Starved Rock State Park and the surrounding state parks are home to an abundance of wildlife. Below is information on our most common mammals that are frequently seen by visitors.
The Badger is a short, squat animal with a wedge-shaped head. Adult badgers weigh between 13 and 30 pounds, and are 25 to 35 inches in length. Males tend to be larger than females. The gray fur can have a slight yellowish or silverish cast. The face has a white stripe that extends from near the nose to the top of the head and sometimes onto the neck and back. White markings also extend from the sides of the mouth onto the cheeks and around the ears. A striking black bar (badge) follows the jawline. More about the badger.
The beaver is a bulky animal with a large, scaly, paddle-shaped tail. Adults typically weigh 40 to 50 pounds, but some may weigh over 90 pounds. The front feet are small with long, sharp, curved toe-nails while the hind feet are large and webbed. The eyes of a beaver are small and dark. The body fur is usually dark brown above and lighter below; the tail is blackish. More about the beaver.
Cottontails have large hind legs which help them hop and run fast and long ears which provide them a keen sense of hearing. Female cottontails place their blind, helpless newborn in shallow depressions in the ground or a short burrow. These areas are lined with hair and covered with grasses to hide the young when the female is away.
The coyote resembles a small German shepherd dog, but carries its tail below the level of the back rather than curved upward. Its upper body is typically light gray to dull yellow, but can vary from mostly black to nearly all gray or white. Course outer hairs are usually tipped with black. The underparts are whitish, cream colored or pinkish yellow. A coyote’s muzzle is long and narrow; its ears are erect and pointed. The average length of an adult is 44 to 54 inches, including a 15- to 17-inch tail. Weights measured during fall and winter vary from 22 to 42 pounds. More about the coyote.
Chipmunks spend a considerable amount of time searching for food which they store in burrows. Food is carried to the burrow in the cheek pouches they have inside their mouth. Chipmunks do not hibernate, but spend short periods of time during the winter in their burrows in a state of inactivity which conserves energy.
Fox squirrels become inactive in winter and curl up in a ball inside a tree cavity or leaf nest. Leaf nests are constructed in large trees and often used in habitats where tree cavities are absent. The home range of a fox squirrel is between 10 and 40 acres. Fox squirrels eat seeds, bugs, fruits and even small lizards. Their natural predators are humans, hawks, snakes, and bobcats. Their maximum life expectancy is 12.6 years for females and 8.6 years for males.
The pocket gopher is a rodent with special adaptations for a fossorial, or underground life. Its front feet are large and have a strong claw on each toe which helps it dig dirt. Gophers are able to close their mouth behind thier incisors, or front teeth, so they can dig with their teeth without getting dirt in their mouth. Areas where pocket gophers live have mounds of dirt at the entrances of their burrows.
Like most members of the weasel family, the mink has a long, slender body and short legs. The tail is about two-fifths as long as the body. Adult males are longer (21 to 24 inches) and heavier (2 to 3 3/4 pounds) than adult females (16 3/4 to 21 inches; 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 pounds). Most wild mink are dark brown except for a white chin and a tail that’s tipped with black. Some have one or more irregular white patches on their throats or chests. A mink’s ears are short, barely extending above its fur. More about the mink.
The muskrat is about the same size as a cottontail rabbit. Adults vary from 16 to 25 inches in total length and weigh from 1 1/2 to 4 pounds. The average weight is about 2 1/2 pounds. Muskrats have small eyes and ears. The front legs are short while the hind legs are longer, stronger and have partially webbed feet. The black, scaly tail is flattened vertically (like the rudder of a ship) and is almost as long as the body. The back is dark or chocolate brown and fades gradually to a lighter brown with a reddish tinge on the sides. The underparts are still lighter, shading to almost white on the throat. More about the muskrat.
An adult opossum is about the same size as a house cat, but with much shorter legs. Total length ranges from 24 to 33 inches. Adults weigh from 6 to 15 pounds. Males are usually larger than females. The opossum has a narrow, tapered head with a pointed muzzle, pink nose, black eyes and bluish-black ears that lack hair and look leathery. The long, scaly tail is black near the base and fades to a yellowish white or pale pink about one fourth of the way to the tip. Both the front and hind feet have five white or pink toes. The inner toe of each hind foot is clawless and thumb-like. The dense, woolly underfur of most opossums is creamy white with grayish tips. The long outer hairs are dark gray or black. This combination gives most opossums a grizzled gray appearance. A few are almost black while others are very pale gray or nearly white. More about the opossum.
Raccoons are identified easily by a black face mask and a bushy tail with alternating black and light-colored rings. Their backs and sides have long, coarse fur which is usually a grizzled gray-brown, but can vary from yellowish gray to nearly black. A raccoon’s muzzle is fairly pointed, and its ears are prominent, rounded and furred. The feet are broad and plantigrade; that is, the raccoon walks on nearly the entire undersurface of its feet, like a bear. The five toes on each foot have well developed claws. More about the raccoon.
Red bats reside in Illinois during the spring-summmer-fall and migrate south during the winter when their food supply, insects, is not available. There are twelve species of bats found in Illinois and red bats are one of the more common species. Bats have poor eyes and rely on echolocation, or supersonic sounds, to locate objects.
The red fox looks like a small dog with a long, pointed muzzle, long legs, large, pointed ears and a long, bushy tail. Total length ranges from 36 to 46 inches. Body weights vary from 8 to 15 pounds. The fur is usually reddish-yellow on the sides and slightly darker on the back. Its tail is nearly the same color as the sides but mixed with black and usually tipped with white. The cheeks, throat, and belly are whitish but the legs, feet, and backs of the ears are black. The pupils of a fox’s eyes are almond-shaped rather than round.More about the red fox.
At 35 to 53 inches from tip to tip, the river otter is Illinois’ largest member of the weasel family. A stout tail makes up about 30 to 40 percent of its total body length. An otter uses its tail like a rudder while swimming. Adults weigh 10 to 25 pounds; males are about one third larger than females. Otters have a broad, slightly flattened head, large nosepad, stiff, bristly whiskers, small black eyes and small rounded ears. Their bodies are muscular and torpedo-shaped, allowing them to move easily through water. The legs are short and have five fully-webbed toes on each foot. The fur is dark brown or reddish brown on the back and light brown, tan or silver on the throat and belly. More about the river otter.
A striped skunk is about the size of a domestic cat, but its legs are much shorter. Total length ranges from 20 to 30 inches. Males vary in weight from 3 to 11.7 pounds. Females tend to be smaller, usually 2.6 to 8.6 pounds. The skunk has a triangular-shaped head that tapers to a rounded, nearly ball-shaped nose. Its ears are small and rounded and its eyes are small, black, and beady. The front feet are each equipped with five toes that have long, curved claws. Toes on the hind feet have shorter, straighter claws. A skunk’s tail is long and bushy. More about the skunk.
Two species of weasels live in Illinois–the long-tailed weasel and the least weasel. The long-tailed weasel is two to three times larger than the least weasel. Both have long, slender bodies, short legs, and a broad, slightly flattened head that’s barely larger around than the neck. More about the weasel.
White Tailed Deer
The white-tailed deer is the largest Illinois mammal. Deer are in the family of mammals characterized by having hooves, antlers that are shed and replaced annually and a four-chambered stomach allowing them to chew a cud. Antlers are usually found only on males and the size of the antler and number of points increase with the age of the deer.