Our latest edition of the Prairie Breeze newsletter is out now in digital format. Click here or the banner below to download the PDF. As always, you can find previous Prairie Breeze issues in our archive on this website.
Please join us for a lecture by Save the Prairie Society Associate Director Dr. EJ Neafsey at the LaGrange Park Public Library on Novemeber 16th, 2014.
Dr. Neafsey’s lecture, entitled Wold Road Prairie: Flowers, Fire, Ice, Native Americans, A Big Fight, Monarchs, Leopold’s Land Ethic, and More, will cover topics such as flora, fauna, and the history of Wolf Road Prairie.
Going on now through the month of October, a display of photographs and artistic renderings of Wolf Road Prairie can be found on the second floor of Westchester Public Library. Featured are awe-inspiring shots of Wolf Road Prairie’s amazing flora and fauna, photos of STPS-led guided tours, and paintings which reveal the natural beauty of the prairie landscape. Stop by Westchester Public Library and see this wonderful installation for yourself!
Prairie Fest was once again an amazingly fun, educational, and entertaining time!
Photos courtesy of Lawrence Godson
STPS would like to thank everyone that helped made Prairie Fest 2014 possible, including:
The Shell gas station owner and crew at York Road and Ogden Avenue in Hinsdale for their most generous donation and help.
Jack Doyle for arranging the two Civil War reencactors, the dulcimer players, and
for contacting the generous owner of the Shell gas station.
Paul Gangi of Westchester Minutemen Press ( 1939 LaGrange Road, Westchester ).
for his professional advice.
West Town Wine & Spirits (1925 S LaGrange Rd, Westchester ) for their generous donation.
The owner of Palmer Florest ( 1926 S LaGrange Road, Westchester ) for her generous donation.
Geri Rennhack for single-handedly manning the antique treasure sales.
Doc Grayson for his awesome ability to analyze our handwriting. Visit Doc’s informative
website: HandwritingSecretsRevealed.com .
Mr. Carm whose presentation on hypnosis gave us insights into how our brain works.
The Nazareth Academy students for helping with set-up, sign making, and legwork.
Fidencio Marbella for help with the heavy lifting of setup.
The Triton Alumni Choir for their beautiful singing and their great choice of music.
The two well versed and authentically dressed Civil War reenactors who
stayed the entire day and shared their extensive knowledge of Civil War battle
engagement with an appreciative audience – Joe Kotek ( Union Soldier ) and
Joe Ziccarelli ( Confederate Soldier ).
All the wonderfully talented vendors who shared their crafts and art
Prairie Fest 2014 is less than 1 month away! Check out our calendar page for more info as well as our brand new flyer! Share it with family, friends, and anyone who would be interested in food, art, music, nature, and fun!
We have exciting news if you are a Amazon.com customer and want an easy way to contribute to the efforts of Save the Prairie Society. STPS is now a part of Amazon Smile, a program started by Amazon to give back to your favorite charity. Simply follow this link or the banner on the side or below this post, and Amazon will have you select Save the Prairie Society as your charity of choice . 0.5% of your purchase will be donated to STPS when shopping through Amazon Smile. It is as simple as that! No need to pay extra or donate separately; Amazon automatically donates a percentage of your purchase to Save the Prairie Society.
Please consider shopping at Amazon through our banner or links if you would like to help us continue our work in restoring nature, preserving history, and educating the public. Our operations are made possible through your generous support. Thank you!
This summer, STPS Director Dr. EJ Neafsey lead a group of students from the Oak Park Summer Program through Wolf Road Prairie. EJ was able to talk about natural history and ecology in the beautiful setting of the summer prairie. The group’s leader, Stephanie Kirchner, had this to say about the tour:
The day was the highlight of our 7 weeks, and I am sure none of us will forget it – your fascinating presentation, your magical tour of the prairie, and of course, the beautiful day . . .
We would like to thank Stephanie and her group of great young people for their interest and enthusiasm! STPS’ mission is not only to preserve and restore nature, but to educate the public about it as well!
If you would like to arrange a prairie tour for students or other education programs, please contact us at
or call Rita McCabe at
Recently, prairie volunteer Greg Jerzyk captured a rare sight with his camera on the prairie–a tower crayfish! Many people don’t know that a prairie contains such creatures. It speaks to the incredible complexity of this now extremely rare and endangered ecosystem. Below is a first time digital reprint of STPS Director Rita McCabe’s article about prairie crayfish. We hope you enjoy!
Prairie Crayfish ( Procambarus gracilis )
Few people who study prairies ever claim to be prairie experts. Years of observation have taught them that the prairie’s complexity is slowly revealed over extended periods of time by close, recorded observations of its flora and fauna as well as through studies of their complex interconnectedness. A good example of this interconnectedness can readily be seen by a close look at Procambarus gracilis, a seldom seen prairie denizen, who nevertheless benefits his habitat.
Since crayfish must keep their gills hydrated, they are usually associated with streams, rivers, and lakes. While it is true that Wolf Road Prairie has wetlands, it is also true that in many years the wetlands shrink or dry by midsummer. Yet our crayfish persist year after year. So how do they avoid dehydration? The answer lies deep below the surface past the water table. Using their pincher-like claws, Procambarus gracilis tunnel down past the groundwater table creating safe burrows or chambers that satisfy their need for water.
The extensive observations and analysis of two University of Illinois at Chicago researchers, Dennis Nyberg and Paul Orlando (2005) have produced significant information about their habits, and effects on prairies – important data for the preservation of remaining populations. As with all long established habitats, the interplay of flora and fauna add to the stability of the ecosystem, and Nyberg and Orlando were able to illustrate a specific benefit the crayfish provide. The digging abilities of prairie crayfish enable them to excavate deeper than ants, worms, and voles, and in doing so bring up to the surface clay soil from depths as far down as 6 feet. Nyberg and Orlando’s analysis of the clay mounds or crowns that often surround their burrows registered soil rich with minerals. These minerals had overtime leached from topsoil as it was percolated downward by the force of heavy rains. Thanks to their study, we now know that by excavating a new home, crayfish return some of these leached minerals to the surface.
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These small rusty brown prairie crayfish were once numerous in the Chicago area. A vivid picture of their abundance was described by one Milton Hans in an interview documented by the Northbrook Historical Society in 1956. In recalling what it was like to grow-up in the early 1900’s, Hans described how as a barefoot boy driving the family cows to pasture, he observed: “After heavy rains, the ground especially the road, would almost be covered with crayfish.” He could not recall what happened to this natural bounty, but only remembered that at sometime he did not see them anymore. We now know that many of the prairie crayfish populations were destroyed by the draining of wetlands and the destruction of prairies. Fortunately, pockets of prairie crayfish still persist in many preserved prairies including Wolf Road Prairie and in suitable undeveloped pockets of land.
Crayfish add to the diet of wading birds, raccoons, snakes, and turtles. Their own diet consists of snails, insects, plants, and scavenged carrion. Growing to a length of 2”to 3”, these crayfish live an average of 3 to 4 years. Each burrow is occupied by a single adult who will spend most of its time there. When they do venture forth, it is usually at night or after a heavy rain.
In the spring of 2012, steward John Banaszak pointed out a female crayfish making her way down a path to a group of volunteers. You can imagine their surprise, when John showed us a living raft of immature crabs ( 20 if counted correctly ) clinging to their mother’s abdomen. John believed that most likely she was taking her young to the wetlands where they could fend for themselves. Upon reaching adulthood, the new generation instinctively searches out a suitable area for the excavation of their own “deep tunnel.”
More recently ( 6/27/14), volunteer Greg Jerzyk, spotted a prairie crayfish aka tower crayfish while working on the prairie. He was quick enough to capture the adjacent picture as the crayfish crossed a prairie sidewalk. If you are out and about on the prairie and observe a grayish-white crown of clay around a small hole, then you have discovered the entrance to a crafyfish chamber. Better yet come after a heavy rain, and you like Milton Hans in the early 1900’s and John and Greg in the early 2000’s, might encounter the excavator.
Our resident photographer Fidencio Marbella has captured yet another amazing sight on Wolf Road Prairie in his beautiful action shots of two different species of moths.
First up is the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe), named so for its common mistaken identification as a hummingbird.
Next up are Snowberry Clearwing Moths (Hemaris diffinis), with their gold color and black band.
It is always wonderful to see the incredible kind of life inhabiting Wolf Road Prairie. Luckily, avid photographers like Fidencio capture these glimpses into the rare prairie ecosystem for everyone to see!