Plants and Animals:

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Male Widowskimmer Male Widowskimmer
Insects are important to the maintenance of prairie ecosystems. They are responsible for the pollination of prairie plants and also play a role in the nutrient cycling. They consume living and dead vegetation, manure, and dead animals, thereby hastening decomposition. This in turn, results in a quicker return of carbon and mineral nutrients to the soil where they become available to plants. Insects are also a food source for a wide variety of prairie animals.

Some insects require specific plants that grow at Midewin NTP for food or the completion of their life cycle. Examples include the Silphium root borer (Papaipema silphii), an insect whose nymphs are dependent on Silphium for food. The indigo stem borer (Papaipema baptisiae), Liatris stem borer (Papaipema beeriana), and ironweed stem borer (Papaipema cerussata) have larvae that depend on the plants for which they are named to survive. The Eryngium stem borer (Papaipema eryngii) is a state endangered species whose larvae also depend upon a plant, the rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium) that occurs at Midewin in order to survive.

The larvae of skippers, moth-like butterflies, feed almost entirely on sedges and grasses. The two-spotted skipper (Euphyes bimacula), which is on the watch list in Illinois, is present at Midewin, along with two other skippers, the Dion skipper (Euphyes dion) and black dash (Euphyes conspicua).

Black Swallowtail
in field with Blazing Star
(Liatris pychnostachya)
Many of the butterflies and moths that inhabit the prairie are specialized pollinators and responsible for the cross-pollination of prairie plants that would not otherwise reproduce. They pollinate many of the plants in the Asteraceae which include coneflowers, sunflowers, and black-eyed Susans. The monarch (Danaus plexippus) is one of the most widely distributed of the butterflies. Its larva feeds exclusively on the leaves of milkweed (Asclepias sp.) . Black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) are among the important pollinators of characteristic prairie wildflowers.

Dragonflies (Odonata) and numerous leafhoppers (Homoptera) also inhabit the prairies. Dragonfly nymphs of the genus Sympetrum (meadowhawks) utilize seasonal ponds and prairie potholes.

A wide variety of animals at Midewin depend on insects either as a major food source or as supplementary to their diet. The table below provide just a few examples of the many insect-eating inhabitants of the prairie.


Insects in Diet
Eastern Meadowlark Caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers
Western Meadowlark Caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers
Common Nighthawk Moths and mosquitoes
Red Bat Moths, leafhoppers, flying ants, and beetles
Big Brown Bat June beetles, click beetles, mayflies, lacewings, and parasitic wasps
Striped Skunk Dominant food is a variety of insects
Shrews Supplementary insects and their larvae
Moles Diet is largely insects and their larvae
Deer Mouse Supplementary insects
White-footed Mouse Supplementary insects
Opossum A variety of insects including grasshoppers
Red Fox Variety of insects as supplementary
Gray Fox Variety of insects as supplementary
Amphibians and Reptiles
Cricket Frog Variety of insects
Chorus Frog Variety of insects
DeKay's Snake Variety of larval insects

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Illinois State Museum State of Illinois IDNR Search, Last modified September 1st 2011, 08:13PM.