Mar 14

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.

ARKive's Illinois feature page

Burden Falls, an aquatic habitat featured on ARKive’s Illinois feature page. Species like the alligator snapping turtle may be found in deep river water.

“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.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Shedd Aquarium cares for many species such as this prehistoric-looking snapping turtle, Guinness!

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.

ARKive's lake sturgeon photo

Picture of lake sturgeon taken at the Shedd Aquarium

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.

ARKive's hellbender photo

Guests can come face-to-face with a hellbender at the Shedd Aquarium. Can you spot the sneaky hellbender well-camouflaged in the above image taken in the wild?

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.

You can spot a redspotted sunfish at Shedd Aquarium, too!

You can spot a redspotted sunfish at Shedd Aquarium, too!

ARKive's Iowa darter photo

The small but spectacularly-colored Iowa darter

“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!

Mar 12

Our friends at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve were anxious to share their Illinois wildlife story as part of ARKive’s Going WILD in Illinois guest blog mini-series and, of course, we were happy to oblige! Read on to see how the Preserve is creating citizen science opportunities to make a real difference in northern Illinois.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a 77-acre Illinois Nature Preserve, located in Highland Park on what was once the historic Fort Sheridan military base. The Preserve offers a beautiful network of walking and biking paths and an innovative, art-based interpretive plan that tells the unique story of this unusual landscape. The site is owned and operated by Openlands, a regional conservation organization.

Visitors to the Preserve often first notice the sweeping views presented by the bluffs. But it is the site’s rare natural communities – three ravines and a mile of bluff and lakeshore – that make the Preserve such a special place to protect. Lakefront ravines are only found on a short stretch of Illinois’ coastline and today, and most are in poor ecological health.

Butterfly at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Butterfly at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Recognizing the importance of the site’s rare ecosystems, Openlands has been carefully restoring the Preserve’s natural communities by removing invasive plants, replanting oak woodland and savanna, and repairing storm water damage. While restoration is an ongoing process, the reestablishment of viable natural communities is well underway. Today, the Preserve is a stopover for thousands of migratory songbirds and waterfowl and is home to seven plant species on the state endangered and threatened list.

ARKive's common merganser photo

Common merganser, a type of waterfowl that may visit the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve on occasion

In 2010, Openlands began partnering with the Plants of Concern (POC) program at the Chicago Botanic Garden to collect data on birds, plants, spiders, and other aspects of the Preserve’s ecology. Our volunteer “citizen scientists” work with POC and Openlands staff in the field to conduct biological monitoring. This includes searching for new populations, mapping, and recording data. As a result of monitoring, Openlands can track critical trends in population size, area, and condition, allowing us to adapt our management accordingly. Our monitoring program is now entering year five, and we are excited to start this spring!

Citizen science efforts at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Citizen science efforts at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Are you interested in becoming a citizen scientist for the Preserve? Learn how to get involved at www.plantsofconcern.org.

Aimee Collins, Site Manager, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Thanks so much for sharing your opportunities for Illinois citizens to take an active part in protecting and restoring the WILD of Illinois! If you haven’t already, be sure to take a stroll through the brand new Illinois feature page on ARKive. 

Mar 4

ARKive is proud to have partnered with the Lincoln Park Zoo on a number of incredible projects over the years. From organizing opportunities for zoo staff to meet influential wildlife media leaders, to co-hosting an after school program challenging students to create digital scavenger hunts across the zoo using iPhones and ARKive imagery, we’re always looking for fun and unique ways to support conservation together. Allison Sacerdote-Velat is a Reintroduction Biologist at Lincoln Park Zoo working with a small but oh-so-special Illinois species. Here’s her story!

Meadow jumping mouse eating grass seed

“We aim to conserve this species in our region”

At Lincoln Park Zoo, I work on the conservation and recovery of local wildlife. In partnership with Lake County Forest Preserve District, we began a recovery project for one of three subspecies of meadow jumping mouse that occur in Illinois, starting our project in 2012. Meadow jumping mice are important seed dispersers that help maintain diverse native plant communities. Because they are nocturnal, they are a major prey item for barn owls and other predators. Their populations have declined from habitat loss and fragmentation. By re-establishing populations following habitat restoration, we aim to conserve this species in our region, documenting the number of sites that still had meadow jumping mouse populations, and bringing 8 pairs of mice to Lincoln Park Zoo to establish a breeding program that provides young for supplementation and reintroduction in restored prairies and savannas.

People may be surprised by the appearance of meadow jumping mice. They are smaller than the house mice or white-footed mice that may be familiar to Illinois residents. With large kangaroo-like hind feet, and tails that are twice the length of their bodies, they can jump a meter at a time through their habitat. They sleep under natural cover objects like logs during the day. If you happen to uncover them, they quickly take off and cover large distances, bounding through the vegetation.

Meadow jumping mouse habitat

“I tried to be a good sport about being hazed by mice”

Radio-tracking our zoo-reared mice was a highlight of our work this year, as it permitted me to follow them while they explored their new home. Some mice quickly established nests in tall grasses while others kept me hiking through prairies and wetlands for weeks. One mouse led me through a thistle patch regularly, but I tried to be a good sport about being hazed by mice for their conservation.

mouse with radio collar

Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Reintroduction Biologist, Lincoln Park Zoo

Thank you, Allison, for your fantastic and vital work with meadow jumping mice! Check back again soon for the next blog in our Going Wild in Illinois guest blog mini-series and keep exploring our new Illinois feature page on ARKive!

Feb 27

Have we got a treat for you times two! First, have you seen the incredible new Illinois feature page just launched on the ARKive website?

ARKive's Illinois feature page

From the stony outcrops at the Garden of the Gods to the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, the state of Illinois is one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the Great Lakes basin. Through the generosity of ARKive supporters in the great state of Illinois, we are delighted to launch the ARKive Illinois feature page; the GO-TO source for Illinois wildlife media and natural history information. You can spend hours exploring 50 well-known and well-loved species of Illinois as well as 100+ lesser-known but just as important species that deserve recognition!

ARKive's northern raccoon photo

So, what’s the best way to celebrate this new feature and all of the wonderful wildlife, woodlands, and wayward walks in Illinois?  By gathering an incredible collection of scientists, conservationists and nature diehards that can’t wait to tell their favorite WILD stories in the Land of Lincoln as part of our Going WILD in Illinois mini-blog series!

Il parter logos

For the next two weeks, we’ll be publishing guest blogs from our friends at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and more who are anxious to share stories about Illinois endangered species recovery, explorations of incredible natural areas found only in the state, and brilliant Chicago students who are leading the charge as the conservationists of tomorrow.

ARKive barred owl photo

Of course, there will be loads of awe-inspiring imagery from fantastic ARKive contributors to quench your thirst for wildlife media – it’s what we do!

So, come back to the ARKive blog often to read the next chapter in the series. Follow the Going WILD in Illinois blog tag or look for the series on social media by searching #GoingWILDinIL.

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Jan 29

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is an important traditional Chinese holiday, packed full of flamboyant family festivities, age-old traditions and cultural charm. In China, New Year celebrations begin on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, with each New Year being represented by a different animal in the Chinese zodiac or ‘Shēngxiào’. On the 31st January, we enter the Year of the Horse, the seventh sign in the Chinese zodiac, and to celebrate this occasion we have delved into the ARKive vault to bring you fabulous facts about all things equine!

Ass-ociations

Asiatic wild ass image

According to Chinese astrology, each sign of the zodiac can be associated with specific personality traits. People born in the Year of the Horse love to be in a crowd, enjoying social occasions such as concerts, theatre visits and sporting matches. and it seems these Asiatic wild asses are no different! Interestingly, the social structure of this species appears to differ across its range, with some populations forming harems and others adopting territory-based social groups.

Several species with stripes…

Plains zebra image

As well as being one of the most distinctive equids, the plains zebra is also the most widespread and abundant. But did you know that there are two other species of zebra, both of which are considered to be threatened? The mountain zebra can be distinguished from its relatives by the stripes on its neck and torso which are thin and relatively close together, while Grevy’s zebra is the largest of the equids and has a conspicuous black stripe running along its back. With their fashionable stripes and funky manes, zebras are true style icons for the image-conscious folk born under the sign of the Horse.

Hot-headed horses

Przewalski's horse image

Two of the more negative personality traits associated with those born in the Year of the Horse are impatience and hot-headedness, as demonstrated here in this aggressive encounter between to Przewalski’s horse stallions. In the wild, Przewalski’s horse occurs in family groups led by a dominant stallion which physically defends its herd should a male from a bachelor group try and take over.

Equine explorers

Kiang image

People born in the Year of the Horse love to travel, as does the kiang which roams the vast open terrain of China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. This species can be found in Alpine meadows, steppes and on plains, foraging for grasses and sedges, and occurs at impressive elevations of up to 5,430 metres.

Energetic equids

African wild ass image

Those born under the sign of the Horse tend to be active, energetic and athletic, and are always on the move, much like this African wild ass. Horse-folk tend to pick up new skills quickly, and the African wild ass has a special skill of its own – it is capable of surviving water loss of up to 30% of its body weight, and of drinking enough water to replace it in under 5 minutes. Impressive!

Ass-like attributes

Kiang image

Despite sometimes being considered arrogant and selfish, people born in the Year of the Horse are also creative, positive and open-minded, as well as being witty (although this kiang appears to find himself funnier than his herd-mates do!), so befriend a Horse, embrace their free-spiritedness, and celebrate Chinese New Year in style!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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