Illinois is of course famous for Chicago, which is not its capital but its largest city, and there are some who may be surprised to learn that the state has any substantial wildlife at all. Yet there are wild places even around Chicago. The city does have that weird, backward-flowing river, and it is found on the shores of Lake Michigan. Both bodies of water are home to a variety of wild organisms, even if they are not the most charismatic. With that in mind, here’s more about mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and other animals in Illinois.
The Official Animal of Illinois
The state animal of Illinois is the white-tailed deer, one of the most common mammals in the United States. This deer gets its name because it raises its tail, whose underside is white, as it runs.
Illinois’ state bird is the northern cardinal, whose male stands out with his bright red plumage. The state insect is the beautiful orange and black monarch butterfly while the state fish is the bluegill. As for the state reptile and state amphibian, they are the painted turtle and the eastern tiger salamander respectively.
Where To Find The Top Wild Animals in Illinois
Illinois is blessed with many wildlife refuge areas where visitors can experience its abundance of wild creatures. Among them is the Driftless Area found in the state’s northwest corner, which holds tributaries of the Mississippi River and is an excellent place to find trout and other freshwater fish. The Driftless Area is also part of the Mississippi Flyway and is a fantastic site for birdwatchers.
Another place to find the top Illinois animals is the Shawnee National Forest near Harrisburg. This forest contains wilderness areas such as Bald Knob, Lusk Creek and Garden of the Gods. Other wildlife refuges are Crab Orchard, Emiquon, Hackmatack, Meredosia and the areas around the upper and middle Mississippi River.
State parks, waterfalls, natural areas and fish and wildlife areas include Apple River, Jubilee College, Fox Ridge, Lake Murphysboro, Baldwin Lake, Heidecke Lake, Pekin Lake, Turkey Bluffs and the Kaskaskia River. There’s also the Sielbeck Forest, the Volo Bog and Harry “Babe” Woodyard State Natural Area. Among the creatures to be seen in these places are:
The other large mammal besides the white-tailed deer is the bison, which are native to Illinois and have been reintroduced into the state after being extirpated. A herd of about 30 individuals grazes on the Nachusa Grasslands. The larger predators in Illinois are the coyote, the American black bear and the bobcat. Though there’s no breeding population of cougars, the big cats pass through the state on their way to somewhere else. Red and gray foxes also call Illinois home.
Smaller mammals include rodents such as chipmunks, squirrels, deer mice and the Norway rat, which is not native to the state and is now a bit of a pest. Besides many species of rodents, there are moles, shrews, rabbits and bats.
About 450 species of birds either live in Illinois year-round or come to the state to breed. There are many varieties of waterfowl that take advantage of the state’s multiple bodies of water. These include birds associated with the ocean, such as seagulls. There are also birds of prey such as eagles, ospreys and owls. Owls include the eastern screech-owl with its weird, piercing call, the barred owl and the snowy owl. This is the species that Hedwig in Harry Potter belongs to, though Hedwig is played by a male, since their plumage is whiter than the female’s.
Many songbirds frequent yards, city parks and farms, including blue jays, robins, vireos, cardinals, sparrows, crows, mockingbirds, the eastern bluebird and starlings. The red crossbill has a strange looking beak that crosses at the tips, but this lets it more easily pull seeds from pine cones.
The state’s freshwater lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers and streams allow for a great variety of fish. They include the largemouth and smallmouth bass, the bluegill, which is the state fish, the pumpkinseed, the crappie and the warmouth, named perhaps for its aggression and the strange fact that it has teeth on its tongue. Other fish that live in Illinois waters are the very common channel catfish and its relatives the bullheads. More fish are burbots, perches, saugers, saugeyes, walleyes and the muskellunge. Though they spend much of their lives in the ocean, salmon need to return to their native Illinois rivers to spawn. The sea lamprey, a weird, creepy, parasitic creature with circles of teeth in its mouth, is also found in Illinois.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Though the winters can be brutal, the climate and geography of Illinois are welcoming to some reptiles and amphibians. Lizards include skinks and legless glass lizards, fence lizards and racerunners. Turtles are the state reptile, the painted turtle, the rare Blanding’s turtle, the river cooter, the ornate box turtle and the smooth and spiny soft-shell turtles. There’s a turtle called the stinkpot, named because it gives off a nasty smelling musk when it’s bothered.
Snakes include garter snakes, earthsnakes, ratsnakes, foxsnakes, kingsnakes, black snakes, and watersnakes. Kirtland’s snake is a near threatened snake that is the only species in its genus. The scarlet snake, with its red, white and black bands, recalls the venomous coral snake but is harmless. Illinois does have four venomous snakes. They’re the copperhead, the cottonmouth, the timber rattlesnake and the massasauga rattler.
Amphibians in Illinois are different species of salamander, including the lesser siren, which has such tiny limbs that it might as well be legless. The hellbender is an endangered salamander that breathes mostly through folds in its skin. It is becoming rare due to pollution and habitat destruction. Frogs and toads are the American toad, the Fowler’s toad, the crawfish frog and the eastern spadefoot. Strecker’s chorus frog is a tiny frog that climbs trees and comes out at night. The bullfrog is also well represented in Illinois.
Insects and Other Invertebrates
Insects and other invertebrates make up the lion’s share of animals that are strange or weird, but their weird looks or habits have evolved to help them survive and reproduce. Among the strangest of the wasps is the American pelecinid wasp. This wasp has an ovipositor that’s longer than her body and is used to dig into the ground to find grubs. When she finds one, she lays an egg on it, then goes on to find another grub. When the wasp larva hatches, it chews its way into the grub then chews its way out after eating its viscera. The pelecinid wasp can also reproduce asexually. It is much sought after by gardeners.
Other invertebrates found in Illinois include many species of spiders, including orb weavers and crab spiders, flies, including the bee-like tachinid fly, bees, aphids, dragonflies, ladybugs and other beetles, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, moths and mosquitoes. There are ticks, mites, book lice, millipedes, centipedes and pillbugs.
There are tens of thousands of species of worms, including earthworms, roundworms, arrow worms, horsehair worms, goblet worms, peanut worms and Xenoturbellida, also called strange worms. Illinois also has its share of the nearly indestructible water bear as well as freshwater mollusks.
Zoos in Illinois
Folks who wish to see lions, tigers and bears at a close but safe distance can visit Illinois’ zoos. Some are the Brookfield Zoo; Chicago’s famous Lincoln Park Zoo; the Cosley Zoo in Wheaton; the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington; the Scovill Zoo in Decatur and the Henson Robinson Zoo in Springfield. There’s also the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, where visitors can encounter aquatic life not naturally found in Illinois such as sharks, stingrays and penguins.
Wild Animals in Illinois
Other animals in Illinois include the mischievous bird grasshopper. This is a large grasshopper that causes mischief by being a pest on ornamental plants. It’s a strong flyer, and its coloration ranges from brown to orange. Like other grasshoppers, it doesn’t undergo metamorphosis but simply grows from a tiny grasshopper to a full-grown one with each molt.
The freshwater drum gets its name because grown males make a sound that resembles drumming or grunting. A freshwater drum can live into its 70s and though as much as a million pounds of this fish can be caught every year, they are so hardy and reproduce so lavishly that they are listed as of least concern.
The thirteen-lined ground squirrel looks like a cross between a squirrel and a chipmunk, with stripes and spots down its back. It lives in the grasslands where it digs a burrow with several chambers, including one for hibernation. This ground squirrel is one of Illinois’ many rodent predators and will even eat a mouse if it can catch one.
The Most Dangerous Animals In Illinois Today
Illinois doesn’t have many dangerous animals anymore, but there are a few that deserve some respect. They include:
- Bison. Though it’s good that bison have returned to Illinois after almost two centuries, they’re best enjoyed at a distance. They’re irritable and can charge with no warning.
- Massasauga. This is a beautiful rattler with a pattern of brown blotches on a gray ground and keeled scales, but it is venomous. It’s best left alone if encountered in the woods.
- Striped bark scorpion. This scorpion is one of the most common in the United States. Though it is only about 2.75 inches long, it’s considered medium-sized for a scorpion. Despite its size, its sting is painful and potentially dangerous, especially for people who are allergic to its venom, which is a neurotoxin.
- Cougars. These large predators have been seen passing through the state, and they’ve been known to attack humans. It’s a good idea to give a cougar a wide berth.
Endangered Animals In Illinois
Unfortunately, Illinois does have its share of endangered animals. Some of them are:
- Purple lilliput. This mussel, Toxolasma lividum is endangered.
- Short-eared owl. Though this owl of the grasslands has a wide distribution in other places, it is endangered in Illinois.
- Greater prairie chicken. Also called the pinnated grouse, this bird has become rare due to habitat destruction. It is a charismatic bird mostly due to its strange and wonderful mating ritual.
- Starhead topminnow. This little fish is endangered due to development of the area in and around its habitat, which includes glacial lakes.
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Animals in Illinois FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What animals live in Illinois?
Wild creatures that live in Illinois include mammals such as squirrels, gophers and deer, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates and many birds such as swans, geese, ducks and songbirds.
What animal is Illinois known for?
Illinois is probably known for the white-tailed deer, which is the state animal, or the bison, which has recently been reintroduced into the state.
What is the most dangerous animal in Illinois?
Judging by how many people come into unwelcome contact with it, the most dangerous animal in Illinois is probably the striped bark scorpion.
What kind of predators live in Illinois?
Predators found in Illinois include cougars, bobcats, foxes, coyotes and black bears and different species of fish including the muskellunge, which is the apex predator wherever it lives in the state. Other predators include snakes, frogs, toads and certain insects, including assassin bugs and dragonflies. Birds of prey such as hawks and owls are also very efficient predators as are mustelids such as the mink and rodents such as the thirteen-lined ground squirrel.
How many animals are endangered in Illinois?
Dozens of species of animals are considered endangered in Illinois. They are mostly species of invertebrates, birds, amphibians and fish. Most of the endangered mammals are species of bats, whose numbers may be cratering due to a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome and to human disturbance.