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15 questions about natural Minnesota

How many lakes are there, really, in Minnesota? Which is making a better comeback from near-extinction, timber wolves or trumpeter swans? Try your hand at a pop quiz.

How big is a 10-acre lake, anyway?
How big is a 10-acre lake, anyway?

Think you know a lot about the natural side of life in Minnesota? I thought I did, too, but I found some surprises the other day on a very pleasant stroll through the Department of Natural Resources FAQ pages.

So try your hand at the quiz below. Unless otherwise noted, all data came from the DNR pages (but some pages haven’t been updated for a couple of years).

Answers follow the questions, and you won’t even have to turn your screen upside down to read them.

1. Everybody knows that this Land of 10,000 Lakes has more than 10,000 things called lakes, though some of them are pretty small — more like ponds, really. How many meet the DNR’s official cut of 10 acres or larger?

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a. About 8,000 b. About 10,000 c. About 12,000 d. About 15,000

2. How big is a 10-acre lake, anyway?

a. About the size of Loring Pond in downtown Minneapolis

b. About the size of Powderhorn Lake in south Minneapolis

c. About the size of Lake Como in St. Paul

d. About the size of Lake Elmo in, um, Lake Elmo.

3. Of Minnesota’s 87 93 counties, how many have no natural lake?

a. Zero — everybody’s got at least one. b. c. 9 d. 12

4. What percentage of Minnesota’s total surface area is water?

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a.  8 percent b. 18 percent c. 28 percent d. 38 percent

5. How deep is Minnesota’s deepest lake (not counting Lake Superior)?

a.  240 feet b. 320 feet c.  380 feet d. 450 feet

6. What about Lake Superior, then— how deep?

a. 750 feet b. 930 feet c. 1,290 feet d. 1,440 feet

7.  What are three of the 10 most common lake names in Minnesota? Just guess.

8.  Which grouping — trees, fish, mammals or birds — has the most species native to Minnesota? Which has the least? 

9. How many plants and animals are on Minnesota’s list of endangered/threatened species?

a. 17  b. 97 c. 197 d. 277

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10. How many of Minnesota’s plant and animal species are listed by the federal government as endangered/threatened?

a. 9 b. 17 c. 79 d. 97

Which has the larger estimated population: timber wolves or trumpeter swans?
Which has the larger estimated population: timber wolves or trumpeter swans?

11.  Of two well-known species that have been brought back from near-extinction in Minnesota, which has the larger estimated population now: timber wolves or trumpeter swans?

12. How many of Minnesota’s native plant species grow here and only here? Pick a number between 0 and 20.

13. Seems like there were a lot of forest fires last summer. On average, how many wildfires are fought each year in Minnesota?

a. 15 b. 150 c. 500 d. 1,500

14. Thinking of all the commercially available forest land in Minnesota, who owns the most? Rank these owner categories from largest to smallest: federal government, state government, industrial firms, county/municipal governments, private landowners.

15. OK, now rank these five popular state parks by annual visitation, from highest to lowest: Fort Snelling, Gooseberry Falls, Itasca, Tettegouche, Split Rock Lighthouse.


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1.  c. To be precise, 11,842.

2.  b. Powderhorn is closest at 12 acres. Other acreage: Loring Pond 6, Como 68.4, Elmo 206. According to a pocket calculator, a perfectly round 10-acre lake would be 372 feet across and 1,170 feet — less than a quarter-mile — around. 

3. b. The unfortunate four are Mower, Olmsted, Pipestone and Rock.

4. a. Water area = 7328.79 mi2; total area = 86,938.87 mi2; 7328.79 / 86,938.87 = .0843

5. a. or d. Saganaga is the deepest natural lake, at 240 feet; the Portsmouth Mine Pit near Crosby is 450 feet and rising.

6. Superior’s maximum depth is 1,290 feet, which is why sea kayakers like to reassure one another that you’re always within a quarter-mile of land out there — if you count the bottom.

7. The 10 most common are Mud, Long, Rice, Bass, Round, Horseshoe, Twin, Island, Johnson and Spring.

8. Most species — birds, by far, at 428, more than all the others combined. Least — trees, at 52. Fish species — 148. Mammals — 78.

9. c, and some 242 are listed as being of  “special concern.”

10. a.

11. Swans, at 3,000-plus; wolves are at 2,900-plus.

12. Just 1, the Minnesota dwarf trout lily.

13. d.

14. Private landowners lead the list at 5,814,392 acres or 39 percent, followed by

  • State — 4,123,337 acres or 27 percent
  • Federal — 2,012,461 acres or 13 percent
  • County and municipal — 1,998,137 acres or 13 percent
  • Industrial — 1,164,401 acres or 8 percent

15.  They rank in the order given in the question:

  • Fort Snelling — 820,184
  • Gooseberry Falls — 569,097
  • Itasca — 472,458 
  • Tettegouche — 387,221
  • Split Rock Lighthouse — 298,011