Sand Ridge State Forest, Illinois

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.

SRmap

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.

Asclepia tuberosa

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!

Opuntia prickley-pear cacti at Sand Ridge State Forest.

Click to embiggen.

Pheidole bicarinata

Pheidole bicarinata may be the most widespread species in its genus in North America. I’d last seen them in the southwestern deserts. Here they are in central Illinois, scavenging a stink bug.

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.

treatae7

The charming Aphaenogaster treatae can be recognized by the lobes at the base of the antennae.

Formica dolosa

Portrait of Formica dolosa.

Crematogaster lineolata

Crematogaster lineolata carries a pupa to safety after the photographer so rudely disturbed her nest.

Myrmica

While Myrmica taxonomy generally gives me a headache, I’m reasonably confident this one is Myrmica spatulata. Please let me know if you have a better opinion, though.

Apocephalus

The highlight of the afternoon was the vicious clouds of Apocephalus ant-decapitating flies that descended on a hapless colony of Camponotus chromaiodes nesting in a rotting log. This photo is just a teaser; I’ve got a full series on these to post later.

texanus1

A species I’d never seen before, Temnothorax texanus, nesting in the sandy soil. An extra wide postpetiole is the taxonomic giveaway.

Monomorium minimum

Of course, some species that appear everywhere don’t seem to care about the uniqueness of Sand Ridge. Here’s Monomorium minimum, which also nests in my front yard in Urbana.

incerta8

Formica incerta gathering nectar from Queen Anne’s Lace.

microgyna_grp3

Face to face with a microgyna-group Formica species. I admit this one has me stumped for an ID. I *think* it’s F. knighti, maybe. Would someone please revise this genus?

microgyna_grp1

Another shot of the mystery Formica foraging on milkweed.

Lasius neoniger

A nest of Lasius neoniger.

Dasymutilla3

The more astute among you will recognize that this colorful animal is not a true ant but a velvet ant, Dasymutilla occidentalis. This shot was taken in the studio after I’d brought the animal indoors.

Sand Ridge State Forest

An oak tree stands still for a portrait.