I’m sure you’ve seen them on these frigid winter mornings, but perhaps you didn’t know what they were called. My kids thought they were ‘Rainbows around the Sun’ which is….sort of correct.

To see them, you just the right ingredients: extremely cold temperatures, the sun near the horizon, and ice in the sky.

I captured these ‘puppies’ on Highway 218 near Waterloo earlier this week:

James Patrick - Townsquare Media
James Patrick - Townsquare Media

The proper definition of a Sun Dog, courtesy of the National Weather Service:

Sundogs are colored spots of light that develop due to the refraction of light through ice crystals. They are located approximately 22 degrees either left, right, or both, from the sun, depending on where the ice crystals are present. The colors usually go from red closest to the sun, out to blue on the outside of the sundog. Sundogs are also known as mock suns or parhelia, which means "with the sun".

Are Sundogs rare?

Think of them like a rainbow – you just need the right conditions for them to occur…and wintertime in Iowa is usually is home to the perfect conditions for Sundogs. The sun just has to be in the right place at the right time with just the right amount of ice crystals in the sky.


The difference between sundogs and halos is where the ice crystals are located through which the light passes before reaching our eyes. If the crystals are situated horizontal, a sundog is observed. If the crystals are randomly oriented, a halo is observed.

But WHY are they called Sundogs? The origin of the name is mixed, but it could date back to the time of Greek Mythology from the story of Zeus walking his dogs across the sky and the ‘false suns’ either side of the sun were Zeus' dogs.

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Because the regulation of exotic animals is left to states, some organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, advocate for federal, standardized legislation that would ban owning large cats, bears, primates, and large poisonous snakes as pets.

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