Is there unusual wildlife in your backyard?
The same fast-food joint may migrate to every street corner in America, but animals are not as worldwide.
My friend Bill once shared a story about meeting his daughter-in-law Tammy for the first time. She had just arrived from Texas to meet her soon-to-be new family in Decatur. To fill some pauses in the conversation, Bill (who owns a landscaping company) was sharing how they repaired a client's lawn after some critter peeled back the sod.
Obviously Texas Tammy wanted to impress her father-in-law with her landscape knowledge. She quickly puffed up proud and exclaimed, "I know what's causing all the damage." Bill knew it was probably skunks or raccoons that love to dig lawns for a snack of grubs. He didn't want to totally deflate Tammy, so he let her continue.
She exclaimed, "Why of course, it's the work of armadillos." A very long pause ensued before Bill gently enlightened Texas Tammy that armadillos don't commonly wander the yards of central Illinois.
Pictures of mountain lions in Monticello and monstrous alligators in Lake Decatur float around the Internet and the coffee shops. Animals, especially single, subadults, can and do move beyond their typical ranges in search of a new territory or to escape captivity. Some once-common animals may move back into previous territories.
The mountain lion, wolf, elk and black bear were eliminated from Illinois by the early to mid-1800s. Today, there are no wild breeding populations of these species in Illinois, but they could move in from surrounding states.
However, we all know chance sightings and even well-meaning pictures can be deceiving. Luckily there are experts and a fabulous website — "Living with Wildlife in Illinois" (web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife) — developed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and University of Illinois Extension that can help us identify animal encounters and damage.
According to the website, nine banded armadillos have expanded their range northward beyond the southern U.S. An armadillo's physical needs curtail their ability to live and breed in Illinois. They need areas with a constant source of water and annual temperatures above 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they depend heavily on insects as a food source, have very little hair and do not hibernate, armadillos cannot survive when the ground is frozen for more than a few days.
But more than 160 sightings of armadillos have been reported in Illinois since the 1990s, mainly in the southern third. Unfortunately only a couple dozen sightings have been confirmed through photos or specimens.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources needs your help in reporting sightings of unusual wildlife around the state to monitor range expansions of wildlife species or their escape from captivity. If you think you may have recently seen a mountain lion, wolf, black bear, armadillo, elk, or non-native deer (fallow deer and sika deer) in Illinois, please complete the Unusual Wildlife Sightings report form found at the "Living with Wildlife in Illinois" website.
Be as specific as possible with the description of the animal and, if available, include good quality digital images or photos of the animal, tracks (preferably with a ruler or coin next to them for scale), scat or remains of prey. Large mammals can travel many miles in a single day, so reporting sightings quickly is important.
Any unsafe situation with aggressive wildlife should be reported to the police immediately. In most cases, it is best to simply alert the public and monitor these animals while they are in an area. Removal of the animal is usually not necessary or practical.
The "Living with Wildlife in Illinois" website gives residents of Illinois information about how to coexist with Illinois wildlife, especially in urban areas.
Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her with questions or comments at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 333-7683.