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December 2015 Archive

There are about 60 species of wild mammals in Illinois. What is a mammal? It's an animal with four limbs (legs/arms). It has hair or fur. It is warm-blooded (its body temperature is kept at the same level instead of being controlled by the environment). Most female mammals bear young that develop in a special organ, the uterus. Two species of mammals lay eggs, but they do not live in Illinois. After birth, mammal young are fed with milk produced by the female's mammary glands. Mammals have a large and complex brain. Wild mammals in Illinois include the marsupials (Virginia opossum), insectivores (shrews and moles), bats, rabbits, rodents, carnivores and ungulates (white-tailed deer).

"Furbearer" is a term used mainly by wildlife biologists to describe mammals that are hunted or trapped, usually for their valuable fur. There are 14 species of furbearers in Illinois. To some people, trapping, hunting and the use of fur are controversial issues. Here are some facts to help you understand hunting and trapping of furbearers.

 - Hunting and trapping are highly regulated. More than 75 state, federal and international laws apply to the hunting and trapping of furbearers in Illinois. These laws provide standards for animal welfare, require licenses and training and set limits on hunting and trapping so that populations remain healthy.
 
 - Furbearers are common species. As of 2016, it will be legal to hunt or trap all 14 species of furbearers in Illinois. Thanks to conservation efforts, some species once considered rare in Illinois are now thriving. Examples include the American beaver, North American river otter and bobcat. Most of the species that are hunted or trapped in Illinois are capable of giving birth to and raising many young in a short period of time. Even with diseases, predators and other factors causing death, many individuals remain that can be harvested by hunting or trapping.

 - Society benefits from responsible harvest of furbearers. Regulated hunting and trapping help to keep furbearer populations at acceptable levels, reduce property damage caused by furbearers, raise funds for the conservation of wildlife, and provide a wide range of materials and products for human use, including but not limited to, fur garments, soap, pet foods, livestock, feed, paint, tires, textiles and construction materials.

Several publications from the IDNR can provide you with more information about hunting and trapping. You will find all of them through the publications order form.
Fur Hunting and Trapping brochure
Fur Hunting and Trapping DVD
Illinois Furbearers poster
Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations book

There are 14 species of furbearers in Illinois. They represent several types of mammals.

Carnivores

coyote (Canis latrans) – The coyote may be found statewide in Illinois living in woodlands, bluffs, prairies and urban areas. It eats mice, rabbits, fruits, dead animals and other items. Young are raised in a burrow or den.

red fox (Vulpes vulpes) – The red fox is found statewide living in grasslands, urban areas, bottomland woods and brushy areas. It eats prey that it catches as well as some plant materials (berries, fruits). Its diet changes by season. In summer and fall, it feeds mainly on insects and plant materials. In winter and spring, it eats many small mammals. It is usually active at night. An underground burrow (den) is used for raising its young.

gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) – The gray fox can be found statewide mainly in woodlands, especially where they are close to open fields, and can also be found in urban areas. Cottontails, mice, insects, birds, crayfishes and plant materials are among the many types of food items eaten by this species. In the winter, small mammals make up most of the diet. A den is used for raising young. The gray fox can easily climb trees.

long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) – Found statewide, the long-tailed weasel lives in brushy areas, woodlands, grasslands, along roads and near farm buildings. It eats birds, lizards, small mammals and snakes. Active at night, it uses the burrows of other small mammals, crevices or brush piles to hide in during the day.

least weasel (Mustela nivalis) – The least weasel can be found in the northern one-half of Illinois. It lives in grassy fields, along railroad tracks and along the edges of cultivated fields. It feeds on small birds, mice and other small mammals and invertebrates. It may kill more prey than it needs at one time and store the food for later. When disturbed, it may release a musky odor.

American mink (Neovison vison) – The mink can be found statewide near streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and marshes. It eats small birds, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and invertebrates. It is active mainly at night and moves well both in and out of water. It may take over a muskrat burrow or lodge for shelter or live in a brush pile or under a stump.

American badger (Taxidea taxus) – The badger may be found statewide in open areas such as pastures, roadsides, along railroad tracks, brushy areas and alfalfa fields. It is usually active at night and eats mammals, such as woodchucks, ground squirrels, mice and voles. It is a powerful digger and uses this skill to find food and provide shelter.

North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) – The river otter is found throughout Illinois in streams, rivers, swamps and lakes. It eats fishes, crayfishes, turtles, frogs, mussels and other aquatic animals. It is active during the day and night. It swims strongly in water and bounds on land.

striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) – This mammal is found statewide in Illinois in pastures, fence rows, roadsides and woodlands. It eats a variety of foods including insects, birds, dead animals, garbage, small mammals and plant materials. It raises its young in an underground burrow. Active at night, it is known for its bad-smelling scent that is sprayed on any animal that it considers to be a threat.

raccoon (Procyon lotor) – The raccoon is easily recognized by the black markings (mask) on its face and the dark rings on its tail. It lives statewide in a variety of habitats, including urban areas. It eats prey that it catches as well as plant materials. It is very common in cities, where it feeds on garbage and pet food and lives in hollow trees and buildings. Active at night, this species is a good climber and swimmer.

bobcat (Lynx rufus) – The bobcat lives in wooded bluffs or rolling hills mixed with open fields, brushy ravines, swamps or open woodlands along streams. Found statewide, it is active at night, feeding on cottontails, squirrels, mice, birds and other animals. Individuals can live up to about 15 years in the wild.

Rodents

American beaver (Castor canadensis) – The beaver is the largest rodent in Illinois. This nocturnal mammal has a large, flat tail and webbed feet that help it swim. Beavers spend most of their time in water, going to land only to rest, rear young and feed. Plant materials that it finds along streams, rivers, ponds and lakes make up the diet. Beavers are able to cut down trees to build lodges and dams.

muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) – The muskrat lives statewide in Illinois in rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, ditches and marshes. It feeds on cattails and other aquatic plants and sometimes will take crayfishes, mussels and other aquatic animals. It may build a house out of vegetation or use a burrow in a pond or stream bank as its home.

Marsupials

​​Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) – The opossum is found statewide and can live about anywhere on land, from woods to cities. It eats plant and animal materials, such as fruits, grains, eggs, worms, garbage and pet food. It is active at night. When the young are born, they are very small, and an entire litter (as many as 14) can fit into an area the size of a teaspoon. They crawl into a pouch on the mother's body and stay there for about two months to complete their development.