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.
The Illinois State Museum was seeking a pair of white-tailed bucks (Odocoileus virginianus) with their antlers locked in combat for a habitat exhibit, when in 1984, two hunters in Pike County happened upon just such a scene. Jerome Martin of Pleasant Hill and Sam Mathews of Riverton encountered these bucks while hunting in the hills near Rockport, an unincorporated town in western Pike County.
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were once so rare that in the early 1900s, Illinois State Museum curators had to arrange to get specimens from Wisconsin for exhibit. Unregulated shooting, changes in land use and other factors combined to all but eliminate deer from the state by the turn of the last century.
The Barn Owl’s name sounds like it should be found just about everywhere in rural Illinois. The truth is that Barn Owl (Tyto alba) numbers declined so precipitously by the 1960s that they landed on the Illinois list of threatened or endangered species. In recent years, however, the Barn Owl has made a comeback.
It’s a story that was disturbingly familiar at the turn of the 20th Century. The Carolina Parakeet once was found in abundance throughout the eastern and Midwestern United States. The parrot with the northern-most distribution, the colorful and noisy Carolina Parakeet was hard to miss when it gathered in large flocks. By the late 19th century it was rare. By the early 20th century it was virtually extinct, with the last known individual dying in captivity in 1918.