The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are in full swing with athletes sliding, skiing, jumping, and shooting their way into the world record books in search of gold. Many of these athletes have worked their entire lives in pursuit of one goal, Olympic glory. Meanwhile, back home in the Driftless Area, there are athletes performing every day, as they have every day for their entire lives. These athletes are not competing for Olympic glory but for survival. They must be able to perform these amazing feats day after day after day in to outlast their competition.
Once plentiful and now rebounding in numbers, the bobcat is the high jumper of the Driftless Area. A bobcat weighing a mere 20 pounds and standing less than two feet high can jump from a standing position twelve feet in the air. That is the equivalent of a human athlete jumping 30 feet in the air without a running start.
Perhaps not like an athlete from the Olympics, but instead the X games, a grey tree frog can climb surfaces much like a rock climber, picking their line with grace and beauty and defying logic on surfaces that a mere normal athlete would fall off. But what sets the world’s greatest athletes apart from others is their ability to perform multiple mindboggling feats. The greatest attribute the grey tree frog may have is something that very few animals in the Driftless Area can claim to do. Grey tree frogs change color from grey to green to yellow to best match their surroundings while hunting or hiding. On second thought, the ability to climb any surface and change color makes a grey tree frog more like a superhero than an Olympic athlete.
The king of all athletes in the Driftless Area is an animal that is a world record holder. It is the fastest animal in the world. Flying at speeds of over 250 miles per hour, the peregrine falcon calls the limestone bluffs of the Driftless Area home. Even though the peregrines were once wiped away from the landscape, thanks in part to reintroductions, they are now at numbers at or greater than before extirpation from Iowa.
The Driftless Area is home to many animals that perform amazing athletic feats every day. The Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center in Lansing offers families great opportunities to learn about the flora and fauna in our beautiful corner of Iowa. Built alongside the Mississippi River, visitors are treated with a breathtaking look at the wildlife and people of the Driftless Area.
Photo: Ross Geerdes - 2 Grey tree frogs at the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center in Lansing