Skunk Cabbage and Midges
Meteorologists say spring starts on March 1. Traditionally we celebrate March 20 as the first day of spring. I have always marked the start of spring as the day I observe the first Skunk Cabbage pushing up through the ground. It grows in colonies in marshes and seeps throughout the Fox River watershed. It has large bright green leaves with a maroon dappled, pear shaped flower in the middle. A strong odor is produced to attract carrion flies to the flower to pollinate it. There is a colony in the Fox River Shores Forest Preserve that I use as my spring indicator. By the end of February the Skunk Cabbage pops up with out fail. Finally something green and now Spring has sprung! The next harbinger of spring is far smaller but a sure sign things are coming alive in the river. It’s the tiny Midge. The slim red larvae live on the bottom of the river. As the water begins to warm they rise to the surface and molt their skin. They look very similar to black mosquitoes. Fortunately they do not bite and live only to mate. They form small swarms along the riverbank on warm days in March. They are one of the first foods for the Crappies, Bluegills and minnows that start actively feeding for the first time since the fall. This starts a chain reaction in the fish community in the Fox River. The larger game fish such as Walleyes, Northern Pike and bass start to feed on the smaller fish. I think next year I will give Tom Skilling a call and let him know I have smelled the Skunk Cabbage and Spring is now officially here according to the Fox River’s calendar.
By Pat Kirmse
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