‘An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change’ updates broad sweep of Illinois fishes

“An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 years of Change” arrived thick and overwhelming.

So I picked a handful of species to begin checking. That’s what to do with a book with entries on the state’s “217 current and extirpated fish species.”

“An Atlas of Illinois Fishes” continues a lineage that began with “The Fishes of Illinois” by Stephen A. Forbes and Robert E. Richardson in 1909. Philip W. Smith followed in 1979 with “The Fishes in Illinois,” which has been my valued, much-used go-to for decades.

Those books make me happy for humanity as an illustration of how science builds on what came before. That comes after more than two years in which lots about humanity and science made me profoundly unhappy.

Brook trout were my first species to check. I dream of them reproducing in Illinois. The entry on page 260 gave no hope: “The species is not know to reproduce in Illinois, and all records from streams — and probably those from Lake Michigan — are the result of stocking in Illinois.”

Next were entries for silver carp (page 121) and bighead carp (122). Neither was mentioned in Smith’s book. In the decades since, they became Illinois’ most famous fish. As the “Distribution in Illinois” paragraph for silvers, the famous leaping invasive carp, put it, “It is now abundant in the Illinois, lower Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash and in some reservoirs in central and southern Illinois.”

One of the modern changes in the fishes of Illinois was the spread of invasive carp, such as these silvers leaping from the Illinois River during netting by commercial fishermen in September, 2021.

Each species’ page includes “Identification,” Similar Species,” Habitat,” “Distribution in Illinois,” and, sometimes, “Remarks;” to go with color photos and distribution maps. There’s also a pictorial guide for identifying fish. The format and writing can be accessed and used by ordinary people, as well as those with advanced degrees.

The authors have advanced degrees: Brian A. Metzke, state aquatic ecologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; Brooks M. Burr, emeritus professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a co-editor of “Freshwater Fishes of North America;” Leon C. Hinz Jr., wildlife action plan coordinator for the IDNR; Lawrence M. Page, coauthor of “Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico;” and Christopher A. Taylor, curator of fishes and crustaceans with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Next I looked up two species — burbot (271) and lake whitefish (252) — with much recent change. On lake whitefish, with multiple recent record fish, it was noted, “The species had nearly disappeared by the time of Smith (1979), but in the contemporary-era is frequently encountered in the Illinois portion of Lake Michigan.” The up-and-down history of burbot is updated, “In the contemporary era, the burbot appears to be restricted to Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, for which there is only 1 record.”

One of the modern changes in the fishes of Illinois is more frequent encounters with burbot, such as Saro Kevorkian releasing the state record (11 pounds, 12 1/2 ounces) back into Lake Michigan at Montrose Harbor in December of 2020. Credit: Dale bowman

One of the modern changes in the fishes of Illinois is more frequent encounters with burbot, such as Saro Kevorkian releasing the state record (11 pounds, 12 1/2 ounces) back into Lake Michigan at Montrose Harbor in December of 2020.

“An Atlas of Illinois Fishes” joins the pantheon on the shelf left of my desk, within easy reach. The Zeus or Athena of that pantheon remains “A Natural History of the Chicago Region,” by Joel Greenberg; the breadth of it can’t be touched. But “An Atlas of Illinois Fishes” sits comfortably with Stephen P. Havera’s “Waterfowl of Illinois,” Donald F. Hoffmeister’s “Mammals of Illinois,” and Joe McFarland’s and Gregory M. Mueller’s “Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States.”

“An Atlas of Illinois Fishes” is not for reading cover to cover while sprawled at Montrose Beach, it’s the go-to for identification and background of that fish your kid (or you) caught and want to know more about.

Find your species to look up, then disappear into “An Atlas of Illinois Fishes.”

Release date is Tuesday. The cloth version is $50; the eBook, $24.95. Click here for more information.

The cover of “An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change.”  Provided by University of Illinois Press

The cover of “An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change.”

Provided by University of Illinois Press

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: