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Chicago’s Critter Perils Thriving Near Forest Preserves

This writer, who grew up and resided in Old Town, Lincoln Park, and other near-lakefront neighborhoods, once hunted rats in the alley behind our family’s Halsted Street three-flat. And we’ve heard reports of coyotes residing in Grant Park.

However, after recently acquiring a weekend investment retreat near a Far Northwest Side Forest preserve, we have discovered a new enemy – the following “critter perils...”

The Bambi stroll. This adventure started last autumn, when we noticed mature deer strolling down the parkway in front of our getaway home in the wee hours of the morning. As lazy gardeners, we love Hostas because they require absolutely no care, and we planted a batch out front. Little did we know that deer like to munch on Hostas for their evening salad. We switched to dwarf arborvitae, which deer dislike.

Nocturnal racoon visits. We wondered why the previous owner of the property always placed a heavy concrete block on top of the black garbage can. After a few white garbage bags filled with leftover pizza and food scraps were placed in the black can we discovered why. Chubby forest preserve racoons regularly marched across the street after midnight to dine inside our garbage can.

Toxic mushroom display. This summer, we discovered strange, baseball-shaped white mushrooms (left) sprouting on the north lawn facing the forest preserve. Internet research by my daughter revealed it is a saprotrophic fungus that is often found growing in wood chips. Dubbed the “false parasol” mushroom, it is otherwise legally known as Chlorophyllum molybdites.

Mushroom experts say the prolific and widespread mushroom is nicknamed the “vomiter” for very good reason. If you make the mistake of adding this variety to your garden salad, you will quickly regret it. This is the most eaten poisonous mushroom in North America.

Love bugs invade. Our creepiest woodland critter encounter was the invasion of the boxelder bugs, whose primary function apparently is to breed on the glass of our sunny front storm door in July and August.

While entomologists may find these red and black bugs attractive, the average homeowner probably wouldn’t be happy to find this common insect invading their home. Although they don’t cause damage and aren’t dangerous, few people enjoy having large insects crawling out of cracks and onto their walls, windows, lights, or furniture.

Measuring about a half-inch long, boxelder bugs (right) – officially known as Boisea trivittata – have narrow black bodies with red edge lines on their trunk and red lines on the edges of their wings. These creepy markings make it appear as though its wings form an upside-down V when lying flat.

Photo by Bruce Marlin

They are avid flyers and can often travel for several miles at a time. However, we’ve never seen one in Old Town.

Boxelder bugs are attracted to silver maple trees, and feed on the leaves, flowers, and seed pods. Unfortunately, we have a silver maple in our front yard (left).

As soon as the cooler weather hits in the fall, boxelder bugs begin to seek shelter for the winter and are often attracted to the warm, sunny sides of homes. From there, they slip into cracks and gaps in the siding or around doors and windows.

If not treated, boxelder bugs will spend the winter months in the walls of your home until warmth brings them out. That warmth doesn’t have to mean the spring or summer months – it can actually be heated air from inside your home that coaxes them out of the walls and into the rooms of your home during winter. While they do not breed indoors, they can be very intrusive and annoying, and their excrement can stain surfaces, such as walls, furniture, and drapes.

Once the insects get in, physical removal is the best way to get rid of them. First, suck up the bugs with a vacuum, and empty the canister far from your home. Another option is to spray the bugs with a combination of two parts water to one part dish soap, which can kill the bugs on contact.

To prevent boxelder bugs from entering your home in the first place, consider treating the exterior walls with a residual insecticide. It’s most effectively sprayed in the spring when the boxelder bugs are just beginning to emerge.

To reduce entry points, caulk to all cracks, crevices, gaps, and openings in your home. Also, repair any torn or broken door or window screens, and make sure all doors and windows are well-sealed.

Guess who is calling our pest-control guy for an early spring visit?

Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit


“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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