“Toadally” awesome!

Post by Jen Berlinghof

Last week, our Wetland Explorers summer nature campers went wild…in a good way! We were hiking along the Des Plaines River Trail when we came upon a major toad hatch-out. Hundreds of dime-sized toadlets took over the trail, prompting shrieks of excitement from the campers. The kids scurried around, scooping up handfuls of toads, trying to save all the hopping and popping amphibians from potentially hazardous bike tires and hiking boots along the trail.

The American toad, Anaxyrus americanus, is a common amphibian in Lake County, Illinois. Like other amphibians, this species of frog leads a “dual life,” spending stages of its life cycle in water and on land. These toads have unique adaptations to help them elude potential predators. The skin of toad tadpoles, as well as adult toads, contain glands that produce toxic fluids which can be harmful to predators that swallow them or get them in their eyes. If grabbed by the beaks of hawks or herons, or by the jaws of raccoons or snakes, adult toads will inflate themselves like a balloon, hoping they can no longer fit down the throat of the predator.

If all else fails, toads will urinate, which typically gets the predator to drop them. But of all these defenses, none is as successful for the species as the strategy of “safety in numbers” we witnessed that morning at summer camp.

While solitary as adults, American toads are known to go through metamorphosis in synchrony, or all at the same time. Thousands of teeny toadlets emerge from a pond within a few days. Less time in the water as an egg or tadpole means less time for a predacious diving beetle, fish or dragonfly nymph to eat you.

Once metamorphosis is complete and toads hit land, they have to contend with different predators. The most troublesome are garter snakes. These snakes are immune to the effects of the toad’s toxic skin and will gather around ponds in early summer, gorging themselves on a toad buffet. Emerging en masse makes it impossible for the snakes to eat all the baby toads, allowing many to survive and hop away on their pudgy legs to grow into adulthood in the woods. Research has shown that tadpoles raised in the presence of predators show higher levels of aggregation than tadpoles raised in their absence.

So perhaps the magic of a toad is not kissing it to transform it into a prince, but rather the wonder and awe of a mass emergence seen through the eyes of an eight-year-old child. Toads will likely be seen in high numbers countywide over the next few weeks. See a little of the magic for yourself along the trails, but watch your step while exploring the preserves! Want to sign your child up for fun and learning with our expert educators? Visit www.LCFPD.org/camps to learn more.

A tale of two squirrels

Post by Jen Berlinghof and Allison Frederick

Everywhere you look this time of year, animals are tending to nests during spring’s baby season. Squirrels are very active at this time with the bounties of spring. Food reserves from winter are low, and energy demands are high with young in the drey (their leafy, treetop summer homes) demanding to be fed. So, squirrels turn from their habits of digging for winter caches and begin eating buds, flowers, fungi and lichens. They will take advantage of almost ANY food source at this time of year!

Continue reading

Happy New Year!

Video

Happy Winter from the Lake County Forest Preserves!

Video by Brett Peto

Whether venturing outside for fresh air and exercise, or finding a gorgeous spot to sit quietly and reflect on the past year, we find great peace in the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Thank you all for following along on our adventures this year. We encourage you to find a quiet spot to just breathe—perhaps the still woodlands of Captain Daniel Wright Woods:

Cheers to a new winter and peaceful new year!

In search of river otters

Guest post by Andrew Rutter

I had just finished my time as a Masters student at Southern Illinois University with the Cooperative Wildlife Research Lab, studying river otter (Lontra canadensis) ecology, when I took my first full-time position as a wildlife biologist with the Lake County Forest Preserve District in Illinois.

Having spent the last two years of my life entirely focused on river otters, I figured my time studying the species was at an end. Although my research team and I found them to be relatively abundant where we focused our research efforts in southern Illinois, I did not expect the same to be true farther north in Lake County.

Continue reading

A parade of colors

Guest post by Nan Buckardt

Watching kids play in a pool, waiting for burgers to come off the grill, sitting on a curb enjoying a parade—these are all images that I conjure when daydreaming about summer.

Luckily, I don’t have to wait to watch a parade; I can see a parade every day this summer by taking a walk in our Lake County Forest Preserves.

Not the type of parade with floats and brass bands, but nature’s parade of colors, textures and blooms. My favorite preserves to see this parade are those that have splendid expanses of prairie.

Continue reading

“Submarine cottages”

Post by Jen Berlinghof

Late spring and early summer are busy seasons for children visiting the Lake County Forest Preserves for pond study programs. The shorelines of ponds pulse with the excitement of students, nets in hand, ready to discover the macroinvertebrates teeming under the water’s surface. The most delightful find this season by students has to be what Henry David Thoreau once called the “submarine cottages” of caddisfly larvae.

Continue reading