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 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

Apr 19

We’ve had a fantastic week of guest bloggers on ARKive from day care educators to stay-at-home moms who have highlighted the different ways they have used ARKive in support of this year’s Environmental Education Week theme of ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’. Our final guest blog has been written by Perky, an elementary school principal in northern Idaho who used tablet PC’s to engage her students with the local natural world this month … once it was warm enough to venture outside!

iPads, ARKive and Food Chain Learning All Outside Under the Sun

What fun we have with ARKive at our small rural school in northern Idaho! Who could imagine students who live only 60 miles from Canada would be able to create and learn about vital food chains in countries such as Africa, Costa Rica, or Asia? Well, the kids found it easy because of the fantastic work the ARKive people have produced. During our winters of mountains of snow, our students initially learned how to use the resources of ARKive by developing a food web of their choice using the app called StoryBuddy; we worked inside for this project.  Each student partnership made a small electronic book complete with facts and photos of animals involved in a food chain. The results were professional and the kids adored the project because of how easy it was to get the information and pictures they needed.

Students exploring ARKive outside using tablet PC's

Perky’s students have a blast exploring ARKive outside using tablet PC’s

ARKive's Temperate Rainforest of the Pacific Northwest educational resourceNow that the sun is shining and the grass is slowly turning green, we were invited to use some of the resources on ARKive again involving the use of a camera. Believe it or not, my small school of 166 students received 90 + iPads from an anonymous donor last fall! So, we now have easily accessible cameras. I chose the Temperate Rainforest Lesson to get them outside. We started by eating our lunch while digging a little deeper into the website. The students were amazed at all the other resources we found to use. While snacking on potato chips, we went through the PowerPoint. The discussion was lively and informative as we went through the slides.

Student completing worksheet from the Temperate Rainforests of the Pacific Northwest

One of Perky’s students completing a worksheet activity from the Temperate Rainforests of the Pacific Northwest ARKive lesson

Once we finished them, we were off and excited to head outside. Armed with the provided worksheets on clipboards and their iPads, the kids dove right into the work. Their first mission was to record all the living and nonliving components along one stretch of our fence. Luckily, in fourth grade they learned the necessary characteristics for something to be considered alive. As they worked along, they started snapping pictures of these components. These will be used to create a food chain of their choosing for organisms in our area which just happen to be very similar to the organisms living in a temperate rainforest: bears, moose, deer, coyotes, elk.

Brown bear photo on ARKive

Perky’s students learned about species that live in the Pacific Northwest USA such as brown bears.

Tomorrow, we will use the Doceri app, their photos and ARKive’s resources to build their food chains. Thank you, ARKive. The kids literally loved it.

Perky, Elementary School Principal, Idaho, USA

Apr 18

Next on our fantastic list of guest bloggers for our celebration of Environmental Education Week on ARKive is Laura from Pennsylvania who, in the spirit of the ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’ theme, spent an afternoon with her son Mason exploring nature just outside their home using ARKive. Keep reading to see how they encountered nature both prehistoric and modern on their adventure!

Prehistory meets the present in one afternoon spent outdoors with ARKive

When I found out about the ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’ EE Week theme and ARKive partnership, I immediately wanted to participate. Not only with my sons ‘Generation Z’ status in mind but moreso because I wanted to prove to myself that technology and nature can mix and that we do not have to become transformed by the ways of technology, forgetting about the world that exists around us. Instead, we can combine the two, each leading their own vital role.

IMG_2552My son Mason is a very energetic and enthusiastic 5 year old. However, we are reaching the point in his life where he is becoming more aware of technology and electronics and less interested in appreciating nature and the environment. When I grew up, my days were spent in the woods, climbing rocks and catching salamanders. Coming home filthy was our trophy for a successful day outdoors. A lot has changed since then.

As we headed outside, the first thing we noticed was a stray cat. I pulled up ARKive on my phone and clicked the Top 50 Mammals link. We flipped through the pictures and came across the caracal. Mason immediately commented on the similarities of size and color regarding this cat and the caracal.

Photo of caracal on ARKive

Mason recognized similar features between a local stray kitty and a caracal.

We then went to a local park and searched the historic (and safe!) Pennsylvania coals mine lands hoping to find a fossil. To our disbelief, we were successful! This time, I pulled up the Top 50 Plants and Algae link from ARKive and we looked at the various different pictures. Mason decided that the plant resembling our fossil the most was Picramnia bullata. It was so neat to think that we had the tools to help us research what we found right there with us while we were in the outdoors. As we flipped through Mason also pointed out that the tall grass around us resembled the picture of animated oat as well.

Mason found a fossil while exploring outdoors with ARKive.

Using the Top 50 Plants & Algae list on ARKive, Mason and his mom decided it looked most like Picramnia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We love using ARKive for the lessons, activities and free games on the website. Had I not visited the ARKive website and learned about the partnership with EE Week, I would not have thought about doing this with my son and we would not have shared such an interesting and educational experience. Not only were we able to enjoy the beauty of nature but we were able to immediately locate information on our phone via ARKive to back up what we found and get more information on it. This was a very valuable day for both my son and I as I learned new things as well. It is true that you’re never too old to learn something new. I could not think of a better way to learn than to experience that moment with my child, at the same time.

Laura, Nature-Exploring Mother of One

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