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  • Chicago's Explorers

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, history, timeline, exhibit, Chicago's Explorers, Illinois, Midwest, ecology, education

    Created: 1/14/2016      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    The Chicago Academy of Sciences has been a leader in local ecology and scientific education for 159 years. To commemorate the anniversary of our founding on January 13, 1857, our new exhibit, "Chicago's Explorers," highlights the institution's scientific and educational activities. The exhibit will be on display at the Nature Museum through the end of February.

    Chicago's Explorers timeline and exhibit

    Specimens and photos on display in Chicago's Explorers exhibit

    Specimens on display in Chicago's Explorers exhibit

    Specimens and publications on display

    If you'd like to learn more about the Academy's history, check out our detailed timeline, which will continue to grow as we continue to explore. We hope you enjoy our exhibit and get out to explore nature in Chicago with us! 

    Dawn Roberts

    Director of Collections

    Chicago’s Explorers

     

    The Saloon Building in Chicago, 1839

    The Saloon Building in Chicago, 1839

    (Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)

    The Saloon Building is where Chicago’s first city government was formed and oversaw the fastest growing city in the world.  It was also here that a group of forward-thinking scientists, physicians, and business leaders founded The Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences on January 13, 1857.  Some of these founders had been a part of the Smithsonian Institution, which opened its doors just 11 years earlier.  The institution was incorporated in 1859 as “The Chicago Academy of Sciences,” which remains our institutional name today.

     

    Robert Kennicott Kennicott’s caribou shirt

    Robert Kennicott, ca. 1860 (left)  

    (Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

    Kennicott’s caribou shirt, ca. 1860 (right)

    The collections of Robert Kennicott formed the core of the Academy’s initial scientific collections.  His expansive studies of Illinois fauna resulted in the discovery of many species new to science, some of which were named after him by other scientists, including the stripe-tail darter (Etheostoma kennicotti) and the western screech owl (Otus kennicotti).  Kennicott also led the first U.S. scientific study of Russian America—the place that eventually became the state of Alaska.  He died there while on expedition, on May 13, 1866.

    1871

    The Great Chicago Fire consumed the city for three days from October 8 to 10, 1871.  On the final day, the fire approached the Academy.  The building was equipped with a fire proof vault and, with this in mind, staff quickly stored everything of importance there, expecting the building to be damaged but their valuable scientific collections and research notes to be saved.  The heat from the fire was so great that it melted the supports of an ornamental limestone cornice at the top of the building, causing it to fall and crash through the roof of the vault.  This structural failure allowed the fire to sweep inside and destroy the vault’s contents, along with the museum and most of the rest of the collections.

    Academy staff were devastated.  William Stimpson, the Academy’s director from 1866 to 1872 and a prominent malacologist (a scientist who studies shelled animals such as clams), lost his life’s work in the fire.  In just a few moments the “the Smithsonian of the West” and the fourth largest scientific collection in the country was gone, and the Academy’s future was in question.

     

    Matthew Laflin Memorial Building

    Matthew Laflin Memorial Building, 1894

    Following the fire, the scientific community and public rallied around the Academy.  Businessman and philanthropist Matthew Laflin was the primary funder for a new building, which opened on October 31, 1894 in Lincoln Park.  In this new space, much of the Academy’s earlier scientific work, including natural history collecting, was able to continue and a new emphasis was placed on community involvement.  This would be the Academy’s home for the next 100 years.

     

    Frank C. Baker in the field around Skokie, 1908

    Frank C. Baker in the field around Skokie, 1908

    At its founding, the Academy was one of only a few natural history museums in the nation.  As such, its purview extended from coast to coast.  As other similar institutions were founded, the Academy narrowed its scientific work to focus primarily on the Midwest and on specific kinds of organisms. Frank Baker, an Academy curator from 1894 to 1915 and prominent malacologist, conducted ecological surveys across Illinois and scientifically described many new species of snails.  Among his significant publications are The Mollusca of the Chicago Region, several papers on anatomy of Lymnaea (a group of common pond snails), and a taxonomy of the family Muricidae (a diverse group of sea snails).  Many of these publications are still relevant to malacological research today, and the historical record provided by Baker’s surveys gives us high-quality comparison data to assess how our local ecosystem has changed in the past hundred years.

     

    Academy staff developing a photographic enlargement for a diorama, ca. 1915

    Academy staff developing a photographic enlargement for a diorama, ca. 1915

    Traditionally, animal specimens were preserved as study skins or as crudely stuffed mounts.  Then, in the early 1910s, a man named Carl Akeley pioneered new specimen preparation techniques that enabled him to create more realistic displays.  The Academy also began to experiment with these ideas, and devised large, meticulously detailed dioramas as a new way to represent local species and natural areas.

    Frank Woodruff, an ornithologist, curator, and director at the Academy from 1896 to 1926, oversaw the development of the “Chicago Environs Series,” a group of exhibits that presented natural areas around Chicago.  His first life-size diorama, depicting the dunes ecosystem and the Calumet River, used photographs that were enlarged up to 11 feet high by 10 feet wide for the backdrops.  Here, Woodruff (in suspenders) and other Academy staff process one of these diorama backdrops.

     

    Academy field trip to Starved Rock State Park, ca. 1915

    Academy field trip to Starved Rock State Park, ca. 1915

    Field trips, like the one pictured here, were among the many ways the Academy actively included the Chicago community in its scientific work and promoted the appreciation of nature.  Students who accompanied Academy naturalist Henry Cowles to the Indiana Dunes gathered data that eventually resulted in his theory of ecological succession—the idea that a habitat naturally progresses (e.g. from pond to wetland to shrubland to forest) as certain species dominate resources and then die off.  In addition to offering field trips, the Academy’s innovative teacher training programs helped make Chicago’s teachers some of the most scientifically literate educators around, while lectures, films, and nature walks were popular with the broader community.  For local naturalist groups, the Academy provided a home with space to meet and experts to interact with.

    Leonara Gloyd in Arizona with a badger, 193Howard K. Gloyd in Arizona, 1937

    Leonara Gloyd in Arizona with a badger, 1937 (left)

    Howard K. Gloyd in Arizona, 1937 (right)

    Continuing efforts to document and study biodiversity, the Academy conducted several faunal surveys of the American Southwest between 1937 and 1946.  The specimens, photographs, and motion film brought back to Chicago were shared through public lectures and publications, providing many Chicagoans with their first look at this desert environment.  Spearheading the Arizona expeditions was Howard Gloyd, a herpetologist and director of the Academy from 1936 to 1958.  Among many other scientific advancements, Gloyd published “The Rattlesnakes:  Genera Sistrurus and Crotalus” and so defined North America’s most iconic snakes, including Illinois’ now-endangered Massasauga.  His wife, Leonara, studied dragonflies and accompanied him on at least one of the Arizona expeditions.

    William J. Beecher at a local beach along Lake Michigan with a reporter looking at birds killed by a major storm, 1969

    William J. Beecher at a local beach along Lake Michigan with a reporter looking at birds killed by a major storm, 1969

    During the 1960s and ‘70s, the Academy revitalized its exhibits and expanded its education and outreach programs to further focus on Midwestern ecology.  Under the leadership of William Beecher, director from 1958 to 1982 and an avid ornithologist and photographer, the Academy increased its involvement in local environmental issues, from preserving the Indiana Dunes to monitoring bird collisions with windows.  Beecher also implemented the Junior Academy of Sciences, a program aimed at middle and high school students to provide extracurricular learning opportunities for young people interested in science.  Today we still have active volunteers who began in the Junior Academy fifty years ago.

    Academy symposiums, 1988 to 1990

    Academy symposiums, 1988 to 1990

    Throughout its history, Academy lectures and symposiums have provided a venue for the community to learn about and be involved in scientific discussion.  From the 1970s to 1990s the focus shifted away from taxonomic research to address pressing environmental issues, science education practices, and urban biodiversity.  Among the influential meetings hosted by the Academy:

    • “The Chicago Urban Environmental Conference” (1977) helped coalesce the land stewardship movement in Chicago.
    • “Understanding Chimpanzees Symposium” (1986) and “Understanding Chimpanzees: Diversity and Survival” (1991) were attended by Jane Goodall and later credited by her as influencing to her work.
    • “Science Learning in the Informal Setting” (1987) highlighted the importance of experiential learning.
    • “Sustainable Cities Symposium: Preserving and Restoring Urban Biodiversity” (1990) was an early recognition of the role that urban habitat plays in conservation.

    Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 1999

    Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 1999 

    (Photo credit Dan Rest)

    After 100 years in the Laflin Building, the Academy opened the doors to its new, larger home in Lincoln Park, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, in October 1999.  The Nature Museum provided the Academy a fresh venue through which to engage its audiences and continue to address the local environment in its exhibits, programs, and research.

    Examples of Academy conservation work, 2001 to 2015, including butterflies, fieldwork and squirrels

    Academy conservation work, 2001 to 2015

    Since 2001, the Academy has been leading conservation efforts for a variety of local, threatened species.   In the Istock Family Butterfly Conservation Lab, thousands of rare butterflies are bred for release, including the Swamp Metalmark (Calephelis muticum) and Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia).  Partnering with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Academy staff have raised and released 236 baby Blanding’s turtles into the Chicago Wilderness region.  Just this past fall, an Academy scientist found a hatchling Blanding’s turtle in the wild—the first one recorded within the project area since 1998. 

    Conservation efforts at the Academy include both animal husbandry and wild population monitoring, the success of which is largely due to the active participation of volunteer citizen scientists.  Today, the Academy leads several citizen science initiatives: the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, Project Squirrel, and The Calling Frog Survey.  Award-winning lesson plans, teacher development courses, and public programs build on and support the Academy’s conservation efforts.

    Explore nature in Chicago with us!

    Chicago is an urban area, and yet, nature exists all around us.  What kind of nature is in your backyard or neighborhood?  How do you interact with nature?  Share your urban nature experiences with us through social media, #urbannature.

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  • Founder's Week Celebration 2015

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founder's week, museum collection, specimens

    Created: 1/14/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    We are having a party this week!  The Chicago Academy of Sciences was founded on January 13, 1857 and was the first science museum in Chicago.  Our collections served as the nucleus for the organization of our institution and preserve our natural heritage.  These specimens, artifacts, and associated documents are used as primary source material for environmental studies and historical research.  To celebrate our birthday, we’ve brought out specimens from the museum collections that aren’t typically on display.

    One question we are often asked is, “What is the oldest specimen in our collection?” The oldest specimen in our museum collection, in terms of when it was collected, are two Merlins collected in the Rocky Mountains in 1834 by J.R. Townsend. That's right -- bird specimens that are 182 years old!  One of these is on display.

    Merlin specimen
    Merlin specimenMerlin specimen label

    Merlin   ♀
    Falco columbarius richardsonii
    Rocky Mts.
    Collected by J.R. Townsend, July 9, 1834
    CAS ORN 1848 (old 11426)

    Fossils, though, have the award for oldest in terms of when they were created!  This "Tully Monster" fossil is from the Mazon Creek area, right here in Illinois, and is approximately 307 million years old.

    Tully Monster fossil

    Tully Monster
    Tullimonstrom gregarium
    Mazon Creek Area, Will Co., Illinois
    Francis Creek Shale (Carboniferous, 307 MYA)
    Donated by Earth Science Club of Illinois, 2013
    CAS 2013.3.1

    The Academy’s museum collection includes spectacular geology specimens from the Midwest and locations across North America. These specimens help illustrate how rocks and minerals are used in our society.

    Quartz Geode

     

    Quartz Geode
    Geology collection
    No other data

    Natural Asphalt

    Gilsonite (“natural Asphalt”)
    Uintahite variety Asphaltum
    Frisco County, Utah
    Collected c1890
    Received from George H. Laflin
    CAS GEO 1493

    Gold and Silver Ore

    Gold and Silver Ore
    Leadville, Lake Co., Colorado
    Geology collection
    No other data

    Sulphur

    Sulphur
    From geysers at Yellowstone Park, Wyoming
    Collected c1860
    Received from Mrs. E.E. Atwater, c1872
    CAS GEO 1

    Aluminum Thimble

    Aluminum Thimble
    Received from Frank C. Baker, c1920
    CAS GEO 515

    Rivers in Illinois have changed considerably over the last 200 years and pollution has severely impacted many native species of clams, mussels, and snails. Introduced species, such as Quagga and Zebra mussels, are making an appearance in our waters as well. 

    Elktoe mussel

    Elktoe mussel
    Alasmidonta marginata
    Glenwood Park, Fox River, Illinois
    Collected by Academy, Sept. 7, 1908
    CAS MAL 22356

    Pistolgrip mussel

    Pistolgrip mussel
    Quadrula verrucosa
    Illinois River
    Collected by W.W. Calkins, c1890
    CAS MAL 1803

    Zebra mussel

    Zebra mussel
    Dreissena polymorpha
    London Docks, England
    Exchange, c1872
    CAS MAL 12780

     

    Quagga mussel

    Quagga mussel
    Dreissena bugensis
    Fullerton Beach, Chicago, Cook Co., Illinois
    Collected by Academy, July 9, 2013
    CAS 2013.5.1-10

    This plant specimen from our botanic collection was collected by Floyd Swink, a prominent botanist who co-authored "Plants of the Chicago Region."  In 2013, Gerould Wilhelm, Swink's coauthor, visited our collections facility to review some of our plant specimens and annotated several, including this one.  These “conversations” left by researchers who utilize our collection adds to the scientific knowledge of those specimens.

    Parlin’s Pussytoes

    Parlin’s Pussytoes
    Antennaria parlinii parlinii
    Palos Park, Cook Co., Illinois
    Collected by Floyd A. Swink, May 17, 1952
    Annotated by Gerould Wilhelm in 2013
    CAS BOT 3775.1

    Other specimens from our ornithology collection are also on display.

    Blue Jay

    Blue Jay   ♂
    Cyanocitta cristata
    Mount Forest, Cook Co., Illinois
    Collected by B.T. Gault, January 9, 1890
    CAS ORN 15859

     

    Peregrine Falcon

    Peregrine Falcon   ♂
    Falco peregrines tundrius
    Collinson Point, Alaska
    Collected by Chas. D. Brower, July 1934
    CAS ORN 7862

     

    Peregrine Falcon

    Peregrine Falcon   ♂
    Falco peregrines
    Ornithology collection
    No other data

    Steve Sullivan, our Curator of Urban Ecology, studies squirrels and manages Project Squirrel. Locally in the Chicago area, we primarily have Grey and Fox squirrels.  This species is found in the Southwest.

    Abert’s Squirrel

    Abert’s Squirrel   ♂
    Sciurus aberti
    Grand Canyon, Arizona
    Collected by a Park Ranger, June 1965
    CAS MAM 4519

    It is important to document species even if they’re not flashy or colorful. This one drawer of moths from our entomology collection contains species in the same subfamily, Catocalinae, that were found from across North America and span almost 80 years!

    Moths

    Moths
    Catocalinae subfamily
    Collected from: AZ, CA, FL, IA, IL, IN,
    LA, MO, NM, NY, OK, PA, TN, TX, UT
    Collected between 1898 to 1976
    Entomology collection

    Our herpetology collection, which includes amphibians and reptiles, is largely preserved in an ethyl alcohol solution.  These salamanders were collected in Indiana.


    Preserved Northern Slimy Salamander in jar

    Northern Slimy Salamander
    Plethodon glutinosus
    Turkey Run, Parke Co., Indiana
    Collected by W.L. Necker, May 30, 1932
    CAS HERP 1472-1479

    Our display is located in the Beecher Lab in Wilderness Walk hall.  Come visit the Nature Museum, see these marvelous specimens in person, and help us celebrate our natural heritage!

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part III; 1958 - 2014

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founder's week, Archives, collections

    Created: 1/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1958
    Chicago native and ornithologist Dr. William Beecher becomes the Academy’s Director. He holds this position for 24 years.

    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama.
    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama. 
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    1960-1966
    Junior Academy of Sciences formed for middle and high school children, to provide additional learning opportunities for young people in science studies and research.

    1960s-1970s
    Beecher implements redesign of exhibit spaces, including opening of the third floor of the Laflin building to the public.

    1982
    Paul G. Heltne, PhD, zoologist and primatologist, is appointed Director of the Academy.  He holds this position until 1999.

    1983
    An Education Department is formally established at the Academy, although education has been a primary focus of the institution since the 1910s.

    1986
    Museum sponsors “Understanding Chimpanzees Symposium,” welcoming primatologists from all over the world, including well-known Jane Goodall, and providing public attendance to portions of the symposium as well.

    1988
    For the first time since 1951, the endangered Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrines, successfully produces eggs that hatch on a ledge of a downtown Chicago office building. Mary Hennen, Collections Manager/Assistant with the Academy, worked on the Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Program while at the Academy and conducted research. She took this project with her, when she left the Academy to work at the Field Museum of Natural History.

    Juvenile Peregrine falcon
    Juvenile Peregrine falcon

    1990
    Fall - Pilot programs for Science on the Go! began. This program, still active today, provides training and resources for kindergarten through eighth grade educators in teaching science through more hands-on lessons and cooperative learning. 

    1991
    Jon D. Miller, Vice President of the Academy, establishes the Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy under the auspices of the Academy.

    1994
    The Academy initiated plans for an addition at the Laflin building to expand and modify it to provide more room for exhibition, collections storage, and office space. The Chicago Park District who owns the land on which the Laflin building rests, disallowed expansion, citing the need to limit construction in park areas to ensure the continuation of park lands for future generations as dictated by their original charter. At the same time, the Lincoln Park Zoo also began looking to expand their operations. The Chicago Park District offered the Academy the opportunity to build a new museum building on the site of the Park District’s North Shops Maintenance Facilities in exchange for transferring the Academy’s Laflin building to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Today the Laflin Building is used by the Lincoln Park Zoo as administration offices.

    1995
    June 4 - Academy closed to the public to begin move out of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building at Armitage and Clark Street in Lincoln Park, where the institution had resided for 102 years. Staff offices, the museum collections, the archives, and the scientific library, were moved to another building on Clark Street owned at that time by the museum and to additional space on Ravenswood. The second facility is now the Ravenswood Collections Facility. To maintain a public face for the Academy during construction, the museum had a temporary facility on the third floor of North Pier on Illinois Street which was open to the public.

    1997
    The Chicago Academy of Sciences breaks ground for a new building in Lincoln Park. In recognition of the donation made to the Academy by Mr. and Mrs. Notebaert, the building was named the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, a citizen science program dedicated to “collecting quantitative data on butterfly populations” moved under the auspices of the Academy through Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Conservation and Research.

    1999
    Summer – Museum begins partnership with El Valor, a multi-cultural and multi-purpose organization whose, “…mission is to support and challenge urban families to achieve excellence and participate fully in community life,” through a summer camp for children.  The partnership has expanded today to programs for adults with disabilities, conductive education, family field trips to the Museum, after school programs, and professional development for Head Start teachers including visits to their classrooms.

    October - The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building opens to the public. The Academy’s collections and Collections Department staff offices remain at the Ravenswood Collections Facility, where they are still housed today.

    Education Department began onsite workshops.  To date this initiative has reached 20,000 students.

    Students working with museum educators

    2000
    Joe Schactner appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2001
    Butterfly Restoration Program started with funding from the BP Leaders Award. The Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, and Silver-bordered Fritillary, Bolaria selene, were the first imperiled species added to the program.

    Fall - Teacher Leadership Center opened at the Museum.

    2005
    Laureen Von Klan appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2006
    Education department revamps its Science Teaching Network (STN).  Started in the early 1990s the program provides training for teachers through an intensive summer institute that is followed by classroom support in the fall.  Since this year, 300 teachers have been through the program.

    2007
    Nature Museum Summer Camps began. 

    2008
    Summer – Museum opens its first self-curated exhibit, “Lawn Nation” since its move into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Collections Department begins to inventory all of the natural history holdings within the Academy’s collection with grant support from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences. The initiative took 5 years to complete and over 280,000 specimens and objects were verified.

    Museum began participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program, a conservation effort spearheaded by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to rear and release endangered Blanding’s Turtles, Emydoidea blandingii, into their natural environment. Sub-Adult Blanding’s Turtles put on display at the Museum. Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections, heads the museum effort.

    2009
    Butterfly Conservation Lab opened at the Museum, a permanent research lab for the Butterfly Restoration Program.

    An expanded version of Project Squirrel, a citizen-science program, moved under auspices of the Academy through Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology.  The program was created in 1997 by Joel Brown and Wendy Jackson both professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Collections Department begins two-year project to process about 250 linear feet of materials in their Manuscript Collection in the Archive with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.

    2009-2011
    Participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program expands.  Museum helps head start hatchlings for two years, release two year old head starters with radio transmitters in the fall, track them in the spring to replace radio transmitters, track females to see if they are gravid, collect females when they are, release them after they have laid, and track the head starters again in late summer to put on their winter transmitters.

    2010
    July 1 - Deborah Lahey appointed President and CEO of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. She had previously served on the Board of Trustees and then as Chief Operations Officer (Dec 2009 to June 2010).

    2011
    February – First meeting of what would become Project Passenger Pigeon (P3) occurred at Museum. Initial participants included representatives from Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  Project has expanded to include over 160 organizations from all over the United States and will culminate in various events throughout 2014.

    April 11 – Self-curated exhibit “Nature’s Architects” opened.

    Museum began head starting more Blanding’s Turtles.

    Working with Chicago Film Archives, Collections Department began assessment and re-housing of their motion picture film collection, about 1370 individual reels, with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.  Collection composed of original nature studies to some commercially produced reels. Project to be completed in early 2014.

    Motion picture film canisters  Film still of chameleon

    2012

    Museum became the home for the Chicago Conservation Corps.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Regal Fritillary, Speyeria idalia, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network takes a national leadership role serving as a model for similar programs in states all over the United States. A collective database for information from networks all over the country is developed to provide easier access to information.

    2013

    February 10 – First Annual Chicago Volunteer Expo held at Museum. Over 60 local nonprofit institutions participated, providing information on volunteer opportunities in one convenient location.

    March 23 – Self-curated exhibit “Food: The Nature of Eating” opened.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Project Squirrel released smartphone app.

    Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Lab constructed to accommodate the 42 hatchlings entrusted to the Museum for head starting as part of the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program.

               

    Aerial shot of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum



    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • The Emerald Ash Borer Reaches the Nature Museum

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    Tags: emerald ash borer, invasive species, ash trees, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, horticulture

    Created: 9/30/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    In the early 1900s, North America lost nearly every American Chestnut to the chestnut blight. My grandparents have likely never seen a mature one, though they are estimated to have numbered 3 billion.  Most people of my generation have rarely if ever seen an American Elm, once an extremely widely-planted shade tree which was almost killed off by Dutch Elm Disease from the 1920s to 1970s (and beyond). Now it seems that my grandchildren may be lucky to see an ash tree on this continent, as the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) threatens to wipe out the entire genus, Fraxinus.

    The Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) was first discovered in North America in 2002, and since then has caused the death of around 40 million ash trees. While it seems to slightly prefer some ashes to others, it will attack any member of the genus. The beetle causes destruction in its larval phase, when it lives just under the outer bark and chews winding trails or “galleries” through the layer of tissue called phloem, which moves sugars from the leaves to the roots. Since the beetle lives under the bark, infestations can go unnoticed until the tree is visibly distressed.

    Tree with sprouts occurring at the base of the trunk

    Sprouts from the base are a common symptom

    I saw this recently on the museum grounds. In an ash tree, sprouts from the base are a common symptom of EAB infestation. The phloem is so damaged the roots have all but stopped getting nutrition from the leaves, and the tree sends new shoots from below the damaged area. Clearly, these few sprouts won’t suffice, and by the time such sprouts appear it is usually too late to save the tree. 

    D-shaped hole in tree bark

    D-shaped hole of emerging beetle

    A second sign presented itself with a closer look: the characteristic D-shaped hole where the adult beetle emerged. I saw around ten such holes on this tree. By prying some loose bark back with my knife I was able to catch a glimpse of the galleries left by the larvae.

    Trails of larvae in tree bark

    Gallery or trails of larvae

    The adults left to lay eggs on other nearby ash trees, of which there are plenty. 19% of the City of Chicago's trees are ashes, and there are an estimated half-million privately owned in the city.

    So far, the only effective treatment has been systemic insecticides. They must be applied before an infestation occurs, must be re-applied every few years, save only the treated tree, and kill all the other insects which feed on ash trees. Because of the expense and complications involved, only certain "high-value" trees are being treated, and most agencies prepare for the EAB’s arrival by replacing ashes with other trees. The EAB has a limited range and moves slowly, so it may be possible to impede its spread by treating and/or removing trees in areas not yet affected, in a strategy similar to a fire-break.

    Even if you don’t own or manage ash trees, you can still help. Always use locally-sourced firewood, so if any EAB larvae or adults are in the wood they stay in an already-infested area instead of being driven somewhere that had yet to be affected. It is likely that the original U.S. infestation was a small number of individual insects that arrived in wooden packing crates from Asia, where the insect is a minor pest. The cost of removing or replacing or treating trees could well run into the billions of dollars-- largely taxpayer dollars as governments manage large ash populations and dead trees cause hazards in populated areas-- so it is best for everyone if we leave wood where we find it and do what we can to limit the spread of this invasive species.

    Trust me, I wish I could end on a hopeful note, or even just give a spoonful of sugar with this bitter pill, but the destruction caused by invasive species far exceeds the limited resources of time, money, and personnel available to combat them. With luck, the EAB won’t kill all 2 billion ash trees and we’ll still have some for our grandchildren to appreciate, but now would probably be a good time for you to get to know the ashes in your area, whether the EAB is already present, and who to call if you spot damage in unaffected areas.

    Andrew Wunschel
    Assistant Horticulturist

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  • The Return of Swamp Metalmarks

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    Tags: conservation, swamp metalmark, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, butterflies, Biology

    Created: 6/27/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

    After the very challenging drought year of 2012, the Butterfly Conservation Lab is up and running. Recently I traveled to far southern Indiana to continue our ongoing work with the Swamp Metalmark.

    Swamp metalmark habitat in southern Indiana.
    Swamp metalmark habitat in southern Indiana.

    .
    The swamp metalmark is an endangered species in Illinois.  In fact, many people consider it to be extirpated (locally extinct) from the entire state. The reason the butterfly is so rare is that it inhabits an extremely rare type of wetland called a fen. Its caterpillars can only feed on the leaves of swamp thistle and tall thistle. Both grow in fens. We are attempting to re-establish swamp metalmarks to their last known home in Illinois, Bluff Spring Fen near Elgin.

    Swamp Metalmark
    Swamp Metalmark


    In Indiana I found dozens of metalmarks from a wooded fen near the Ohio River. We brought four females into the laboratory, and set them up in special cages to lay eggs. Over the course of about a week and a half, the butterflies laid over 200 eggs. We are currently waiting for them to hatch. When they do, we will place them on leaves of swamp thistle and rear them to adulthood. We hope to have adults in August when we can release them at their new home. With a bit of luck, they will establish a new population.

    Egg laying cages with female metalmarks in them
    Egg laying cages with female metalmarks in them.

    .

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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  • Collecting Our Living Collection

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    Tags: living collections, Biology, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, crayfish, minnows, field work

    Created: 6/26/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

    It's a question I get asked all the time, ‘where do you get your animals from?’ There is no short answer, some are donated, some are left at our door, some are purchased, some are bred in house and some we go out and collect. For this last group we can’t just go out randomly picking up any animal we like the look of, as a scientific institution we have to have all the appropriate paperwork and permits to allow us to collect our specimens. Also we are collecting creatures for live display so we have to be very mindful of our collection methods.

    This past week we were out collecting fish for our tanks in the Riverworks exhibit. Last year when we did this we had very little water to work in because of the drought, this year we had the opposite problem!

    Biology team wading through a river

    Trying to use a seine net in rushing water is a bit of a challenge to say the least and for the species we were looking for we needed to find some quieter bodies of water. It took us a while but we eventually found some good spots.

    The seine net is held in place while a couple of people drive the fish forward into it.

    Biology team catching fish

    The net is then scooped up at the last moment to secure the fish in the middle of the net. This method ensures the fish are completely unharmed in the process and also allows us a good view of everything in the net.

    Biology team examining their haul

    You never know what you are going to find in the net, which is all part of the fun. This particular scoop had a number of huge Bullfrog tadpoles in it and also a rather startled looking frog in amongst the mud and weed. They all got safely returned to the water.

    Bull Frog tadpoles

    We were looking for compatible species to the ones we already have on display so this haul of Top Minnows were a great addition.

    Minnows

    Some of our cache is photographed and then returned to the river, like this beautiful Heelsplitter mussel.

    Heelsplitter mussel

    We also ‘do our bit’ collecting up invasive species. Well actually, one particular invasive species, the Rusty Crayfish. An extremely popular snack for our Blanding’s Turtles!

    Rusty Crayfish

    Inspite of the high water levels we had a very successful trip, bringing home lots of new fish which will undergo a 30 day quarantine period before going on display.

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Tropical Visitors

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    Tags: warblers, migration, bird watching, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, urban ecology

    Created: 5/3/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Stop by North Pond for the next several days to greet our tropical visitors---warblers.  There are many species of warblers, small insect eating birds, that live in the tropics during our winter, then fly through our backyards on the way to Canada to spend the summer breeding and eating things like tent caterpillars. 

    Palm Warbler



    Today the Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum is common and easy to find.  The birds you see today around the pond may have been in Panama or Cuba just a few days ago.  Look for the rusty cap and a constantly twitching tail.

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  • Migratory Dragonfly Partnership

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    Tags: dragonflies, migration, conservation, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Biology, insects

    Created: 4/23/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    When most people think of insect migration, they quite understandably think of the Monarch butterfly. It comes as a surprise to many that some species of dragonflies also migrate. In this part of the world, many of the larger and more familiar species, like Green Darners and Black Saddlebags, are among the migrants.

    Swarm of migrating Green Darner
    Swarm of migrating Green Darner (Anax junius) dragonflies outside of the Nature Museum

    Migrating swarms of dragonflies have been observed in places like the shores of Lake Michigan, the Gulf Coast of Texas, and along the east coast of Mexico in places like Veracruz. Migrating swarms are sometimes observed near migrating flocks of raptors, and there is some evidence that they provide a significant nutritional resource for migrating hawks. 

    A saddlebags dragonfly
    A saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea sp.) in Veracruz.  This is one of the species that migrates.

    In contrast to the Monarch migration, there still isn't much known about the dragonfly migration. Details of the timing and the ultimate destination are still unknown. Are the individuals that head south the same ones that return north?

    The Cansaburro Dunes in Veracruz
    The Cansaburro Dunes in Veracruz.  Researchers are trying to determine how the Gulf Coast of Mexico figures in dragonfly migration.

    In an attempt to learn more about dragonfly migration, the US Forest Service's Wings Across the Americas program has assembled a group of dragonfly experts, nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions, and federal agencies and formed the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP). The partnership includes representatives from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Members of the partnership, including representatives from the Nature Museum, have traveled to Veracruz to observe migrating dragonflies. The partnership meets annually to discuss how best to learn more about dragonfly migration. 

    You can find out more about ways to help scientists learn more about dragonfly migration by visiting the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership web site.

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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  • Virtual Butterfly Collecting

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    Tags: butterfly collecting, butterflies, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Biology, lepidoptera

    Created: 4/19/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    About three years ago, I began a project of trying to take a bunch of butterfly photos. I had an old lecture with images in 35 mm slide format that I wanted to convert to a digital presentation. In the process, I discovered how much more I enjoyed taking digital photos of butterflies than using the old film format. My project quickly changed from getting images for a talk to starting a virtual butterfly collection.

    Buckeye butterfly
    Buckeye (Junonia coenia),
    Willow Springs, IL July 18, 2010

    This was one of the first specimens in my virtual collection.

    I've collected butterflies most of my life. Early on my collecting was simply a hobby. As I began collecting for a variety of professional purposes, I stopped collecting for fun. Among other things, I couldn't justify taking the butterflies simply for my own amusement. Digital photography has changed all of that.

    California Sister butterfly
    Caption: California Sister (Adelpha californica)
    Madera Canyon, Arizona. July 31, 2012

    I've been surprised at how similar digital photography is to collecting specimens. Both involve similar pleasures of the pursuit in the field and both require knowledge of habitats and host plants. Both result in a sense of elation at the moment of capture. Both involve work with the specimen once you get it home. In the case of the physical specimen this work involves relaxing, pinning mounting and labeling. In the case of the photograph, it involves cropping and correcting exposure. For me, one of the enjoyable parts of virtual collecting has been keeping records of date and location of capture that are just as rigorous as those that I would maintain for a pinned specimen. 

    Olympia Marble butterfly
    Olympia Marble (Euchloe olympia). 
    Illinois Beach State Park May 11, 2011

    Ethical and conservation concerns aside, there are additional advantages to virtual butterfly collecting over traditional specimen collecting. Want to collect an endangered species or collect in a National Park?  Not so fast- you need a slew of permits and a really good reason to do so. But with a camera, you can take as many images as you would like. Are you traveling abroad and want to collect butterflies?  Many countries now prohibit the export of species, and many more require a permit.  In contrast, the images on your camera will go right through customs, no problem. 

    Karner Blue butterfly
    Karner Blue (Lyciades melissa samuelis)

    Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, May 30, 2009

    A double whammy: This endangered species was virtually collected in a National Park.

    One of the things that I always enjoyed with my specimen collection was looking at my specimens much later and remembering where I was, who I was with, and how much I was enjoying myself. I now get a very similar kind of enjoyment from my virtual collection-- and the specimens in it don't fade or break or get eaten by dermestid beetles. I'll continue collecting actual butterflies for the Nature Museum as the specifics of my work require it. But I also expect to be collecting virtually with my camera for my own enjoyment for the rest of my life.

    Fatima Peacock
    Fatima Peacock (Anartia Fatima)
    Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Jalisco, Mexico, February 15, 2012

    I had no trouble getting this virtual specimen of a Fatima Peacock through customs when I returned home from Mexico.

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology


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  • False Head Hypothesis

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    Tags: butterflies, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences, camouflage

    Created: 4/15/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    I recently posted this butterfly photo on line:

    Ciliate Blue butterfly

    It's a Ciliate Blue from Malaysia.  A friend was prompted to comment, "I like the orange and black "eye" on the edge of the wing. Is it part of a disguise camouflage?" 

    My friend was very astute in noticing that the spot resembles an eye and surmising that it has something to do with defense against predators. This species is a good example of what is often referred to as the false head hypothesis. The hypothesis notes that the markings on one outer edge of the hind wings resemble heads in some species of butterflies.  These markings can be quite elaborate in some cases and may include tails that resemble antennae and a narrow shape that enhances the appearance of a head.  Some species carry this even one step further and rub their hind wings together.  This draws attention to the tails, which appear like twitching antennae.

    Gray Hairstreak butterfly

    Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)

    The false head hypothesis suggests the possibility that these head-like markings confer a survival advantage by deflecting predator attacks towards the hind wing (which butterflies can usually live without) and away from the vulnerable head. Many butterflies, especially species in the Metalmark and Gossamer-Winged Butterfly families show these markings.

    Martials's Scrub Hairstreak butterfly

    Martials's Scrub Hairstreak (Strymon martialis)

    In 1980, scientists from the Smithsonian attempted to demonstrate that predators could be fooled into attacking the wrong end of the butterfly. They collected hundreds of butterflies in Panama and Colombia, and divided them into groups based on the number of head-like features were present in their wing patterns. Consistent with the false head hypothesis, the greater the number of head-like features, the more likely wing damage due to predator attacks was to be directed to that part of the wings.

    Eastern Tailed Blue butterfly

    Eastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas)

    The false head hypothesis remains a hypothesis. Further support of the hypothesis would require a much more difficult experimental design - one that demonstrates that butterflies with the false head designs survive better than those without them.

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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