Natural questions: Informed answers from those in the know around Chicago outdoors, plus Stray CastDale Bowmanon June 23, 2021 at 10:38 am

A buck in velvet in May near the Des Plaines Riverwalk. Credit: Alan Anderson
A buck in velvet in May near the Des Plaines Riverwalk. | Alan Anderson

Experts answer some of readers’ better universal questions—buck in velvet, coy-wolves, smallmouth bass wound—from around Chicago outdoors, plus the Stray Cast.

Readers asked questions, and people in the know answered.

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‘‘My buddy is convinced that the Chicagoland coyotes are actually coy-wolves,’’ Timothy Powell emailed. ‘‘I disagree. Is there any data to answer our debate?’’

Chris Anchor, a senior wildlife biologist for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, replied via Carl Vogel, the director of communications for FPCC:

‘‘It wouldn’t be accurate to say there are coy-wolves in Northern Illinois. That would imply that our coyotes are a hybrid of coyotes and wolves or even that the animals have a wolf and a coyote as parents. That isn’t true.

‘‘However, coyotes in our region do have trace amounts of wolf DNA, typically 1% to 3%. That is a result of the brief period 50 years or so ago — about 30 generations — when coyotes were reappearing in the region but were relatively rare. During this time, they would occasionally mate with dogs or wolves when they could not find another coyote for mating. As their population quickly grew, that stopped [because] the first preference of a coyote would be to mate with its own species.

‘‘Note that this trace amount of DNA does not impact the coyotes in any notable way, in terms of size, coloration, behavior, etc.’’

File photo that Sandy Melovic photographed, with her zoom, of coyotes across a pond while her husband, Steve, shot trap at Naperville Sportsman’s Club in 2019. Provided photo
File photo that Sandy Melovic photographed, with her zoom, of coyotes across a pond while her husband, Steve, shot trap at Naperville Sportsman’s Club in 2019.

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Tim Ledbetter emailed a photo of a wounded smallmouth bass caught from Monroe Harbor and noted, ‘‘Have seen similar lesions on too many SMB this season.’’

‘‘I would classify the lesion as a wound of life, possibly from an interaction with a predator (bird or fish) or related to spawning activity,’’ responded Vic Santucci, Illinois’ Lake Michigan program manager. ‘‘It looks pretty severe on this fish, going deep into the musculature. However, given that this fish hit bait or an artificial lure, it suggests to me that it was doing OK even with the lesion.’’

Santucci checked with Rebecca Redman, a Lake Michigan biologist, who noted: ‘‘The wound somewhat resembles what folks in northern LM have been seeing on smallies over the course of several years. No consistent pathogen was found in northern LM smallies with lesions that have been tested to date.’’

A smallmouth bass with a wound or lesion, caught this spring at Monroe Harbor. Credit: Tim Ledbetter
Tim Ledbetter
A smallmouth bass with a wound or lesion, caught this spring at Monroe Harbor.

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In May, Alan Anderson visited the Des Plaines Riverwalk for the River Bird Blitz when he spotted a buck in velvet and wondered if it was early.

Dan Skinner, the forest wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, gave this primer:

‘‘When an antler is actively growing, it’s going to be covered in a ‘velvet’ coating. Velvet is essentially a furry skin covering the growing bone, and it is highly vascular, meaning it’s full of blood vessels. These blood vessels carry nutrients and oxygen to the rapidly growing antlers. We can always see individual variation based on the age or body condition of a buck, but generally speaking, in northern Illinois, annual antler growth begins in late March or early April and continues through mid- to late August.

‘‘In late summer, blood flow to the antlers will stop. After a period of drying and hardening, the buck will scrape or ‘peel’ the velvet from his antlers by physically rubbing his rack against vegetation, trees, fences or similar material. This process of shedding velvet usually lasts only a day or two, so it’s pretty common around Labor Day or so to see a buck in velvet, only to observe the same deer a couple of days later sporting a set of ‘polished’ antlers.’’

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