Wilderness Underfoot: The natural scale of things, Part 2

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115575691325484.jpg’, ”, ‘Columbian Mammoth’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115575693118201.jpg’, ”, ‘Snapping Turtle’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115575696725482.jpg’, ”, ‘The smallest bird in Illinois – The ruby-throated hummingbird reaches only 1 tenth of an ounce in weight.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115575698125482.jpg’, ”, ‘Bullfrog’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115575699525482.jpg’, ”, ‘Tiger Salamander’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115575701425482.jpg’, ”, ‘Cecropia Moth’);

Although humans and white-tailed deer share the title as largest native animals in Illinois, it wasn’t always that way. During the Ice Age, we were dwarfed in comparison to massive creatures, such as giant ground sloths, woodland musk oxen, prehistoric bison, stage moose, mastodons and mammoths.

Among the small mammals now living in our state, the tiniest are pygmy shrews. These minute insect eaters reach only 2 tenths of an ounce in weight, which is less than the weight of a penny. They’re the smallest mammals in North America.

All of the birds native to our region are flyers, so none of them achieves the size of the ostrich or the emu. Here, the largest birds commonly taking up residence for at least part of the year are the trumpeter swans, reaching about 30 pounds. The smallest birds in our state—and in the rest of Eastern North America—are ruby-throated hummingbirds, weighing only 1 tenth of an ounce. About 4,800 hummingbirds would equal the weight of one large trumpeter swan!

We have an assortment of chunky reptiles and amphibians in Illinois. The largest among them is the snapping turtle, at 40 pounds or so. It’s a big, mean reptile notorious for its fast and powerful bite. Our largest snake, the bullsnake, reaches 7 feet in length. Our largest frog is also one of the largest in the world; it’s the bullfrog, with a weight of 1.5 pounds and a length (including hind legs) of 18 inches. The largest land salamander in the world is the tiger salamander, an Illinois native that reaches 1 pound and a length of 9 inches. All of these “herptiles” are meat eaters with voracious appetites.

Of the freshwater fish most often found both in our state and worldwide, catfish generally take the records for size. The largest one caught in Illinois was a 124-pound, 58-inch long blue catfish caught in the Mississippi River last year.

Although it’s impossible to guess the size of the smallest insect in our state (potentially, millions of insect species worldwide are waiting to be discovered) our largest insect, based on wingspan, is the cecropia moth at 7 inches, tip to tip.

From the Aug. 16-22, 2006, issue

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