When most adults hear someone mention crayfish, what most likely comes to mind is a culinary dish rooted in the South. However, mention crayfish to a group of Summer Campers at the Lake County Forest Preserves, and you will see eyes light up and hands reach for pond-scooping nets and buckets while their minds contemplate questions of “how big?” and “how many?” During our hikes to the edge of a pond the campers exchange crayfish stories about the best techniques for catching these crustaceans, the size of earlier catches growing the closer we get to the water.
It comes as no surprise that in a place named “Lake County” you are never more than a stone’s throw away from water. Lake County, Illinois is scattered with thousands of acres of wetlands, dotted with over 170 lakes and rivers, crisscrossed with 400 miles of streams, and bordered by massive Lake Michigan. This year at the Lake County Forest Preserves, we are celebrating this wealth of water by exploring how Water Connects Lake County through educational programs and recreational opportunities.
One way water connects the critters of Lake County is through the magic of metamorphosis. Ponds, streams and other wetlands host and hide well-known animals in surprising forms. Take a look at the picture below. This is a type of insect found in most local bodies of water. Can you identify this creature?
What is clear and looks more like dancing water than an animal? Freshwater shrimp! Well, that’s one answer at least—and local ecologists have had their first encounter. During stream monitoring this past summer, restoration ecologists of the Lake County Forest Preserves discovered several dozen Mississippi grass shrimp, Palaemonetes kadiakensis, in a forest preserve along the Des Plaines River in southern Lake County. Due to the fact that you can see right through them, this species is also commonly called glass shrimp. At first sight, the ecologists did not recognize the inch-long crustaceans. It was clear that this find was something rare and exciting.