The Kirtland’s Water Snake shares some similar habitats and habits as the Massasauga Rattlesnake and is also under scrutiny as its numbers continue to decline. It is not venomous, but it uses crayfish burrows like the Massasauga and spends most of its life underground. Biologists hoping to survey the secretive snake often will use a cover board, a corrugated sheet of aluminum that is placed over a crayfish burrow.
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is a small, venomous snake recently listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It persists in only a few locations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The Fish and Wildlife Service describes the Massasauga as “a small snake with a thick body, heart-shaped head and vertical pupils.”
The Nine-banded Armadillo is native to Mexico, Central, and South America but has expanded its range north into the southern United States. They first appeared in Texas in the mid 1800s and were also introduced into Florida by about 1900. Now Armadillos are being seen more frequently in Illinois as they slowly push northward.
The Bobcat was nearly eliminated from Illinois by the mid 20th century, landing it on the state list of threatened and endangered species from 1977-1999. Today, Bobcats have been documented in every county but are most numerous in the southern half of the state. They are secretive, mostly nocturnal hunters that prefer forest environments for cover. They can be up to three-and-half feet long (including tail) and weigh up to 40 pounds (but averaging 22 pounds), making adult Bobcats larger than even the biggest house cat.
Settlers pouring into Illinois drove large carnivores like Black Bears, Cougars, and Wolves from Illinois by the mid to late 1800s. The skull of a Cougar (Puma concolor), pictured here with a replica created by 3D scanning and printing, was found dead in Randolph County in 2000 after it had been hit by a train. This was the first record of a Cougar confirmed in Illinois since the species was extirpated more than a century before. When an animal is no longer found in a particular state or region but persists elsewhere, it is considered extirpated but not extinct.
Former president Theodore Roosevelt presented six pairs of antelope horns to the Illinois State Museum in 1910 following a year-long hunting trip to East Africa. Roosevelt’s trip was billed as an expedition to collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Roosevelt was a big-game hunter, but he was also a naturalist at heart, having created his own natural history museum in his room as a child.
This unique assemblage of fossil flora and fauna gets its name from the Mazon (pronounced Muh-zon) Creek (River) that serves as a tributary to the Illinois River in northeast Illinois. A portion of the fossil beds are now within the Braidwood State Fish and Wildlife Area, and fossil collecting is allowed by permit. Not only do the fossils help scientists reconstruct past climates and species composition in Illinois (at that time the state was located much closer to the equator), but they are also starkly beautiful.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, before federal protections for all birds were established, egg collecting thrived as a hobby. Collectors bought, sold, and traded eggs with one another. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was established to stop the commercialization of birds, primarily because market hunting for restaurants and to provide feathers for the hat trade was decimating populations. As egg collecting slowly disappeared in the years following, many collectors gave their collections to museums.
The prairie has its own suite of grasses and wildflowers that make it a unique ecosystem. With the habitat comes the associated insects, birds, reptiles, and amphibians adapted to this sometimes harsh, sometimes beautiful environment.
The Prairie Cicada’s (Megatibicen dorsatus) sound is unique to the tallgrass prairie. Because much of the prairie was converted to farming and other uses before it could be thoroughly studied, we may never know what the cacophony of insect songs sounded like in this distinctive habitat. Many of those insects are now as rare as original prairie remnants. The Prairie Cicada persists in some of those remnants as well as in small railroad prairies.