It’s time to dip our toes into the wild, watery world of Illinois with our friends at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago - the world’s largest indoor aquarium housing more than 8,000 aquatic animals. Did you know they care for five Illinois threatened or endangered species at the Aquarium and share their important story with their guests everyday? Read on to submerge yourself in Shedd’s incredible conservation efforts!
“Everyone should know and care about the endangered animals in their own backyard”
If you live in Illinois, your neighbors include 484 endangered or threatened species. These at-risk plants and animals include blue herons, ground squirrels, wood orchids, river chub and mudpuppies– species that we all know and love. Yet, human activity threatens their existence and the health of our local ecosystems.
As a leader in conservation, Shedd Aquarium is fortunate to care for five endangered or threatened Illinois species in our At Home on the Great Lakes exhibit. Though they may be lesser-known, these aquatic animals are amazingly unique and vital to the Great Lakes – which is why we’re so excited by ARKive’s new Illinois species page. Everyone should know and care about the endangered animals in their own backyard.
“We care for endangered Illinois species both big and small”
At Shedd, we care for endangered Illinois species both big and small, including the alligator snapping turtle, lake sturgeon, hellbender, redspotted sunfish and Iowa darter. By far the heaviest endangered animal we have is Guinness, the alligator snapping turtle. At more than 100 pounds, he’s a good representative of the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. As part of his care, Guinness has been trained to come to a target to get his food, just like our dolphins and whales do. He looks positively prehistoric with his dinosaur-like beak and thick scales, but he surprised trainers with how quickly he can learn.
The lake sturgeon, which has been around since the days of the dinosaurs, is another big endangered animal at Shedd. Reaching lengths of 3 to 9 feet, the lake sturgeon is the largest fish in the Great Lakes basin. Its vacuum-like mouth sucks up anything from lake or river bottoms. At Shedd, guests can touch a sturgeon and feel the protective bony plates under the skin of this bottom-dwelling fish.
The hellbender, the largest salamander species in North America, is surprisingly hard to find in the wild – especially now that it’s endangered in Illinois. The presence of hellbenders is often an indicator of good water quality, so the species’ endangered status points to greater problems in our aquatic ecosystems. Shedd’s hellbender was rescued from an illegal shipment at O’Hare International Airport; on exhibit, he keeps a low profile among the habitat’s rocks.
The endangered redspotted sunfish and threatened Iowa darter are smaller though no less important than any other Great Lakes fish. The redspotted sunfish lives in marshes and streams – such as the Illinois River – and is largely threatened by invasive species. The Iowa darter, often mistaken for a minnow, is Shedd’s smallest threatened species. This fish is unique because it lacks a swim bladder to keep it afloat, which means it stays at the bottom of rivers and lakes.
“We hope that greater awareness and stronger regulations … will soon restore these endangered animals’ wild populations”
Through the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act, we hope that greater awareness and stronger regulations on overhunting, over-collecting, habitat destruction and toxic contamination will soon restore these endangered animals’ wild populations. In the meantime, Shedd Aquarium will continue to care for these five Great Lakes animals and 41 other endangered or threatened animals from around world.
Nadia Hlebowitsh, Online Communications, Shedd Aquarium
From turtles to fish to salamanders, Shedd Aquarium has hardly left a river stone unturned in their aquatic species conservation efforts. Thank you for celebrating WILD Illinois with us and sharing stories from the Shedd Aquarium! Looking to surf more species and habitats in Illinois? Take a dip in our new Illinois feature page to explore 100+ species that call The Prairie State home!