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Nature Walk: Chicago

October 22, 2016  •  3 Comments

I was in Chicago earlier this fall and my cousin took me to the West Ridge Nature Preserve in the middle of an urban Chicago neighborhood. The preserve, which opened only a year ago, was shaped out of 20 acres of land and a 4-acre pond. This small parcel, virtually untouched for about 100 years, was bought by the city in 2011 and, instead of developers, a nature preserve moved in.  What a fortunate move for the people of Chicago, and especially for those in the surrounding neighborhood.  In our 90 minute walk, we discovered an exciting diversity of insect species.  The excitement continues for me as I take this opportunity to share with you "inner city insects" of Chicago!

Within a few feet of entering the preserve, we scanned the golden rod blooming along the path and discovered dozens of insects busily working over the stalks laden with bright yellow flowers. Golden rod is an important source of food for many insects--especially those that thrive on nectar and pollen like the ones pictured here.

Yellow-collared Scape Moth, maleYellow-collared Scape Moth, maleWest Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago, IL

We saw many Yellow-collared Scape Moths. This handsome male looks like royalty with his velvet black wings, soft orange collar, and his majestic crown of long feathered antennae. 

Paper WaspPaper WaspWest Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago       

I couldn't count the number of species of bees and wasps we saw. But paper wasps, yellow-jackets, bumblebees were everywhere. Pictured above is, to my eye, a gorgeous insect, the male Northern Paper Wasp.

Golden rod wasn't the only food source blooming in the preserve. Black-eyed Susans were plentiful and this one caught my eye as I instantly recognized a drama about to unfold.

Fiery Skipper and assassin bug
West Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago
     Assassin Bug, adultAssassin Bug, adultAssasin bug
West Ridge Nature Preserve Chicago

Look closely at the first photograph and you will see two insects. The one on top is a tiny Fiery Skipper and its extended proboscis appears to be very close to another insect -- an appropriately named assassin bug.  I don't know if it was my approach, or the skipper's own detection of this predator, but it did fly off abandoning the assassin bug (photo on right) to lie in wait for another victim. 

Just a few plants down I relocated the tiny skipper resting on a leaf.  Fiery Skipper just has to be one of the cutest butterflies in North America!

Fiery Skipper     Fiery? SkipperFiery? SkipperWest Ridge Nature Preserve, Chicago, IL

As we moved closer to the pond, we found autumn asters blooming by the shore.  I noticed a lightning-fast moth darting in and out of the beautiful violet-colored flowers. Wings constantly in motion, it was a blur and slowed down only slightly when sipping nectar.  A wonderful looking insect, this Celery Looper moth:

Celery Looper MothCelery Looper MothAnagrapha falcifera
West Ridge Nature Preserve - Chicago, IL

On our way out of the preserve, insects remained plentiful. It was hard to stop taking pictures of bees, shield bugs, flies, and grasshoppers.  Among the loveliest we saw were these two creatures, a Virginian Tiger Moth caterpillar: 


and a female, Differential Grasshopper:

Differential Grasshopper, female  Chicago, ILDifferential Grasshopper, female Chicago, IL

I often compare a grasshopper's exo-skeleton to armor, and maybe this photograph illustrates why. To extend the metaphor, isn't she beautifully 'plated'? Each body part looks as if it could have been fashioned from metal--even down to the tiny joints of her feet. All insects are supported by an exoskeleton. But the grasshopper's exterior seems to be among the most fortified. Why, I'm not sure. Perhaps this adaptation has something to do with the arid, often harsh, habitat grasshoppers live in. The tough exterior body protects the soft interior organs and muscles from the effects of wind, sun, and rain. And when you think about the fact that grasshoppers can jump twenty times their body length (if you could do that you could just about jump half a football field!) they need powerful back legs and a strong body to withstand the force of the jump as well as the impact of the landing. 

This urban nature walk in Chicago was such a surprise to me.  I had no idea we would see so many insects!  I don't know where you go for your nature walks, but whether you live in the middle of a city or in the suburbs, it's a mistake to think you have to stray too far from home to find some beautiful and amazing wildlife!












Deb Allen(non-registered)
Here's to the beautiful subjects who stayed still long enough to be captured on your new Lumix. What's not to like about insects-- and yes, I do have camera envy. These photos are beautiful. Thank you.
what Matt said!
What great photos! I may have to get a "real" camera because the color, focus and detail are great.

And I guess I need a bug book too! So educational.

Thanks cuz!
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