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Contents tagged with living collections

  • Join the Chicago Herpetological Society for Cold-Blooded Weekends at the Museum

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    Tags: living collections, herpetology, snakes, reptiles, amphibians, turtles, museum events

    Created: 10/20/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    The first full weekend of every month, the Nature Museum becomes a herpetologist haven! That's when the Chicago Herpetological Society and the Junior Herp Society hold their monthly meetings, and invite the public to join in on the fun. What is the Herpetological Society? In this post, the Chicago Herpetological Society's Rich Lamszus introduces us to it.

    Chicago Herpetological Society logoJunior Herp Society logo

    The Chicago Junior Herpetological Society

    The Chicago Junior Herpetological Society is about sharing the love of amphibians and reptiles with the younger generation, and fostering an appreciation of wildlife and nature through educational speakers and hands-on interaction.

    Children holding baby snakes in Junior Herp Society meeting

    The goal of the CJHS is to establish a learning environment where younger kids are mentored by older kids with knowledge of reptiles and amphibians, under adult supervision, in the beautiful museum setting. The regular monthly meetings of the Chicago Junior Herpetological Society take place at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, on the Sunday of the first full weekend every month, from noon till about 1:30. Meetings are free to members of the CHS and visitors to the museum. 

    The next meeting will be on November 2 and will be our second anniversary meeting. Our speaker will be Yvette Mendez and her topic will be Reptile Parents and Reptile Babies. Colleen’s Critter Corner will feature frilled lizards and blue tongued skinks and differences in keeping them. 

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

    The Chicago Herpetological Society

    The Chicago Herpetological Society is a non-profit all volunteer organization dedicated to the conservation of all wildlife, especially reptiles and amphibians, the cooperation of amateur and professional herpetologists toward a more complete understanding of herpetofauna, and the education of the general public about these often misunderstood but fascinating animals.‚Äč

    Visitors as Junior Herp Society meeting

    The CHS, established in 1966, is made up of hundreds of people who love reptiles and amphibians and want to do what they can to help other people understand this not-so-mainstream devotion. From encouraging the public not to fear snakes, to helping someone learn how to take care of her brand new gecko, we are spreading knowledge and spreading compassion for these creatures who are so often labeled in a negative way. We welcome anyone who shares our passion to join us! General meetings of the Chicago Herpetological Society are held on the last Wednesday every month at 7:30pm at the Notebaert, with the exception of Christmas Eve this year. Meetings are free to attend. 

    The next meeting on October 29 will feature news and announcements, an awesome raffle and our speaker will be Chris Gillette. The topic will be “Behavior of American alligators and crocodiles in captive and wild situations”. We are also gearing up for next year’s ReptileFest, the nation’s largest educational herpetological event. ReptileFest 2015 will be on April 11 and 12, from 10am to 5pm in the University of Illinois Phys Ed building. Mark your calendars, this will be the 22nd year of this wonderful show. You can learn more about the Herpetological Society here, and learn more about ReptileFest here.

    Hope to see you there!

    Rich Lamszus

    CHS, CJHS

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  • The Nature of Feeding

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    Tags: food, living collections, Biology, rats, snakes, feedings, public programs

    Created: 7/12/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Food: The Nature of Eating focuses on how human eating habits impact us and the planet. While this exhibit focuses on the human relationship with food, the Public Programs department teaches visitors about the importance of a balanced diet for animals through our daily animal feedings. 

    Two of our most popular feedings are the water snake and rats. The water snake feeding takes place every Thursday at 1 p.m. During this time our water snake feasts on a large bucket of live fish! Our attendees are glued to the glass as they observe the water snake slowly slither to the container of unsuspecting fish. Sorry, fish, but your new home is in the belly of a water snake, not in a bowl at the dentist’s office. This container full of fish keeps the water snake satiated for an enitre week!

    Water Snake

    On Saturdays at 1 p.m. we feed our two beloved rats, Smudge and Sooty. Their meal consists of almost anything. Seriously. They feast on Greek yogurt, local and exotic fruits, veggies, seaweed, dog food, wax worms and, of course, a sweet treat for dessert. We do not intend to gross-out the public when we feed them dog food or worms. We want visitors to realize that rats are scavengers and will eat anything we eat or set out for other animals and more! Rats will thrive anywhere that supplies them with food, water and shelter- that’s why we find them in our neighborhoods.

    Smudge and Sooty the rats

    So, next time you are visiting the Nature Museum, make sure to check the guide to find out which animal will be fed and when. The experience will surely be a treat!

    Glenda Gonzalez
    Public Programs Coordinator

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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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  • Harriet the Spider

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    Tags: tarantula, living collections, Biology, arachnid, shedding, celebrity

    Created: 6/12/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

    We are all rather fond of Harriet here at the Nature Museum. She is a very large, female Striped Knee Tarantula who has been with the institution longer than pretty much everyone. She has been here so long that I have never actually been able to find any record of where she came from or when. In spite of her somewhat intimidating appearance she is a very gentle creature and also quite a celebrity. She has featured on a blues album cover.

    Album cover for Eddie C Campell's "Spider Eating Preacher", featuring Harriet the tarantula



    She has done numerous TV appearances for various local stations and she also appeared on the cover of a medical paper about treating arachnophobia.

    PNAS Journal Cover



    But in between all this jet setting she is just a regular arachnid. She spends most of her time in the Istock family Look-in-Lab raising squeals from countless children.

    Once in a while we will notice that she starts to slowly spin a thick web mat and then we know exactly what she is up to. She is getting ready to shed.

    The first time she did this after I started working here I was alone in the lab one evening, I have to confess I had never seen a tarantula shed before so imagine my horror when I walked past her tank and she was laying upside down with all her legs in the air! Absolutely no prizes for guessing what I thought. I was so upset and spent most of that night imagining having to tell everyone that dear, sweet Harriet was no more. When I came in the next morning there appeared to be TWO tarantulas in Harriets’ cage, and they were both the right way up. By now I had begun to put two and two together, or in this case, one and one and realized what had happened, Harriet had shed. I have been here for several years now and after the trauma of that first time I made a little sign which reads ‘She’s not dead, she’s shedding!’ I have witnessed numerous Harriet sheds and each time I marvel at the process. Here is Harriet the morning after her most recent shed.

    Harriet with recent shed



    She is the one on the right of the picture! And here is her freshly shed skin, called an exuvium.

    Tarantula exuvium


    If you look closely you can see each individual hole where she carefully pulled her legs out of the old skin.


    Now even if you are not keen on spiders, you have to admit, that is pretty cool!

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Just Another Day at the Office

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    Tags: living collections, reptiles

    Created: 1/4/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    We try by all means to keep our programming animals fit and healthy at all times but of course occasionally despite our best efforts, they get an ailment that requires treatment. So how do you give a snake medicine? Well, if it is an injection it is relatively easy to insert a needle between the scales but if they actually have to swallow the medication it takes a little more than a teaspoon and the request to ‘open wide!’

    An array of tools for giving a snake medication, including a guitar pick, syringes and tubing

    These are the tools required. The best item for opening the snakes’ mouth is a guitar pick (yes really!) then a nice long tube to get the medicine down and some water to flush the medicine through the tube.

    The guitar pick is inserted into the snake's mouth

    The guitar pick is slid carefully into the snakes’ mouth. As I said, it is perfectly designed for the job. It has smooth rounded edges so it doesn’t harm the snakes’ mouth and it covers the snakes’ glottis, which is in the bottom of the mouth. This ensures that when the tube is inserted it doesn’t get accidentally pushed into the glottis, which would essentially ‘drown’ the snake.

    The tube is inserted into the snake's mouth

    The tube is then gently inserted and pushed down the snakes’ esophagus. The tube should go approximately one third of the way down into the snakes’ body before the medicine is administered.

    the syringe pushes medicineinto the tube in the snake's mouth and down its esophagus

    Of course, don’t expect any gratitude from the snake for this treatment. You will notice there is a second person involved in this process holding the body of the snake. Although they don’t have to negotiate the teeth they do sometimes get the benefit of the snakes displeasure in a far more odiferous manner when the snake deploys its’ musk glands to full effect. When the medication has been administered and flushed through the tube with a little water, the tube is carefully removed.

    Gently removing the tubing

    And there you have it – job done! And if all goes well, after a little time off, we have a healthy snake ready to resume its work entertaining our visitors.

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Day in the Life of an Animal Care Volunteer

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    Tags: volunteering, volunteer, animals, living collections

    Created: 1/2/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    The following post was written by Cindy Gray, one of our animal care volunteers at the Museum.

    8:15 to 8:25

    Arrive at the Museum, greet the cleaning woman who lets me in as she cleans the entry, get the key to the Look-in-Lab from security, check-in at the volunteer lounge, and put on one of the volunteer aprons. Go to the Lab, greet Celeste and Jamie and get ready to start working!

    8:25 to 8:40
    Change the swimming water for the Leopard frog and the drinking/soaking water for the American toad in Mysteries of the Marsh, and mist the American toad tank with RO water (“RO” water is “reverse osmosis” water, water filtered to remove chlorine and other elements that may bother amphibians, water bugs, fish, and some reptiles). Feed the frog and toad, trying to drop the crickets into their tanks, not on the carpet (I read that toads blink their eyes to help swallow their food, but I had trouble picturing it until I saw the toad capture and swallow one of the crickets I fed her one day).

    8:40 to 8:45
    Mist the green tree frog tank near the spotted turtles to maintain the high humidity they prefer.  Sometimes one of the frogs will start “singing” as I mist -- I like to think it's because they are happy for the fresh "rain".

    8:45 to 9:00
    Provide fresh water for the Tiger salamander, Gray tree frogs, American toad, Cricket frogs, and Fowler’s toad in the Look-in-Lab and mist their habitats. Provide Harriet the tarantula with fresh water in her bowl and crickets.

    9:00 to 9:25
    Empty the water bowls for the snakes used for critter connections and provide fresh water.  Sometimes right after I change her water, Coco the Fox snake takes a drink and then soaks in the fresh water.  Change the paper substrate of their tanks if they have pooped. Mist with water any snakes that are shedding to help with that process. If a snake sheds overnight, take the skin out of the cage. If a snake was fed the night before, look to make sure it ate the defrosted mouse or rat.

    9:20 to 10:10
    Clean up after the box turtles that are used for critter connections. For the box turtles in the front window, provide fresh water, take out yesterday’s food dishes, throwing away the leftovers and putting the dish in the dishwasher, and redistribute the coconut fiber substrate. For the box turtles in the other enclosures, provide fresh water, take out yesterday’s food dishes, and change the paper if they have made a mess, in other words, everyday. When I take them out of the tanks, I put up the “slow traffic” sign that has a picture of a turtle and give the turtles worms, trying to keep an eye on them as I clean; it is surprising how fast a turtle can wander away and wedge herself into a small hiding space.

    Pretty Girl the box turtle enjoying a superworm



    10:10 to 10:40
    Tend the nursery for the Abedus (ferocious water beetles), providing them with clean water and crickets.  The females lay dozens of eggs on the males’ backs, and we remove the males to small containers filled with water to protect the babies when they hatch. The young pass through numerous stages before they are big enough to go into the tank in the window so floating in the water are “exuvia,” the shed exoskeletons they have outgrown (a fun word I only learned after volunteering at the Museum.)

    10:40 to 10:50
    Provide hermit crabs with fresh fruit, fresh RO water, and clean salt water; clean and mist habitat.

    10:50 to 11:25
    Chat with the PIP volunteers (Public Interpretive Program volunteers) when they come in to get a snake or turtle for critter connections and to feed the frogs and toads for the public feeding. Make salad bowls for the turtles: greens, veggies, corn (their favorite if we have it), and berries or other fruit, topped with crushed egg shells for calcium, mealworms dusted with vitamin powder, and nightcrawlers.

    Fruits and veggies for the animals



    11:25 to 11:40
    Tidy up, give the rats corn on the cob, and say good bye to Celeste and Jamie. Check-out in the volunteer lounge, take off the apron, and return the key to security.

    Not every day is the same. One day, I flooded the lab by accidentally opening the valve for the water snake tank and not noticing until I heard water splashing on the floor. Everyone was very nice about it and told me everyone floods the lab at least once! (The snakes were undisturbed.) Usually, the breaks from routine are more interesting: Harriet looking spiffier after her molt, new interns, the tiny leopard frog that was a tadpole the week before, or the hatchling Red-eared sliders and Painted turtles the horticulturists found in the garden last spring.

    Cindy Gray
    Animal Care Volunteer

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  • An Icon Returns

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    Tags: living collections, snakes, venomous

    Created: 10/19/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Those of you who visit the Museum on a regular basis will have probably noticed the lack of a key exhibit component in Mysteries of the Marsh over the last few months. At the beginning of this year we very sadly lost our beautiful Massasauga Rattlesnake to cancer and have been trying ever since to find a replacement. Because the Massasauga is such an endangered species they are very hard to come by. Private individuals are not allowed to own listed species but as a scientific and educational organization we have a permit for this snake. Even so, it took us ten months to actually locate one and this past weekend we took delivery of a very healthy three year old female.

    So how do you transport a rattlesnake? Well the company that bred her was attending a large herpetological show in Tinley Park so we would be able to drive out and collect her from there. We brought all the correct equipment with us and soon had her transferred into something safe, secure and comfortable (for both her and us!)

    Bucket and snake tongs

    We secured the whole tub into the back seat of the car with the seat belt and drove our precious cargo back to the Museum. We never work with a venomous snake when the Museum is open to the public so we waited until the evening to transfer her to her new habitat. Transferring ‘hot’ snakes from one spot to another is one of the most dangerous times for handlers and so total concentration and focus is a must. We ensure that our security team keeps everyone away from the area so that we are not disturbed. Firstly, using snake tongs, we lift the bagged snake out of the tub and slide the snake to the very bottom of the bag. We then hold her in the bottom of the bag so that she cannot get anywhere near to the handlers hands because, of course, snake fangs can stick through a canvas bag very easily.

    Untying the snake bag

    When the knot is undone the whole bag is lifted back into the tub, again using snake tongs so that at no time do the handlers hands come anywhere near the snake. The snake is then carefully slid out of the open bag into the tub.

    Snake in tub

    From here the final step is to carefully lift the snake, using the tongs and snake hook and lower her gently into her new habitat. And here she is, comfortably positioned in her new habitat after her long and arduous journey.

    Snake in exhibit

    Once in her habitat, her exhibit was covered for a couple of days so that she could get accustomed to her new surroundings. Pretty soon she was ready for her first public appearance as part of the Mysteries of the Marsh exhibit. Be sure to visit her next time you are at the Museum.

    Celeste Troon
    Director of Living Collections

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