Illinois Natural History Survey News
Illinois Natural History Survey News
A timber rattlesnake was found dead on the road near Carrollton, Illinois, which according to INHS Herpetologist Chris Phillips was a "little bit shocking." Timber rattlesnakes have been declining in Illinois and are classified as threatened under the Illinois Endangered Species Act. Phillips, who has studied snakes for the past 25 years in Illinois was contacted by The Telegraph newspaper about this unusual find and said the sighting was odd, not just because of the rarity of the species, but the species is typically found along the bluffs closer to the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.
INHS Behavioral Entomologist Joe Spencer is looking at rotation-resistant western corn rootworms, which are causing severe injury to crops. Crops modified to resist infestation by insects and crop rotation are some of the methods to control injurious insects, but some rootworms have developed resistance to these mechanisms. Repeated use of the modified corn year after year has given the rootworms time to adapt. Producers are encouraged to watch their fields for injury.
Over the course of a week, 1000 endangered mussels were collected from under a bridge construction site in Pennsylvania, packed for safe transport, quarantined, marked, measured, and released into new sites in Vermilion County, Illinois. This is the third relocation from Pennsylvania to Illinois as part of the Species Survival Plan for two endangered mussels, the northern riffleshell and the clubshell.
INHS Paleo-entomologist Sam Heads and collaborator Yinan Wang recently described the first fossil record of the differential grasshopper. The specimen, a species which is still alive today, was found in material from the Late Pleistocene McKittrick tar pits of southern California.
Heads Laboratory Webpage
INHS researchers Jeremy Tiemann, Kevin Cummings, Sarah Bales, Alison Price, and Diane Shasteen are working to reintroduce endangered northern riffleshell and clubshell mussels to sites in Vermilion County. Approximately 1000 mussels were collected from the Alleghany River in Pennsylvania, under a bridge slated for replacement in 2018. Following quarantine and tagging, the mussels will be released at sites found to meet the requirements necessary for survival.
Glencoe, Northbrook, Wilmette, Kenilworth have all had mosquitoes test positive for West Nile Virus in August.
INHS Medical Entomology Lab
Tips and information about protecting yourself and the community from West Nile Virus from North Shore Mosquito Abatement District
INHS Entomologist Michael Jeffords was interviewed about the current state of monarch butterflies in Illinois.
“Last year’s drought had a twofold effect. Fewer monarchs were produced in the Midwest, and those that were had a tough time migrating to Mexico as they had a thousand miles of virtually nectarless landscape to cross in Texas and northern Mexico," Jeffords said.
INHS Ornithologist Tara Beveroth is assisting the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as they work to restore osprey populations in Illinois. Five nestling osprey were brought from Langley Airforce Base in Virginia to the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, where they were given health assessments, fed, measured, and banded. This it the first of a series of osprey translocations over the next ten years.
Decatur Herald-Review Article
Video of Osprey being fed - by Tara Beveroth
INHS Entomologist Sam Heads is part of a collaborative effort to digitize fossil insect collections across the country. The Fossil Insect Collaborative is a joint venture between the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH), the American Museum of Natural History, the Yale Peabody Museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, the University of Colorado, the University of Illinois, and the University of Kansas. According to the Fossil Insect Collaborative, "Fossil insects provide a unique deep-time record of ecological and evolutionary response to past environmental changes and therefore are invaluable for understanding the impacts of climate change on the current biodiversity crisis." The project officially kicked off the 1st of July, 2013.
Fossil Insect Collaborative
Heads Lab of Systematic Entomology & Insect Paleontology
University of Illinois researchers, including INHS Behavioral Entomologist Dr. Joseph Spencer, found that differences in the microbial community in the gut of western corn rootworms (WCR) can change their ability to survive crop rotation. Crop rotation, switching between corn and soybeans is used as a method to control WCR as soybean leaves are typically toxic to WCR. Researchers have found that some WCR are able to survive long enough on soybeans to reproduce. This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found "significant and consistent differences in the relative abundance of various types of bacteria in the guts of rotation-resistant and nonresistant rootworms. These differences corresponded to differing activity levels of digestive enzymes in their guts and to their ability to tolerate soybean plant defenses."
Dr. Spencer is quoted as saying, "It's not just the rootworm that we have to worry about. There's really this whole conspiracy between the rootworm and its co-conspirators in the gut that can respond fairly quickly, relatively speaking, to the assaults that they face."
Read the full article in the Early Edition section of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
For the past 49 years, box turtles have been collected from the wild and brought to Danville for the annual Turtle Reunion and Races, a charity event. This has been a concern to herpetologists, including INHS Herpetologist Chris Phillips and U of I Wildlife Veterinarian Matt Allender (an INHS Affiliate), for several reasons including the possibility of spreading diseases. The two scientists have been collaborating on a long term study of the health of box turtles in Vermilion County. They have been testing for diseases including ranavirus, a contagious disease with high mortality that is also a threat to amphibians. Allender said ranavirus has been classified as the biggest threat to amphibian biodiversity.
After speaking with IDNR, the president of the Turtle Club, Mike Puhr, said that they will stop the racing of live turtles because they don't want to contribute to the disease problem among the turtle population.
News Gazette Article
INHS Fisheries Research Scientist Josh Sherwood was called out by WCIA to catch and identify some large fish found in a drainage ditch. The large fish were Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus), usually found in large rivers, but spawn in tributaries. The flooding caused by the recent heavy spring rains likely allowed the adults to swim up to these ditches where they will lay their eggs before returning downstream.
INHS Botanist John Taft and Outreach Coordinator Jen Mui were quoted in an article in the Chicago Tribune about skunk cabbage. Skunk cabbage, Illinois' earliest flowering native plant, gets its name from the foul odor produced as it generates heat. The heat and odor attract pollinators including flies, carrion beetles and honey bees. A link to a video about skunk cabbage pollination produced by the Outreach Department was also included in the article.
INHS Researcher Jeremy Tiemann is part of a team working to relocate endangered mussels from a bridge construction site in Pennsylvania to Illinois rivers. The first mussels (relocated in 2010) were given PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags to allow monitoring and after a year and a half, approximately 80% of the relocated mussels had survived. An additional 1200 were transplanted in 2012, and now, new locations are being sought for additional transplants.
Researchers at the INHS Forbes Biological Station have banded lesser scaup over the past two seasons to examine their use of restored habitats. Director Heath Hagy hopes to have funding to continue taking blood samples to look at metabolites and contaminants in the birds.
“There are a lot of scaup here,” Hagy said. “We are catching 200-400 per day and we are only getting 10-20 recaptures, so there are a ton of birds out there."
State Journal Register
INHS Wildlife Epidemiologist Nohra Mateus-Pinilla has been investigating the recent beaver die off at Meadowbrook Park. Although there is no "conclusive evidence," Mateus-Pinilla said, "but it appears that the only thing that could have caused the die-off is an outbreak of tularemia." Toxins from run-off, and other diseases including leptospira and salmonella were ruled out and other evidence pointed to tularemia.
Tularemia are common bacteria. "They are present in rabbits and squirrels," Mateus-Pinilla said. "They are part of the natural ecosystem."
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has released a press release today that INHS researchers and their collaborators have confirmed the presence of White Nose Syndrome - a disease fatal to several of our bat species - here in Illinois. Read more about this problem and the work our researchers are doing to understand it:
INHS Astracologist Christopher Taylor and INHS Ichthyologist Emeritus Larry Page were interviewed about an unusual animal found during aquatic surveys in Lake County in NE Illinois. Lake County Forest Preserve staff turned up a "Palaemonetes kadiakensis," glass shrimp or Mississippi grass shrimp, whose range is typically further south.
Taylor said that there are only five species of freshwater shrimp in North America and this particular species has adapted to live further north than the others.
Page added that this species is usually found in cleaner streams, so this could be a good sign for the health of Des Plaines River.
AP story in Daily Herald
AP story in Washington Examiner
INHS Ornithologist Steve Bailey told the Chicago Tribune that Danville has "the largest winter roost of crows that we know about in the U.S. and Canada." Christmas Bird Counts found 121,500 crows, whereas a year ago, the count was 238,000.
INHS Affiliate Mike Ward added that the drought caused a resurgence of West Nile virus, to which crows are particularly vulnerable.
Crows rebound well, which might be bad news for the residents of Danville who have unsuccessfully tried many things including trucks with a "cannon" booming to scare the birds.
INHS Waterfowl Ecologist Aaron Yetter conducts weekly aerial surveys and on Nov 13 found more waterfowl than average for this time of year.
Yetter counted 305,310 ducks along the Illinois River compared to the10-year average of 234,434 birds for this same week and 356,735 ducks on the Upper Mississippi River compared to the 10-year average of 226,801 birds.
"It looks like we got a big push of new mallards. We also have well above average numbers of pintails, gadwalls, lesser scaup and other species."
Field and Stream
INHS Herpetologist Chris Phillips was interviewed for a recent installment of Environmental Almanac. Phillips was contacted by a photographer who captured an image of an elusive, fully aquatic amphibian known as a siren, being eaten by a Great Blue Heron in Vermilion County. Sirens are known from southern Illinois but have never been detected by the extensive INHS herpetological surveys of Vermilion County over the past 20 years. Phillips said "It goes to show you there are still some surprises out there for a herpetologist in the Midwest."
Photo by Jessica Runner
INHS Botanist Greg Spyreas was interviewed for a radio segment on WBEZ, a Chicago based NPR affiliate. The host of Curious City contacted Spyreas to find out how to find the most biologically diverse place in Chicago. His suggestion was to find large areas with a variety of habitats and indicator species, such as Powderhorn Prairie and Marsh on the southeast side of Chicago.
According to Spyreas, "The Chicago Region probably has more habitat types and species than just about any other comparably sized area in the Midwest, due to its fortuitous geographic location, soils, topography, glacial history, lake Michigan, etc. And it is certainly one of if not the most important in terms of biodiversity. "
Read the full article
INHS Fisheries Biologist Josh Sherwood was featured in a recent Environmental Almanac about the Fishes of Champaign County surveys. Sherwood is conducting the 5th iteration of the surveys that began in 1885.
The original Fishes of Champaign County survey was conducted by Stephen A. Forbes between 1885 and 1901 and found 65 species of fishes. A 2nd version of the Fishes of Champaign County was conducted by Forbes and Robert E. Richardson, and added 14 species to the list. R. Weldon Larimore and Phillip W. Smith conducted the 3rd survey in the 1950s and added 9 more species to the list. Larimore and Peter Bayley conducted the 4th survey in 1987 and brought the species list to 94 species of fishes.
History of the Fishes of Champaign County
INHS Plant Ecologist Bill Handel has been surveying railroad prairies for the Illinois Department of Transportation for years. He recently told a reporter with the News Tribune that Because most of the
state is converted to agriculture, [the best prairie] is wedged between the railroad tracks and the road,
Handel's reports, and the reports of other INHS researchers, go into a database used by state agencies to protect native habitats when planning construction projects, mowing along roadways or applying pesticides.
Northwest Indiana Tribune