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Contents tagged with Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

  • Meet the Beetles

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    Tags: volunteer, beetles, Biology, metamorphosis, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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

    One Sunday, the PIP volunteers were doing a program called Meet the Bugs. We brought out a praying mantis, darkling beetles, a wolf spider, and a desert millipede to give visitors a close-up look. The inclusion of the spider and millipede meant “Meet the Invertebrates” would be a more accurate description of the program, but Meet the Bugs is catchier and easier to say.

    We also brought out superworms, the legged larvae of darkling beetles (superworms is a misnomer), to provide a before-and-after illustration of insect metamorphosis. The superworms would become beetles, we explained, if they were not eaten by one of the Museum’s turtles first.

    Superworm

    Several visitors asked how superworms turned into beetles because they look nothing alike. I compared it to caterpillars turning into butterflies. I hope that was helpful to them, but decided I needed to learn more to provide a better-informed answer next time.

    Darkling beetle

    So I googled “darkling beetle metamorphosis” when I got home. There were many results illustrating the pupa stage the beetles go through, comparable to the chrysalis stage for butterflies and the cocoon stage for moths. From viewing the scientific drawings, I realized that I had frequently seen mealworm beetle pupa in the oatmeal-filled drawer where the mealworms are kept without recognizing what they were.

    I also found several videos on YouTube of the metamorphosis of darkling beetles. The most interesting was an almost 8-minute video that showed in close-up the larva, pupa, and adult stages of the beetle’s life. My favorite part was watching the legs kicking free of the pupa casing as the adult emerged.  The video was a 4th grade class project, part of their habitats unit in science. What a great idea. It gave me a much clearer picture of the process that should help me explain it better to others. Check out the video and see for yourself.

    Cindy Gray
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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  • Housekeeping: Collections Department Style

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    Tags: cleaning, specimens, collections, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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

    While we do not do it every day, the natural history specimens on display the Museum need regular cleaning, particularly those specimens that are not housed inside of museum display cases. Specimens, like the polar bear, accumulate dust just like other surfaces in the museum. 

    Dawn Roberts cleans the polar bear mount

    To clean them we use vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters and variable suction control, fine mesh netting, clean brushes, gloves, ladders, extension cords, and time. The netting is placed over the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner so that large particles cannot be accidentally “sucked” into the vacuum. 

    Mariann cleans a bird specimen

    The suction control is adjusted so that just enough suction is applied to pull in dirt and dust particles from the air, but not to harm the specimens. The brushes are used to gently pull dirt away from the surface of the specimen with the vacuum nozzle head held just above to collect the now loose particles of dust and dirt. This kind of cleaning is performed on a regular schedule for specimens on permanent display or as needed when additional specimens are installed in new exhibits, like the bison mount in Food: The Nature of Eating.

    Cleaning a bison mount in an exhibit

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Notebaert Beauty Parlor

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    Tags: turtles, claws, Biology, reptiles, Chicago Academy of Sciences, look-in lab, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 4/3/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    We strive to give our Box Turtles a rich and diverse diet, which provides them with good calcium sources to ensure that they develop strong shells. Of course along with strong shells this also means they grow strong nails.

    Closeup of turtle foot

    Normally a turtle would be digging and scratching around outside in dirt and rocks and naturally wear their nails down. We do give our turtles lots of time outside in the summer but at this time of the year they are kept indoors and only get to dig in soft substrate. So what to do with those long nails?

    That is where the ‘mani, pedi service’ comes in.

    Staff members filing a turtle's nails



    We used Claire for these photos, as she is by far the most calm about having her nails trimmed. We use a standard rotating nail file, which is intended for dogs’ nails.

    As with most things involving turtles, this is a two-person job. One person to catch and hold the leg and the other person to file the nails.

    Staff members filing turtle's nails

    I did mention that Claire was the most cooperative of our turtles during this process. She accepts what we are doing and just watches reproachfully.

    Pretty Girl and Kennicott show what they think of things by peeing as much as possible! Charlie and Opal will try and sneak a quick bite, if a finger should happen to come within reach. And Manny? Well Manny is like a madman! He has to have a board held between his head and our hands, which he attacks viciously. I wonder do the ladies who work in nail salons usually end up bleeding after giving their customers a manicure? At the end of the process, we clean our various scratches and bites and the turtles have nicely manicured nails.

    Closeup of nail filing

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Hawk Talk

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    Tags: Biology, Chicago Academy of Sciences, hawk, peregrine falcon, cooper's hawk, falcon, raptor, bird of prey, survival, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 4/3/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    I often get calls from people who have discovered a hawk frequenting their bird feeders. They are usually rather upset and want to know what they can do to make it go away. This can often lead to quite an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

    Hawk in tree

    Firstly, why is it OK to provide all other birds with food except hawks? As with all predators, hawks constantly walk a very fine line between survival and starvation. The Coopers Hawk, which is considered one of the most common urban hawks has been extensively studied, and results show that barely 20% of their hunting attempts are successful. Imagine if only once in every five times you decided to have a meal, you actually got one. You would soon be really hungry! The amount of energy required to take to the wing and actively hunt means that every failed attempt is extremely costly to the hawk. Also, studies have shown that the three most common prey species for urban Coopers Hawks are European Starlings, Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves. Of those, the starling is an invasive species that is rapidly out-competing and threatening less aggressive native species, the Rock Pigeon is widely despised and considered a messy pest by the vast majority of people and the Mourning Dove is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America, producing several broods each year.

    Hawk eating

    The problem, of course, comes from the fact that a lot of people do not want to see an animal killed and eaten by another animal. I used to work in Africa as a safari guide and by far and away the most frequently asked for animals were lions and leopards. Big cats will spend up to 23 hours per day lying around resting and sleeping and trust me, that does not make for very interesting game viewing! But when we happened to come upon these same large predators hunting, many people simply could not bear to watch.

    Perched hawk

    To develop a true understanding of our natural world it is important to recognize that predators have a vital part in every ecosystem whether it be a sunfish devouring a minnow, a Peregrine Falcon grabbing a pigeon on the wing or a lion pulling down an antelope, they are all an important part of a healthy and balanced environment.

    Hawk face closeup

    So next time you are fortunate enough to see a hawk in your yard, try not to be tempted to chase it away. Watch it, observe it’s behaviour in relation to its surroundings, how does it use its environment to approach its prey? Is it successful? If not, why not? Don’t think of the hawk as evil or nasty, instead consider how privileged you are to be witnessing nature right in your own back yard.

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  • Reptile Rampage

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    Tags: reptiles, turtles, alligators, snakes, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences

    Created: 3/11/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    On Sunday March 10th we were invited to represent the institution at the Reptile Rampage in Lake Forest. This is a great event organized by Rob Carmichael from the Wildlife Discovery Center that opens up the often greatly misunderstood world of reptiles to a large public audience.

    We made a horribly early start (did I happen to mention how much I hate daylight savings time?) and got our vehicle loaded up to the gunnels with everything that a bunch of endangered turtle species could possibly need for a day out.

    You think taking children on the road is complicated? Rubbermaid containers, check. Coco husk substrate, check. Buckets, check.  Heat lamps, check. Hand sanitizer, check. Basking stones, check. Aquatic vegetation, check. Water bowls, check. The list goes on and on.

    Setting tubs up for Reptile Rampage

    We transported our precious cargo successfully and everyone arrived safe and sound and the right way up! (Bob our Blanding’s Turtle has a habit of flipping himself over when traveling!) We then got everyone set up for their day. And although I say it myself, our little display looked pretty good. I decided to focus on endangered turtle species as we have some great specimens in our living collections. It also ties in very well with our upcoming Tea with the Turtles event.

    Nature Museum table set up at Reptile Rampage

    We were surrounded by every ectotherm you could ever want to meet, not least of course was the delightful Bubba. Bubba is a remarkably mellow alligator who is well known at all the big reptile shows and is very accepting of his celebrity status and the endless stream of people who line up to be thrilled and photographed, standing next to him.

    Bubba the alligator

    There were so many beautiful animals on display and a lot of great information on offer from what to consider if you decide to get a reptile as a pet to how you can help to protect threatened species.

    • Large Boa Constrictor
    • Large Iguana
    • Swimming turtle

    We spoke to many of the thousands of visitors who streamed through the door throughout the day, many of whom were surprised to learn that we had endangered turtle species right here in Illinois. Of course our chelonian representatives were the true stars. Many thanks to Opal, Onyx, Bob, August and October, we couldn’t have done it without you.

    • Onyx the ornate box turtle
    • Bob the Blanding's turtle

    For more information about our Tea with the Turtles event, check out our Children & Family program page.

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections


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  • Volunteer Spotlight

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    Tags: volunteer, volunteering, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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

    Volunteers play many different roles at the Nature Museum, but have you ever wondered what we do outside of volunteering? Check out this interview with one of our Public Interpretive Programs (PIP) Volunteers, JoAnne!

    Name:  JoAnne Kempf
    Volunteer Position:
      PIP 

    JoAnne Kempf

    How long have you been volunteering here?
    10 years this April

    Why did you choose the Nature Museum?
    I was unemployed and finishing my Master’s Degree but needed something to get me out of the house. I went to VolunteerMatch.org and the Nature Museum came up as a possibility. I had actually never heard of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum but the volunteer job description intrigued me. I visited the museum to check it out and fell in love with it. It reminded me of the local museums and visitor centers we frequented on family vacations with our two sons. And it’s completely different from the office work I get paid to do.

    What is your favorite thing about the Nature Museum?
    Unlike the Field Museum or Science & Industry, there’s a sense of intimacy about our little museum. You can really get up close and personal with our exhibits. And I like that we focus primarily on nature in our immediate vicinity.

    What is your favorite part of your volunteer position?
    Wow….there’s so much. I love the teaching aspect; the look on a kid’s face when they have an “aha” moment. I love having conversations with the grown-up visitors about prairies and savannas. And I’m constantly learning something and having new experiences. It never occurred to me to hold a snake, for example, but now I eagerly handle snakes and all kinds of critters that were just not part of my world before. But mostly I look forward to spending time with my fellow volunteers. In 10 years’ time, I’ve seen a lot of volunteers come and go, but they always have something interesting to offer. And of course there are the “old timers” like me; I’ve made some very close friends.

    What do you do outside of the museum?
    I work! I am the Director of the Office of Governance at the American Library Association. What the heck does that mean? Well, I am basically the right-hand person to the Executive Director and the association president helping them to carry out their programs and initiatives. It’s a very demanding job that leaves me weary much of the time, which is why I volunteer – to give my mind something else to focus on.

    In addition to volunteering at the Nature Museum, I have been a member of the Skokie Concert Choir for seven years (I’m a soprano), and currently serve as their board president. During the choir’s summer hiatus, I am an avid gardener committed to growing mostly native plants. In fact, I have a miniature prairie in my backyard that includes Joe Pye, milkweed, cone flowers, black-eyed Susan, zizzia, monarda, and blazing star. I have recently become quite fond of taking walks through the Somme Prairie in Northbrook, IL. This is a restoration project that was begun by the Nature Conservancy in the ‘90s. A fellow Nature Museum volunteer and I discovered this area last summer and enjoy visiting there to observe the changes throughout the seasons. 

    Red Admiral on purple Coneflower

    I am a season ticket-holder to the Lyric Opera. I love to cook. I knit off and on. And my kitty and I are completely hooked on Downton Abbey!

    Stop by and say hello to JoAnne the next time you come for a visit!

    Ashley Lundgren
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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  • Box Turtle Rehab

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    Tags: Celeste Troon, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, turtles, Biology, Istock look-in lab

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

    Many of you who visit our Museum on a regular basis will have been lucky enough to meet one of our beautiful Box Turtles when they are out doing critter connections. Maybe Claire or Gorgeous or Charlie or Harrison? As a result you may have been tempted to consider a Box Turtle as a family pet, if you have, please think long and hard before taking that step. Many people do not realize just how much these animals require to live a long and healthy life.

    The average lifespan for a Box Turtle is 60 years so you have got to commit to a long-term deal if you are going to own one. Sadly, many people don’t realize this and some of our turtles have rather unhappy stories attached to them. Manny was spotted by a family vacationing in New Mexico, picked up and brought home to Chicago and then after a year they didn’t want him any more. Kennicott was found by one of our Blanding’s Turtle researchers out in a wetland, cold, weak and malnourished. Little Barnaby was left in a pink bucket next to a garbage can in a parking lot.

    Barnaby the box turtle in a pink bucket

    They were the lucky ones. Manny is staying at the Museum until we relocate him to a nature center in New Mexico, Kennicott has become part of the ‘team’ that does programming at the Museum and Barnaby? Well Barnaby lives with me now. When turtles are not provided with the right environment they will slowly start to shut down. They will refuse to eat, get weaker and dehydrate. We are working with Kennicott and Barnaby to try and kickstart their systems and rehabilitate them. The first task is to get them to start eating and the best way to do this is with a course of vitamin B shots. Firstly we weigh the turtle to establish how much medication to give them.

    • Barnaby getting weighed.

    • Kennicott on the scales.

    • Jamie preparing a Vitamin B shot.

    Turtles are not overly keen on receiving injections (who is?) So this is a two-person job. One person holds the turtle and grabs a leg. They have to hold on tight otherwise the turtle will pull into its shell and we are left with nothing to inject into! Then we clean the area of the injection

    Swabbing the hind leg


    Before administering the vitamin B into the hind leg

    Injecting into the hindleg


    The saline solution helps to combat dehydration. This has to be administered slowly and carefully, not always easy with an angry struggling turtle!

    Injecting into the hind leg


    This is done every 24 hours for five days and at the end of this time we hope to have stimulated their appetite sufficiently that they will begin feeding as voraciously as all our other turtles.

    Box Turtles are omnivores so they get fed earthworms, crickets, waxworms, mealworms, fish and occasionally as a treat, a pinkie mouse as well as a daily selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. That is another thing to bear in mind before taking on one of these charismatic creatures, there is a lot more involved than just a bowl of lettuce!

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Spring is in the Air

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    Tags: spring, robin, mourning dove, birds, cardinals, Biology, nature, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 3/6/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Though there is still snow on the ground, spring is in the air. Males of many species are setting up territories so that they can be sure to have resources ready to sow off to the females as they return to their Chicagoland breeding grounds. Birds are particularly obvious because of their loud calls. Listen for the territorial calls of Cardinals in the morning and throughout the day. I think they sound kind of like space phazers when they quickly chirp “cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer.” Sometimes they will vary this call and say “birdie-birdie-birdie.”

    Robins, too, are beginning to sing and they may gather in large numbers to feed on left over fruit still hanging on bushes and trees (I saw 16 in one tree earlier this month.) They are working to build strength for the territorial sing-off that will peak over the next few months. Robins will begin singing before we can even see the light of dawn; in our area, that may be as early as 3am. They are calling to the females who have been flying all night and now need a place to rest, feed, and maybe stay to breed.

    Male Robin singing on a tree branch



    Male Mourning Doves aren’t cooing much yet but they are on the lookout for nest sites worth wooing over. Though males and females look about the same, as they begin to pair up, you’ll be able to distinguish the male easily. He’s the one doing all the bowing, cooing, and chest puffing as he tries to show the female that he will be a worthy mate.

    Canada geese have already begun pairing up. Although Canada geese are not sexually dimorphic, that is the males and female look the same, it is possible to distinguish both pairs and rivals in the flock. It's very interesting to watch individuals interact with other members of the flock on North Pond this time of year. There is a lot of aggressive beahvior like hissing, head bowing, and mouth open chasing but there is also a lot of pre-breeding activity. You might see a pair of geese taking a walk in the park, away from the flock, or they might just stand around and look at each other near a potential nest site. 

    As territorial behaviors increase, you may find a birds attacking your car’s mirrors or a window on your house. Birds don’t understand what reflections are so, when they see themselves in your window or mirror, they think it’s an intruder that hasn’t been scared off by their loud singing. So, a battle ensues and the resident bird is unlikely to give up. Just make it so the bird can’t see his reflection--put a piece of paper on the outside of the window, position a lamp so the light overpowers the reflection, put some soap or whitewash over the reflecting area.

    Although birds are easy to spot this time of year, if you look carefully, you’ll be able to find salamanders and fish making nests and wooing mates, too. This kind of activity will increase substantially as the weather warms, the days lengthen, and plants begin to actively grow again.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Where Do Butterflies Go in the Winter?

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    Tags: winter, butterflies, conservation, Mourning cloak, baltimore checkerspot, painted lady, monarch, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences

    Created: 2/22/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Even though it's been a pretty mild winter, we have had some snow and cold weather. It's been months since I've seen a butterfly outside - yet I'm quite confident that as the weather warms next spring, there will again be butterflies here in northeastern Illinois. So where are the butterflies now?  Did they migrate off someplace else? Are they hibernating? As it turns out, the answer varies from species to species.

    Some butterflies do spend the winter elsewhere. The most familiar example is the Monarch, which spends the winters in the highlands of Michoacán in Mexico. It's the only local species that makes an annual round-trip migration.

    Monarch butterflies in Mexico
    Monarch butterflies in Mexico



    About a dozen other species spend the winter in the desert southwest or along the Gulf Coast in the Deep South. These include species such as the Buckeye, Painted Lady, and Little Yellow. They don't seem to have much of an organized southward migration; they simply die off in more northern locales as the weather cools in the fall. Each spring they begin dispersing northward as the weather warms, though it may take several generations to arrive here.

    Painted Lady butterfly
    Painted Lady



    Although it may be hard to believe, especially on a really cold day in the middle of winter, some species of butterflies hibernate and spend the entire winter here. Each species has one particular life stage that hibernates. There are examples of all four species being used. Species such as the Purplish Copper overwinter as eggs. These are laid on twigs or leaves, where they remain for the entire winter.  Many species, including Baltimore Checkerspots, hibernate as caterpillars. The caterpillars burrow into the leaf litter at the base of their host plants as fall approaches. Many swallowtail butterflies spend the winter as chrysalises. About a half dozen Illinois species, such as Mourning Cloaks, even overwinter as adults.  They spend the winter tucked into crevices in logs, or underneath loose bark on trees. These are the species that can be seen flying on the very first warm days of spring, and occasionally even during warm spells in January or February.

    Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars
    Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars



    How do the hibernating butterflies survive? As cold-blooded animals, their body temperatures drop to that of their surroundings. The secret turns out to be in their chemistry. As the days shorten during the autumn, they begin secreting natural antifreezes into their body fluids. The natural antifreezes are necessary no matter which life stage overwinters. If ice crystals form they rupture cells, which is fatal to eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and adult butterflies alike. The natural antifreezes are small molecules such as glycerol. Glycerol shares many chemical properties with the antifreeze that is used in car engines.  Although the body temperature of a hibernating butterfly may drop to well below zero, the glycerol in its body fluids prevents the formation of ice crystals. The butterfly can therefore survive the very low temperatures, become active again when the weather warms in the spring and complete the life cycle.  Next time you are taking a walk in midwinter, consider that there are thousands of butterflies tucked away in warm spots, waiting to fly next summer.

    Mourning Cloak butterfly
    Mourning Cloak



    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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  • Behind the Scenes of A Meticulous Beauty

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    Tags: A Meticulous Beauty, insects, exhibits, Jennifer Angus, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 2/20/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Internationally known artist Jennifer Angus was at the Nature Museum in November to install her exquisite artwork in the south gallery of our second floor. It took three days and several pairs of hands to cover the gallery with insects from Malaysia, Thailand, French Guiana, and Papua New Guinea. I was able to help along with Jennifer’s assistant, a few other staff and a dedicated volunteer. It was neat to see the project unfold before my eyes. My favorite part was hearing the “oohs” and “ahs” as the elevator doors opened and visitors caught their first glimpse of the space.

    Prior to her arrival, Jennifer had sent us the specifications for her design. The walls were painted a cool aqua color with yellow polka dots. In order to create the vertical lines in the pattern, she started by setting up a thread grid along the walls.

    Thread grid along walls of exhibit.


    Using a hammer and special insect pins, we delicately placed each insect along the grid in an alternating pattern. Some insects needed an extra bracing pin to stay in position.

    The exhibits team and Jennifer Angus pin insect specimens to the wall

    The exhibits team and Jennifer Angus pin insect specimens to the wall


    Jennifer’s artwork resulted in a whimsical design of flower-like shapes that draw the eye up and down.

    A Meticulous Beauty, finished.


    You can learn more about the artist and her intent by visiting the gallery. We are delighted to have this unique installation at the Nature Museum, and we hope you get a chance to see it soon!

    Jacqueline Abreo
    Exhibits Team

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