It’s been too long since I’ve done a good old-fashioned anting expedition. So I took a break on Wednesday to see a part of Illinois rumored to be profoundly different from the rest of the state: Sand Ridge State Forest, a quiet patch of public land southwest of Peoria.
The unique character of Sand Ridge stems from its geologic history. The glaciers ended here, dumping a pile of sand atop the resident clay. The soils here are dry and well drained, a stark contrast to the surrounding tallgrass prairie. As Sand Ridge is too nutrient poor to farm, the land was preserved as a blend of shortgrass sand prairie and woodland.
The sandy soil hosts a relatively xeric plant community. If you click on the image below, you’ll see a high-res photo of the sand prairie ground cover. Look for the Opuntia prickly-pear cacti. Yes- that’s a cactus, in the Land of Lincoln!
Sandy soils support a correspondingly different ant community, and I was fortunate to spend a few hours stalking the local myrmecofauna. Several species I’d never seen in Illinois before. Below are a few of the better captures from the afternoon.