September 30, 2013

Big discoveries of tiny new species in Illinois caves

Coecobrya tenebricosa - shown as a representative springtail not one of the new species
 Four new cave-adapted springtail species from Illinois were described in a recent article by two INHS scientists published in the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies. The authors, springtail specialist Dr. Felipe Soto-Adames and cave biologist Dr. Steve Taylor, described these four new species based on samples from caves in the Salem Plateau of southwestern Illinois (Monroe and St. Clair counties).

Springtails (Order Collembola) are tiny, insect-like animals, typically less than 6 mm (0.24 in) long. The name springtail comes from the furcula, a forked, tail-like appendage capable of propelling an individual up to 10 cm (3.9 in). Springtails are most commonly found in soil and leaf litter, but they have invaded other specialized habitats, including caves. Often overlooked because of their small size and subterranean habitats, they are an important part of many ecosystems as decomposers and nutrient recyclers.

The new species Onychiurus pipistrellae was recorded from two caves (one cave in each county), and the largest individual is barely over 2.2 mm (0.09 inches) long - it is probably a troglobite, or a species that can live only in caves species).  The species name pipistrellae" is a latinized reference to bats, and thus this species might be referred to as "The Bat Cave Springtail."

INHS Researcher Dr. Felipe Soto-Adames (right) using an aspirator to collect springtails, while
Dr. Steve Taylor (left) records data.

The new species Pygmarrhopalites fransjanssens is a globular springtail described from material collected in a single cave in St. Clair county.  It is unclear whether it is a cave-limited species.  The name of this tiny (maximum 0.65 mm [0.03 inches] long) species honors Frans Janssens, a springtail expert in Belgium, and this animal might be referred to as "Jannsens' Globular Springtail."

The new species Pygmarrhopalites salemsis is a globular springtail described on the basis of specimens from five caves in Monroe and St. Clair counties.  These animals reach 0.89 mm (0.04 inches) in length, and are clearly troglobites.  The species name "salemsis" refers to the Salem Plateau - a name for the flat, sinkhole-pocked and cave filled karst area in the uplands of western Monroe County and portions of southwestern St. Clair County.  This springtail, "The Salem Plateau Globular Springtail," likely occurs in other caves in this region.

The new species Pygmarrhopalites incantator at 1.0 mm (0.04 inches) maximum length is another globular springtail, perhaps limited to caves.  It was recorded from only one cave in St. Clair County.  The species name "incantator" means "Wizard," suggesting the common name "The Wizard Springtail."

While the Bat Cave Springtail may prove to be widespread in Midwestern caves, the Salem Plateau Globular Springtail so far appears to be restricted to caves in Monroe & St. Clair counties, Illinois. The other two species, Jannsens' Globular Springtail and the Wizard Springtail may be "narrow endemics" restricted to one or a very few caves in the entire world.  Several recent scientific studies, including this new study by Soto-Adames and Taylor,  suggest that there are many undescribed species of Pygmarrhopalites in North America — many with very narrow geographic ranges.

Press Release

May 10, 2013

INHS’s Clean Boats Crew Hosts Free AIS Training Workshops

Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) is preparing for another successful boating season with the Clean Boats Crew. The Clean Boats Crew program hires hourlies and staffs volunteers that work to educate boaters and other recreational water users about aquatic invasive species (AIS). "Last summer, Clean Boats Crew talked with over 1800 boaters in Illinois and Indiana about how the public can help prevent the spread of AIS. This year, I’m hopeful we can repeat that success." said Sarah Zack, INHS AIS Outreach Specialist. 

In order to prepare for another busy boating season, IISG and Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP) will be hosting two free training events. These workshops will train participants about aquatic invasive species relevant to the southern Lake Michigan basin, as well as about techniques for interacting with the public and providing successful outreach.  Attending the training isn’t mandatory in order to volunteer for Clean Boats Crew, but is encouraged. The workshops will take place at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois on Wednesday, May 15th from 6-8pm and on Saturday, May 18th from 2-4pm.  Refreshments will be provided.  These trainings are free to all participants, but registration is required.

If you would like to learn more about the Clean Boats Crew program, or are interested in volunteering or attending one of the training workshops, please contact Cathy McGlynn at or 847-242-6423.

Illinois Natural History Survey’s AIS outreach team is part of the Lake Michigan Biological Station in Zion, Illinois and has a joint appointment with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.

May 6, 2013

Illinois Natural History Survey’s Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Team highlighted in the NOAA Spotlight

Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) outreach team was recognized in a NOAA Spotlight article, along with many other collaborators, for their work on the Great Lakes Risk Assessment Tools. This tool estimates the potential invasiveness of species being sold for use in trade and hobbies such as aquaculture, live bait, and water gardens etc.  It provides insights for resources managers that may guide future policies with the goal of preventing the spread of the invasive species. This is also a tool that hobbyists and people working in the trades can use to be proactive about choosing less threatening alternative species. INHS “will be talking with retailers, hobbyists, and water gardeners—going to shows and posting information in stores—about how they can use the risks assessments as a guide to get ahead of regulations and make responsible decisions now,” said Pat Charlebois, INHS AIS Coordinator.

Visit the NOAA Spotlight article at to learn more about this initiative.

The Illinois Natural History Survey's AIS outreach team is part of the Lake Michigan Biological Station in Zion, Illinois and has a joint appointment with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.

April 18, 2013

INHS AIS coordinator receives Lake Guardian award

Each year the Illinois Lakes Management Association recognizes one outstanding professional or volunteer for their significant contributions to preserving and protecting the quality of Illinois lakes.

The Lake Guardian award, given annually, acknowledges each winner’s career-long efforts to ensure healthy lakes throughout the state of Illinois, and this year Illinois Natural History Survey Pat Charlebois was selected from among several nominees.

Pat’s work on outreach efforts to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species is especially important to protecting Illinois’ waterways. The development of tools to inform boaters, anglers, and the general public about the dangers of these species, as well as best management practices and regulations, continue to be instrumental in protecting delicate ecosystems, and Pat has lead the way in these areas. To learn more about our work on aquatic invasive species, visit our AIS page


"Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!" Temporary Tattoos

The Illinois Natural History Survey Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Team has added four Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! Temporary Tattoos to their products page. These tattoos are a fun way to teach children about the spread of aquatic invasive species and their impact on local habitats.

If you’re interested in ordering some these Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! Temporary Tattoos, please visit the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant products webpage. There are four different aquatic invasive species to choose from: Asian carp, Eurasian Watermilfoil, Fishhook Waterflea, and the Zebra Mussel. Individual species may be ordered in packs of 100 or opt for a combination pack including all four species (25 each species).

The Illinois Natural History Survey's Aquatic Invasive Species outreach team is part of the Lake Michigan Biological Station in Zion, Illinois and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

April 11, 2013

INHS brings AIS message to high school fishing tournament

While parents, coaches, and friends gathered around to watch high school anglers show off their catch from a fishing tournament held early this week, INHS’s Sarah Zack was onsite to introduce competitors and on-lookers to simple practices that can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Hosted by the Illini Bass Fishing Club, the event brought high school clubs from across Illinois to Clinton Lake on April 7 to see who could catch the most and the biggest bass. The tournament, one of few held at the high school level each year, gave INHS’s AIS outreach team an important opportunity to talk with young anglers about the threat of AIS to local waterways.   

“Talking with the kids now plants that seed for future years,” said Brian Bevill, coach of the Illini Bluffs High School Bass Fishing Club.

During the few hours that INHS was onsite at Clinton Lake, Sarah talked with dozens of anglers and boaters from across Illinois. Frequent announcements from the tournament emcee also reminded the audience of the negative impact AIS can have on the health of aquatic environments. Many of the people who visited the INHS booth had heard about Asian carp. But fewer people knew about the need to REMOVE, DRAIN, and DRY all equipment after a day on the water. Most were also interested in learning about a new Illinois law that makes it illegal to drive with plants or mud still clinging to boats and trailers.

This High School Open is one of many fishing tournaments INHS’s AIS outreach team plans to attend this year in both Illinois and Indiana. This season especially, the team hopes to reach out to more amateur and semi-professional anglers with information about how they can prevent the spread of invasive species.

“These anglers want to make sure they’re doing their part to prevent the spread of AIS because they know that is an important part of preserving the sport of fishing for the future,” said Sarah. “It is encouraging that the message is being embraced. I was especially excited to work with the Illini Bass Fishing Club because of their commitment to AIS prevention.”
Sunday’s tournament was the second High School Open hosted by the Illini Bass Fishing Club in as many years.

“We started this because we wanted to show kids in high school that if they care about fishing enough, and work hard enough, they can take it somewhere,” said Luke Stoner, executive administrator for the club. “What we really like to see, are smiling faces and big old bass.”

This year, 134 students fought to catch the most and the biggest fish. For many of the teams, the tournament marked their first day on the water this year. But after months of casting practice and learning how to “flip and pitch” the lure to trick the bass into biting, the student anglers were prepared. Three teams brought in bags of fish weighing more than 17 lbs, and three fish came in at over 6 lbs. Their successes at this event will help students qualify to compete in sectional and state competitions slated for later this year.  

“The competition in fishing is unlike any other sport,” said Kyle Sweet, a senior at Illini Bluffs High School in Glasford, IL. “In football, for example, you only play one other team at a time. Here we are competing with 67 teams and the fish at the same time.”

For more information about how to prevent the spread of AIS, visit the website. And watch for a new public service announcement this June with how-to information on basic steps to take before leaving a marina or boat ramp.

April 5, 2013

Flirty Spring Frogs

It’s spring sometime around dusk, and as you walk near a pond you hear clucking sounds and peeps. You wonder, what’s making those noises? An insect? A bird? Though those are good guesses, chances are what you’re actually hearing is a frog. After the first warm rains in early spring the male frogs are out, filling the air with their amorous calls in hopes of becoming at least one female’s prince charming.

1. Who’s Who  |  Upon approaching the pond, you get a quick glimpse of a frog before it disappears with a splash of water. But which species was it? In Illinois, wood frogs, spring peepers, and western chorus frogs are some of the most common spring-breeding species. They can be identified by just a few distinguishing characteristics:
  • Wood frogs are generally tan to reddish-brown and have a dark mask on each side of their face, which obscures the lower half of their eyes.
  • Spring peepers have a dark colored “X” on their backs, a narrow dark colored stripe between their eyes, and large toe pads. (Fun Fact: Spring peepers can alter their skin color to camouflage with their environment!)
  • Western chorus frogs have a white stripe on their upper jaw, three thin, dark colored stripes down their back, and small toe pads.

2. Frozen But Not Finished  |  Just a week or two previous to these mild, spring days, temperatures were well below freezing, as evidenced by the chunks of ice that still litter the pond banks. To humans and other endotherms, the freezing temperatures are not much more than a sign of the season because we can regulate our body temperature via internal metabolic processes. Amphibians, however, are ectothermic such that their internal temperature is entirely determined by the temperature of their environment. Consequently, many amphibians hibernate under cover (e.g., leaf litter, logs, bark) over the cold, winter months to maximize their chance at survival. Some frogs, like wood frogs, spring peepers and western chorus frogs are much more tolerant of below-freezing temperatures than other species. In fact, they themselves are able to freeze and then thaw out when the temperature rises above a certain threshold. After a brief recovery phase, these frogs are able to migrate toward breeding ponds, and begin their chorus. Wood frogs, the most cold tolerant of the three species, have been shown to survive freezing 65% of their body for up to 2 weeks without death or permanent damage. This isn’t surprising as wood frogs are one of the few amphibians that live north of the Arctic Circle.

3. A Flirty Chorus  |  As evening progresses, the initial chorus of clucks and peeps grows louder until it is almost deafening. Although wood frogs, spring peepers, and western chorus frogs are tiny (they only reach maximum lengths of 6 cm, 3.5 cm, and 4 cm, respectively,) the cumulative volume of their calls can be great. Each frog species exhibits its own unique call or assortment of calls. For instance, male wood frogs’ mating call consists of five to six clucks. If a male successfully attracts a female, they will dive to the pond bottom where she will lay her eggs while he holds onto her (amplexus.) Afterwards, the male fertilizes the eggs and releases the female. In some cases “mating balls” will form, when several aggressive males grasp a single female. Unfortunately, this often results in the death of the over-desired female. In addition to its mating call, male wood frogs sometimes utter a release call if they are grabbed by another male. This happens occasionally, as wood frogs are unable to differentiate males from females. The mating call of spring peepers, as their common name suggests, is an ascending “peeeep,” that is repeated about 15 to 25 times per minute. Western chorus frogs have the most bizarre sounding call of the three species, as it has often been likened to the sound created by running your finger down the length of a comb.

To see wood frogs, spring peepers, and western chorus frogs in action, watch the video “The Early Frogs Get the Best Spots!  

Written by Danielle M. Ruffatto