Dwindling lights

Post by Jen Berlinghof

At a recent Firefly Campfire at Ryerson Conservation Area, kids and adults alike were flitting around, as fast as the fireflies they were trying to catch. For many of the children, this was their first time experiencing the age-old summer tradition of capturing living light. While the woods that night sparkled like the fourth of July, many of the adults lamented that their yards didn’t have many fireflies—certainly not like the numbers they remembered chasing as children. Turns out they may be on to something.

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Widespread anecdotal evidence of these dwindling evening displays have prompted scientists to take a look at possible reasons. One big culprit to the demise of these bioluminescent beetles seems to be the one thing that makes them so special: light.

Fireflies are one of the few groups of insects that use sight instead of smell or sound to find mates. Each firefly species has a unique series of flashes that help them defend territory, warn predators, and create courtship conversations. Males flash a code in flight. Females hang out on nearby vegetation, watching the show and flashing back the same sequence if a prospective suitor catches her compound eye.

Increased light pollution from human technology and development (think cars, homes, streetlights, stores) may be causing a breakdown in the visual communication between fireflies. A male’s signals can get lost in the shuffle or are misread by females. The result is less mating, therefore, fewer firefly eggs laid.

Another factor extinguishing these summer light shows is that fireflies are losing their “stage.” Fireflies breed and live in forests, marshes, unruly fields, and dense gardens. The larvae (“glow worms”) don’t stray too far from where they hatch. As habitats disappear, so too do all the critters that call them home. This is one reason why the parents and children at the Firefly Campfire had no trouble finding fireflies to catch and release, over and over again, late into the evening in the Lake County Forest Preserves. The natural habitat is intact in these areas, providing plenty of food, shelter, and darkness for fireflies to “talk.”

Since the preserves close at sunset, we offer special evening opportunities to enjoy nature at night. We will remain open for a Summer Night Hike and a Community Campfire, where you can catch a glimpse of the firefly glimmer.

Want to help firefly populations and set the scene for a personal light show in your yard? Consider landscaping with native plants, which lessen or eliminate the need for chemicals on your lawn and garden because they are adapted to local conditions. Pesticides can shrink the food supply of fireflies, who as larvae feed on slugs, grubs, and worms. Chemicals can also discourage adult female fireflies from the area, who wait in grasses and low shrubs for the males’ signals. Additionally, consider turning off or reducing exterior lights at night to attract and enjoy nature’s own sparkling illumination.

 

 

Saving the Blanding’s Turtle

Post by Allison Frederick

It was [dare we say] a perfect June day. Mostly sunny. Air temperature hovering around 75 degrees with a gentle breeze blowing off Lake Michigan, a mere 600 meters from where we stood. Sandhill cranes were bugling nearby in the marsh. Yellow warblers sang from the reeds, as we approached with 99 juvenile Blanding’s turtles. The young turtles were still quite small at 8 centimeters long and a mere 80 grams, but ready nonetheless for release into their natural habitat.

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Habitat Heroes

Post by Jen Berlinghof

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A group of third-graders from May Whitney Elementary School in Lake Zurich has come to the rescue at Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve. Instead of learning their science standards solely in the classroom, Mrs. Hosteland’s class is addressing an authentic environmental issue through investigation, research and collaborative reports that offer solutions to address the issue of invasive species. These hardworking 8- and 9-year-olds then presented their reports to the District 95 School Board and Lake County Forest Preserve officials. Continue reading

Virtual wildflower walk

Post by Jen Berlinghof

April is the month when every day seems to bring a new bird flying into the woodland, a new amphibian calling from the pond, a new mammal poking along the river, a new insect hatching in the prairie, and, most of all, a new plant unfurling from the forest floor.

April through the end of May provides ideal conditions to enjoy spring wildflowers. These plants are also called “ephemerals,” which means “lasting for a very short time.” Spring ephemerals take advantage of abundant light in the woodland before leaves emerge in the canopy above. Ephemerals complete their entire life cycle before shade covers the forest floor.

If you haven’t visited your favorite Lake County Forest Preserve lately, come along with me on this virtual wildflower walk to see what’s blooming now and what’s to come.

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Bluebirds are back!

Post by Jen Berlinghof

Last week while I was out checking our sap collection buckets at Ryerson Conservation Area, everything in the woods seemed a bleak brown and gray. It didn’t look much like spring was on our doorstep, but it sure sounded like it with the “plink plink” of sap dripping into aluminum buckets on the sugar maple trees and the slow “peep peep” of cold, little spring peeper frogs. Then, a male eastern bluebird landed on the branch above my head. He was a vivid blue exclamation point that seemed to shout, “Spring has arrived!”

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Nature at night

Post by Jen Berlinghof

This winter’s lack of snow has made enjoying the winter woods a little more difficult for me. So, when a scant few inches of snow fell last week I made my way to Old School Forest Preserve at dusk to explore one of the Lake County Forest Preserves solar-lit trails.

Inky black branches of old oaks played in contrast to the white-washed sky before the blush of an orange sherbet sunset took over. The woods were still and quiet as I searched for any signs of crepuscular creatures that capitalize on the twilight. Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail—Route 22 to Lake-Cook Road

Post by Jen Berlinghof

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It was a new year and a new trail, as we completed the last leg of our Des Plaines River Trail journey to hike the entire length of Lake County, Illinois. We began this hike just south of Route 22, which led us south through the recently completed trail section and beyond to the southern border of the county. We left our tracks upon the trail, just as the animals do along this greenway. Along the way, we found fresh signs in the snow that mice, squirrels, small birds, raccoon, deer, fox and even some intrepid fat-tire cyclists had all traversed the trail before us, taking advantage of a balmy 40-degree day in January. Continue reading