This week we learned about plants and animals in Illinois. I love both and get a thrill out of seeing new things on our hikes. They are extensive topics to cover in such a short timespan, but it makes a difference that we are specific to our state and it helps me feel more in touch with things around me.
We were all given hand lenses and other tools to take apart a variety of flowers. I consider myself an observant person, but dissecting these flowers and examining them really up close was incredible. So many flowers are part of the sunflower family, like the zinnia we had on our plate. I was stunned to learn that its not one flower, its a grouping of hundreds of tiny individual flowers with complete ovaries, stigmas, filaments and more. Better yet, I got to see it up close and personal.
I have been a casual bird watcher since I was a young girl, and have understood how to break down a strange bird into its separate characteristics in order to identify it. This isn’t nearly as intuitive as it seems, but once you start to get a handle on it, its second nature. This was the first time I got a key to do the same thing for plants. I don’t know why I never considered it before, but I’m excited to have it now and employ it out in the field.
I was shocked to learn that there are fewer than 100 different mammals in Illinois. Nature just seems so very vast, and limitless that seeing it quantified was a jolt. It really drove home the point that we need to protect as many species as we can, because no matter how adaptable nature can be, its still very fragile.
Most of our mammals are small rodents and bats. Bats are especially at risk right now from both white nose syndrome, a fungus being spread by human cave explorers, as well as wind farms which seem to attract them.
It was great to see so many of our mammals on the table. Being able to compare scale and form was pretty cool. I fell head over heel for the tiny shrews. They are adorable, and just so danged small. There was a shrew skull that was smaller than a dime. I’m dying to see a live one, but I don’t know how likely it will be.
One of my future goals is to attend Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School and be able to recognize the animals that have walked the same trails I have. There is just so much that I want to learn!