Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

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June 10, 2014
We’re in the Mood for Indigo

Tracking native plants as they bloom at different times from spring to fall is one of the best ways to enjoy Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. The blue false indigo now flowering makes this week an ideal time to start, but hurry—the blooms will only hold their color for another week or so.

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September 10, 2010
Life Cycle of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

This colorful butterfly, flitting between pickerel plants at the water edge, caught my eye while I walked around the Nature Boardwalk one afternoon. This is a female eastern tiger swallowtail. Like so many insects, these butterflies have a fascinating life cycle.

A generation of adult butterflies is called a flight.

August 31, 2010
Dragonfly Metamorphosis In Action

At Nature Boardwalk last week I was able to witness one of nature’s most amazing spectacles right before my eyes, entirely by accident! As the zoo’s coordinator of wildlife management, I spend a lot of time surveying to see which specific species can be found at Nature Boardwalk, but some of my most amazing discoveries are by accident. This was no exception.

I’ve seen many dragonfly exuviae (the shed exoskeletons left behind by dragonflies when they transform from an aquatic nymph to a flying adult), but I’d never seen a dragonfly in the actual process of emerging.

August 24, 2010
Monarch Butterfly With a Secret Past Visits Nature Boardwalk

I was following around a monarch butterfly at Nature Boardwalk the other day, trying to get a decent photograph, when I noticed something unusual about this particular insect. As you might imagine, flying insects don’t pose for pictures very well, so I’d been pursuing this particular butterfly for a while. Luckily that gave me time to realize it had a sticker on one of its wings! As a biologist, I’m familiar with many ways that scientists track wildlife, but stickers on butterflies was something new for me.

August 17, 2010
Fish Nesting Near the Patio at Café Brauer

Next time you grab a table at the new Patio at Café Brauer Patio, be sure to look over the railing at the fish that are claiming their own space at Nature Boardwalk. The relatively shallow, sunny area right in front of the patio is an excellent area for sunfish (bluegill and pumpkinseed fish) to build their nests, and they’re doing just that.

August 13, 2010
Birds Foraging At Nature Boardwalk

The fish in the pond at Nature Boardwalk may be small, but they’ve caught the interest of several birds. Black-crowned night herons, green herons and ring-billed gulls have all been observed fishing at the pond. This is a natural—and expected—part of the food web at Nature Boardwalk. We’ve been keeping an eye out for this behavior since stocking the pond with fish in the beginning of July.

August 6, 2010
Our Little Green Friends

You might be one of the many folks who struggle with plant names. Most of us do! For the select few who can rattle off a full list of nomenclature, I suspect good, careful observation combined with a gentle affection for our photosynthetic friends really helps out. What follows are fun tidbits about the new flowers at Nature Boardwalk.

Black-eyed Susan
For such a cheery, bright summer bloomer, I have to admit this plant has an unfortunate name. I can’t shake the image of an accident-prone young girl.

August 4, 2010
Ready For Takeoff!

Black-crowned night herons are statuesque birds that look as though they are wearing black capes and hoods. They have piercing red eyes and long white plume feathers that trail off the nape of their necks.


Adult black-crowned night herons at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.

They don’t begin their lives looking quite that majestic, however.

July 29, 2010
Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp

The other day, while I was walking around the boardwalk, I heard a loud buzzing and rustling sound coming from the prairie grasses. When I looked down, I immediately spotted the source. A long, slender wasp with reddish-tinted wings was dragging a huge cicada along the ground, furiously buzzing and working its wings as it went along.

To my surprise, the wasp began climbing one of the wooden stakes we are using to anchor the goose fencing (netting temporarily in place to keep Canada geese from eating our new plantings).

July 19, 2010
Differentiating Dragonflies and Damselflies

An astounding 16 species of dragonflies and damselflies have already been identified at Nature Boardwalk. To tell one of these species from the next, biologists use species identification keys to look for specific features.

The first step is figuring out whether an insect is a dragonfly or a damselfly. These two groups share a common biological heritage: both are suborders within the scientific order Odonta. They are similar in other ways as well. Both are carnivores, eating other insects. Both start their lives in the water as nymphs and then emerge as flying insects.

July 15, 2010
Giant Water Bug Nymphs

You wouldn’t know it by looking at this little green critter, but this tiny animal will grow up to become a giant water bug. Zoo biologists found this insect while doing invertebrate surveys at the pond at Nature Boardwalk. Just like dragonflies and damselflies, immature giant water bugs are called nymphs.

Giant water bugs make up a family of insects that are often found in ponds.

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