This week, on March 3, we’re celebrating World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora. You don’t have to travel far to see wildlife. Have you seen any of these Illinois state species out in the wild? Many can be found on the Nature Museum’s grounds or in parks or forest preserves throughout Chicagoland. How many can you find? You can use Seek or iNaturalist to see where other people have found these species or share your own sightings!
State Amphibian: Eastern Tiger Salamander, 2005
Eastern tiger salamanders can be found in habitats ranging from woodlands to grassy fields. Most of the time they are found in underground burrows and are active at night, making them very difficult to spot, but in the spring they can be found returning to vernal ponds to breed and lay eggs. Tiger salamanders get their name from the yellow and brown-black markings on their bodies, and eastern tiger salamanders often have a more spotted than striped pattern, though it can vary. They can live up to 15 years in the wild and eat small invertebrates including worms and insects. Check out these tiger salamanders Dr. Allison encountered doing field work last year! Have you seen any of the tiger salamanders at the Nature Museum’s Look-In Lab?
State Reptile: Painted Turtle, 2005
Painted turtles live in slow-moving fresh water throughout North America, and many can be found basking on logs during sunny days in North Pond. A painted turtle can be identified by the yellow stripes on their heads and their webbed feet, which are good for swimming. Painted turtles lack the red markings found on the sides of the head of red-eared sliders, another common turtle found in North Pond. They are omnivores and eat aquatic plants, invertebrates, and fish, and can live more than 50 years in the wild! Female painted turtles leave the water to nest and lay eggs. If you see a turtle crossing the road and it is safe for you to stop and leave your vehicle, you can help it cross the road in the direction the turtle was traveling. Have you seen a painted turtle at North Pond?
State Flower: Violet, 1908
The common blue violet, Viola sororia, is a perennial flower native to eastern North America and can be found in prairie, lawns, woodlands, and wetlands throughout the state, including on the museum grounds. The violet has broad, heart-shaped leaves, purple or blue flowers with five petals which bloom in the spring, and grows in partial sun to shade. Violets are a host plant to the caterpillars of many fritillary butterflies, and the flowers are edible for people! Have you ever seen a violet?
State Tree: White Oak, 1973
The white oak, Quercus alba, is found throughout eastern North America and can grow up to 100 feet tall and live over 400 years! White oak acorns, which are an important food source for squirrels and birds, aren’t produced until the tree is 20-50 years old. Oaks are mast seeders, which means the trees don’t produce acorns every year. Are the oak trees near you producing acorns this year?
State Bird: Cardinal, 1929
The northern cardinal is found throughout eastern North America and is a common sight around Chicago. The cardinal displays sexual dimorphism, which means the male and female birds look different. The male cardinal is bright red, whereas the female cardinal is a grayish brown color. Both males and female cardinals have crests on their head. Cardinals mostly eat seeds, like this pair spotted in the museum’s prairie, but will also feed on insects and fruit. Male cardinals are territorial and will sing from the tops of trees to defend his territory. Have you ever heard a cardinal singing?
State Insect: Monarch Butterfly, 1975
Monarch butterflies are one of the most recognizable butterflies in North America with an orange, black, and white pattern on their wings. In late August and September, eastern monarchs start migrating south to central Mexico for the winter. In the spring, the multi-generational migration back north begins, eventually reaching the Chicago area around May. You can follow the current monarch migration at journeynorth.org. Monarch caterpillars only feed on milkweed leaves, and you can help monarchs by planting native milkweed and creating a Monarch Waystation. Have you ever seen any monarch butterflies or caterpillars?
State Fish: Bluegill, 1986
Bluegills live in ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers including the Chicago River and are a popular fish to catch. They grow between 4-12 inches and are omnivores but mostly feed on small aquatic invertebrates and fish. Bluegills are also important prey for other fish, snapping turtles, birds, and even otters. Hiding places, including aquatic plants, submerged trees, and other underwater structures, are important for bluegills, especially for young fish. Floating gardens along the river’s edge, like at the Riverwalk and Wild Mile, provide habitats for young fish to grow. Have you seen any animals that live in the water?
State Animal: White-tailed Deer, 1982
White-tailed deer were once a rare sight in Illinois in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, but are now found throughout Illinois. In Chicago, they can sometimes be found around the city’s cemeteries. White-tailed deer have reddish-brown coats in the summer which turn to grayish-brown in the winter, and the underside of the tail is white which they raise when alarmed. Bucks, or male deer, begin to grow antlers in late spring which are covered in a soft tissue called velvet. They shed their antlers each year in winter, around December to February. A doe, or female deer, gives birth to one to three fawns with spotted coats in the spring. The spotted coats help the fawns stay camouflage in vegetation. Have you ever seen any white-tailed deer in the city or suburbs?
State Prairie Grass: Big Bluestem, 1989
Big bluestem is a grass found in tallgrass prairies that can grow up to 8-12 feet tall with roots that can grow down to 10 feet! These deep roots allow the grass to survive fires and droughts. Fire is important to prairies, it keeps other less fire resistant species, like trees, from taking over. Controlled burns happen at the prairie on the museum grounds every few years to help keep non-prairie plants from growing and to return nutrients to the soil. You can find big bluestem in the summer and fall along the Nature Trails of the museum grounds or at restored prairies like Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Have you ever seen grass taller than you?