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Natural History Survey

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  • Cats pass disease to wildlife, even in remote areas

    INHS Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiologist Nohra Mateus-Pinilla and graduate students Shannon Fredebaugh recently published a study that found that even in remote parts of a natural area, cats spread disease to wildlife. Their study, Allerton Park in Monticello, does not have bobcats which strongly suggests feral house cats are responsible for spreading the feline dependent Toxoplasma gondii parasite.  Infection by the parasite causes neurological problems and possible death in humans and other animals. "If one infected cat defecates there, any area can become infected," Fredebaugh said. "It just takes one cat to bring disease to an area."

  • Cave microbe produces compound that inhibits the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome

    A new study from INHS Mycologist Andrew Miller and grad student Daniel Raudabaugh has found that the yeast Candida albicans produces a compound: trans, trans-farnesol, that inhibits growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats.

  • Pinto Bean

    Celebrated squirrel’s legacy lives on for visitors

    Pinto Bean, the beloved piebald squirrel that lived and died on the University of Illinois campus, is back. The squirrel’s taxidermied remains are now on display at the Forbes Natural History Building lobby, where visitors can see its rare gray and white coloration that attracted fans and followers at the university.

  • Champaign County confirms West Nile in samples

    Richard Lampman, an INHS entomologist, was interviewed by the Daily Illini about West Nile's appearance in Champaign County. Lampman said that this summer's hot, dry weather was perfect for the spread of mosquitoes.

  • Champaign Couunty mosquito sample tests positive for West Nile Virus

    Mosquito samples taken during the month of June have tested positive for the West Nile Virus (WNV). The samples were collected and processed by the Illinois Natural History Survey's medical entomology program, headed by Dr. Barry Alto. Interestingly, this is the first positive sample for WNV since October 2007. Since surveillance started this year in May, positive samples for WNV has been found in eight other counties throughout Illinois, including: Adams, Bureau, Cook, DuPage, Knox, LaSalle, Madison and St. Clair counties. The News-Gazette ran an article about the WNV sample in the July 8, 2009 edition. The article was titled, "Champaign mosquito sample tests positive for West Nile."

  • Tommy McElrath wields a net in Trelease prairie

    Chasing bumble bees on a patch of prairie

    Illinois Natural History Survey insect collection manager Tommy McElrath conducts surveillance for bees at the prairie near the University's Trelease Woods. Only 11 of the 18 bumblee bee species historically collected in Illinois have been seen in the last 15 years. Of those remaining here, three are endangered or threatened.

  • Check in with INHS online before heading out to hunt or fish

    Whether it’s for hunting or fishing, the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) collects data and provides information and education to support hunters and anglers in exploring Illinois and its many biological resources.

  • Chinese researchers visit INHS field station

    Dr. John Chick, Director of INHS' Great Rivers Field Station, spent the first part of August with Yangtze River researchers. Chick first met the researchers while visiting China last year. The Chinese researchers were particularly interested in learning about the methodology and techniques used in the Long Term Resource Monitoring Program on the Upper Mississippi River. A long-term goal of these exchanges is to have comparable monitoring programs set up on large rivers around the globe, which would provide an excellent opportunity to advance both the scientific understanding and management of large rivers.

    In addition, both Chinese and American researchers at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center were interested in learning about Asian carp habitat. The Asian carp is native China, but invasive in the United States. To read more about this exchange, please read the August 7th article in the Belleville News-Democrat entitled, "Chinese Scientists Studying in Area."

  • a deer

    Chronic wasting disease: hunters' perceptions and attitudes

    For Outdoor Illinois Journal, INHS scientists describe what their surveys have revealed about deer hunters'perceptions and attitudes toward the management of chronic wasting disease in Illinois' deer population.

  • Healthy deer. Photo by Susan Post, INHS.

    Chronic wasting disease in Illinois: resources and disease dynamics

    Protecting the deer herd from chronic wasting disease has economical value to the State of Illinois, recreational value to deer hunters, and a health value for CWD-susceptible animals. Currently, there is no treatment or vaccination against CWD. Management based on removal of infected deer in areas where disease is present is the only known strategy to control the spread of CWD.

  • Citizen scientist mussel survey finds 14 species

    INHS Field Biologist Sarah Bales accompanied a group to survey mussels at Lake of the Woods. The group of citizen scientists found 314 individual mussels of 14 native and one introduced species. According to Bales, only one species that was previously found there was not found by this group, and that species is rare. She also said that the range of sizes found indicates the mussels are reproducing and that the habitat had not been degraded significantly.

  • fox in snow

    'Citizen scientists' help track foxes, coyotes in urban areas

    As foxes and coyotes adapt to urban landscapes, the potential for encounters with humans necessarily goes up. A team of scientists is taking advantage of this fact to enlist the eyeballs and fingertips of humans – getting them to report online what they see in their own neighborhoods and parks.

  • Citizen scientists invited to participate in bioblitz

    INHS scientists will be participating in a Bioblitz organized by The Wetlands Initiative (TWI) at Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin and Hopper Lakes in Putnam County on June 13-14. Citizen scientists are invited to help document all of the flora, fauna, and fungi of the area over the course of 24 hours.

  • Coming back strong: Illinois Bald Eagle populations on the rise

    Bald Eagle populations in Illinois are on the rise. In 1980, Bald Eagles were found breeding only in extreme Southern Illinois, but in surveys during 2008, nesting pairs were found in 67 Illinois counties. Part of the increase is attributed to the ban of DDT in 1972, but according to INHS Ornithologist Mike Ward, that was just the beginning. Environmental regulations have led to cleaner waterways (enabling eagles to more easily catch fish) and eagles have become more comfortable around humans. Being able to be near people gives them a lot more places to breed in Illinois, Ward said.

  • Conservation efforts help some rare birds more than others, study finds

  • Conservation efforts work to improve migratory bird habitat

    INHS Ornithologist TJ Benson was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article about migratory birds and bird habitat restoration projects in the Chicagoland area. Benson says that there has been a decrease in shrub land birds over the past century and that studies are currently being done with miniature video cameras to document predation on these birds.

  • Contaminated sediments affecting wetland mice

    Jeff Levengood and Ed Heske recently published an article entitled "Heavy metal exposure, reproductive activity, and demographic patterns in white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) inhabiting a contaminated floodplain wetland" in Volume 389, Issues 2-3 of Science of the Total Environment.The article discusses the effects of using contaminated sediments from Lake DePue, Illinois to create a wetland that is home to white-footed mice. View the Science of the Total Environment article at ScienceDirect. Accessible through subscription only.

  • Cornboy vs. the Billion-Dollar Bug

    There is, despite the name, nothing urban about Piper City, Ill. It is a farm town with a skyline of grain elevators, a tidy grid of pitch-roofed houses and, a few blocks beyond, endless fields: corn, soybean, corn, soybean, corn, corn, corn, perfectly level, perfectly square, no trees, no cows, no hedgerows, no bare land. In late August of 2013, a man named Joseph Spencer followed a corn-flanked county road northwest from Piper City until his GPS advised him to leave the road altogether and turn onto a gravel track. Spencer, an entomologist who studies farm insects, was looking for a farmer named Scott Wyllie.

  • Corn rootworm management webinar

    INHS Behavioral Entomologist Joe Spencer presented a talk on "Rootworm Biology and Behavior" in the webinar "Corn rootworm Management in the Transgenic Era." Over 300 people attended this webinar, archived at the link below.

  • Corn rootworm on the rebound?

    After a couple of years with low levels of damage from Western Corn Rootworms, INHS Insect Behaviorist Joe Spencer and his colleagues have found significant damage to roots and a higher level of adult emergence compared to last year. For more information, visit

  • Could Asian carp be competing for food with eagles?

    INHS Scientists Dr. Gregg Sass and Dr. John Chick were interviewed by Chris Young for an article that questions the cause of the decline of the Bald eagle, and other birds, at the Starved Rock Lock and Dam. One of the possible contributors to the decline may be due to the presence of Asian carp.

  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Ph.D. candidate Nicholas Antonson prepares a nest box to accommodate a prothonotary warbler nest.

    Cowbird chicks do best with two warbler nest mates – not four, not zero, study finds

    A new study seeks to understand the strategies cowbird chicks use to survive in prothonotary warbler nests when they hatch with different numbers of warbler nestlings. The study reveals that a cowbird chick does better with two than with four or zero warbler nest mates. 

  • Cowbirds aren't just deadbeat parents

    A new study from INHS graduate student Matthew Louder, and INHS Ornithologists Wendy Schelsky, Jeff Hoover, and Amber Albores found that female cowbirds monitor nest success of their offspring and will lay their eggs in the most successful host nests. This, combined with previous work by Jeff Hoover and colleagues, shows that female cowbirds aren't just abandoning their eggs in a host nest. Nests that fledged cowbirds were much more likely to be parasitized by cowbirds again than those that failed to fledge cowbirds.

  • female cowbird and male cowbird perched on wire fence

    Cowbirds change their eggs’ sex ratio based on breeding time

    Brown-headed cowbirds show a bias in the sex ratio of their offspring depending on the time of the breeding season, researchers report in a new study. More female than male offspring hatch early in the breeding season in May, and more male hatchlings emerge in July.

  • Craig Miller stands in a fall forest

    Craig Miller describes risks of lead ammunition

    Illinois Natural History Survey human dimensions scientist Craig Miller spoke to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the risks associated with using lead ammunition in hunting.

  • Crows are back, but West Nile Virus here to stay

    During the years following the discovery of West Nile Virus in Illinois, Crow populations dropped from 300,000 to 110,000 birds. According to INHS Ornithologist Mike Ward, crows were highly susceptible to West Nile Virus, possibly because of their specialized immune systems and social lifestyle.  The cause of the rebound is not fully understood, but Ward stated that antibodies to fight off the virus have been discovered recently. Wet conditions during the summer may have also decresed breeding of the mosquito species that carries West Nile Virus.

  • Culling maintains low prevalence of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer populations

    INHS Wildlife Epidemiologist Nohra Mateus-Pinilla and postdoctoral researchers Mary Beth Manjerovic and Michelle Green conducted research on the effectiveness of culling deer to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is a 100% fatal disease in deer, likened to Mad Cow Disease. Their paper compared the culling strategy used in Illinois to the two different management strategies used in Wisconsin over a decade. Listen to the interview on Focus 580.

  • Cultivating Innovation: The Intersection of Geography, Climate, and Agricultural Research in Illinois

    Since its inception in 2008, the Prairie Research Institute has conducted long-term monitoring of Illinois’ water, soil, and climate. These data, including growing and pest degree days, soil temperature and moisture, water table levels, and in-stream sediment, are used every day by thousands of Illinoisans and by the state’s agriculture, renewable energy, and construction industries.

  • Danville, crow capital of the world

    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.

  • black bear

    Data analysis paints a clearer picture of translocation success among black bears

    Javan Bauder and Max Allen analyzed data from 1,462 translocations of 1,293 black bears in Wisconsin from 1979 to 2016, evaluating translocation success of black bears across Wisconsin.

  • Greg Spyreas stands in the woods

    Decadeslong effort revives ancient oak woodland

    Vestal Grove in the Somme Prairie Grove forest preserve in Cook County, Illinois, looks nothing like the scrubby, buckthorn-choked tangle that confronted restoration ecologists 37 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team that focused on rooting up invasive plants and periodically burning, seeding native plants and culling deer, the forest again resembles its ancient self, researchers report in the journal PLOS ONE.

  • Decades-old amber collection offers new views of an ancient world

  • Decline in waterfowl documented in Pool 19

    The Evansville Courier & Press (IN) published an article by Phil Potter on 2 November 2008 that discusses the decline in bird numbers in Pool 19 of the Mississippi River. 1958 data collected by the Illinois Natural History Survey recorded 465,200 lesser scaup visiting Pool 19, while 2001 data collected by the Illinois Natural History Survey recorded 55,53 lesser scaup. To learn more, visit the Newsbank article, "Not as many birds as in the past are landing in Pool 19."

  • white-tailed deer

    Deer protected from deadly disease by newly discovered genetic differences

  • Deer ticks more adaptable than previously known

    Deer ticks, the host species for Lyme disease, feed on a variety of animals, with white footed mice (a forest species) as the main reservoir for the disease causing bacteria. INHS Wildlife Epidemiologist Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, graduate student Jennifer Rydzewski and Richard Warner (NRES) found that the highest prevalence of infection at Allerton Park was from the prairie, with prairie voles as the reservoir. "What's exciting about the new findings is that we are dealing with potentially new mechanisms of disease transmission that we just have not explored and perhaps we do not understand," Mateus-Pinilla said. "We need to think outside of what we already know about Lyme disease transmission."

  • Digital Extended Specimens provide richer data, global access

    In an article published in BioScience, a team of collaborators including Deborah Paul, biodiversity informatics community liaison with the Species File Group at the Illinois Natural History Survey, describes the Digital Extended Specimen, a network of information with biodiversity data at its core.

  • Digitization efforts make wealth of INHS collections more accessible

    INHS is home to over 9 million biological specimens, including plants, insects, fish, reptiles, and fossils. Learn how we're digitizing these specimens to make them accessible to everyone.

  • Digitization of biological collections will make fragile specimens more accessible for study

    The biological collections of the Illinois Natural History Survey are among the largest in the nation, with nearly 10 million specimens collected over the past 150 years. These collections document our natural heritage and can be studied to understand variations within and between species, changes over time, and countless other topics. Many of the specimens are fragile and must be stored and handled with extreme care. As part of a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers at INHS are working with several other institutions to digitize collections, taking high resolution images from a variety of angles. Scientists from around the world will be able to see the images of the specimens and physically handle only the ones that they need for closer examination. For more information on the invertebrate side of the project, check out the InvertNet website.

  • Digitization Project Finds Anthrax Samples in Collections

    When anthrax became a household name in 2011, even curators of some herbaria were unaware that samples of Bacillus anthracis, the source of anthrax, had been housed in their microfungal collections for more than a hundred years. Recently, a digitization project at the Illinois Natural History Survey unearthed the whereabouts of historical samples, including one at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Digitization Projects Make Nature Collections Available to Everyone

    Extinct feather lice, invasive fish from the Great Lakes, and rare plants from Pakistan are a few of the millions of species no longer viewed just in dark academic warehouses and museums. Curators at the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) who have helped to preserve these biological specimens are digitizing them for anyone who is interested in science to view them online.

  • Dinosaurs may have had lice

    A recent article in Biology Letters, authored by INHS Ornithologist Kevin Johnson and his colleagues Vincent Smith, Tom Ford, Paul Johnson, Kazunori Yoshizawa, and Jessica Light, reveals that the ancestors of the lice found on modern day birds and mammals began to diversify prior to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs at the Cretaceous–Palaeogene boundary, 65 million years ago.

  • Amblyomma maculatum (Gulf coast tick), female (left) and male (right)

    Disease-carrying coastal tick established in Illinois

    Researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey and Southern Illinois University have new evidence of the Gulf Coast tick becoming established in Illinois. They also have found that it often harbors a pathogen that can make people sick. 

  • Dogs find turtles that researchers can't

    This past week INHS Herpetologist Chris Phillips enlisted the help of a team of 8 dogs to locate box turtles as part of a long term population study. The dogs, Boykin Spaniels, and their handler, John Rucker have helped researchers across the country locate box turtles. The study in Illinois is a collaborative effort between the INHS and the U of I College of Veterinary Medicine to monitor the health and ecology of the box turtle populations in an effort to conserve this species. Their small size, high energy, keen sense of smell and ability to fight through thorns enabled the dogs to out-turtle the humans 42 to 4 this week. They will return in June.

  • Double the traps, double the turkeys

  • TJ Benson

    Do we need a new approach to prevent bird window strikes?

    In early October, nearly 1,000 birds perished after colliding with the windows of a convention center near Lake Michigan in Chicago, marking the largest mass bird die-off in decades. But bird window-strike fatalities are an ongoing threat. Illinois Natural History Survey wildlife ecologist Thomas J. Benson, an expert in bird population trends in Illinois, spoke to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the problem and what new strategies may help.

  • Dr. Heads blogs as part of UK National Insect Week

    The Illinois Natural History Survey's insect systematist, Dr. Sam Heads, has been asked by the Royal Entomological Society to keep a blog as part of the UK National Insect Week. This is an outreach project aimed at raising the profile of entomology.

  • Dr. Hoover's research on "Retaliatory mafia behavior by a parasitic cowbird favors host" featured in PNAS

  • Dr. John Marlin's Mud to Parks Program tackles Pekin Landfill

    The Mud to Parks Program took another step forward last month as dredged earth from the Lower Peoria Lake was used to cap off the Pekin Landfill. Dr. John Marlin, senior scientist at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Waste Management and Research Center, oversees the program and discussed the new developments with several news outlets.

  • Drought takes a toll on monarchs

    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. For additional information on Monarchs, check out this INHS species spotlight.

  • Dr. Paul G. Risser, 5th Chief of INHS in memorium

    Dr. Paul Gillan Risser passed away 10 July 2014 at the age of 74.