a predator or look for food. Spotted skunks feed mainly on small mammals, but also eat grubs and other insects, as well as corn, grapes, and mulberries. All skunks are highly developed for defense and can spray their foul-smelling musk distances of up to 15 feet. Besides its overpowering odor, the musk can burn the eyes and cause momentary loss of vision. The spotted skunk is uncommon and is considered an endangered species in Iowa. There is a mammal called a civet that lives in Africa and the East Indies. The civet is a little animal, with a catlike body, long legs, a long tail, and a masked face resembling a raccoon or weasel. This animal is distantly related to the common domestic cat, but the civet "cat" is not a cat. Indeed, it is more related to the mongoose than to any cat.

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Granger, IA 50109

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