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Contents tagged with natural history

  • Motion Film Collection Highlight: William J. Beecher (1914-2002)

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collection, motion film, William Beecher, Illinois, ecology, natural history

    Created: 4/11/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This is the third blog post from a series titled: Motion Film Collection Highlight. Two earlier posts can viewed here and here.

    William J. Beecher served as the Director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences from 1958 to 1982. An ornithologist by trade -- someone who studies birds -- he was an avid birder, whether in the field or in his back yard. He also had an interest in photography and film.

    During his tenure with the Academy, Beecher created educational motion films about local environments and animals that were shared with local groups and museum visitors. Beecher documented many local areas around Illinois, including the Indiana Dunes and Goose Lake Prairie, and was among the first to scientifically document many animal behaviors such as lekking in Prairie Chickens, now an endangered species in Illinois. Here are some still images and a film clip from the motion films created by Beecher in the CAS/PNNM collection.

    Film still with text reading "Chicago Academy of Sciences Presents"

    Film still with text reading "Filmed by Dr. W.J. Beecher"

    Film still of self portrait of Dr. Beecher holding motion picture camera
    William Beecher, 1960

    Film still of beetles
    Beetles, 1958

    Film still of staff working in the field
    Working in the field, 1960

    Film still of exotic birds
    Birds seen during travel to Mweya, Uganda in 1966

    Film still of people holding up a board with fossils attached
    People holding up a board with fossils attached. [Fossils appear to be concretions, possibly from the Mazon Creek area in Illinois.] ca.1959-ca.1962

    Film still of a fox
    Fox sighting, 1966

    Film still of field trip to local prairie
    Field trip to local prairie, 1968

    Film still Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned Owl, 1966

    Film still field trip to Goose Lake
    Field trip to Goose Lake, 1968

    Film still of Barred Owl
    Barred Owl, California,1966

    Film clip from "Feb 9/60 Zoogeogr regions mammals skulls upside down", 1960


    Film still of Dr. Beecher
    William Beecher, 1967

    Film still with text reading "The End" superimposed over a shot of a desert

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Freezing a Bison Mount

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    Tags: collections, natural history, specimens, Chicago Academy of Sciences

    Created: 3/18/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    If you work with museum objects in a natural history museum, “freezing” is a necessary part of the job.  It may sound a bit odd to freeze a museum object of any sort, but it enables us to store specimens until they can be prepared and it is also an effective way of killing insect pests without the use of chemical pesticides. The use of pesticides leaves a residue on specimens each time they are used and this causes a build-up over time. By using the freeze-treatment method instead, we reduce this residual build-up and the related side effects that could possibly harm specimens over time and/or become a health hazard to the collections staff that care for them. 

    Most of the time we can “freeze-treat” our specimens in house, but for larger mounts, like a bison mount that is 6.5 feet tall by 8.5 feet long, we do not own a large enough freezer. Instead we had to seek out a facility that would not only have room to accommodate its size but was willing to tackle this project.  Midwest Freeze-Dry in Skokie was up for the job and already had experience with the process.

    Bison mount covered in plastic

    To freeze-treat a natural history specimen, it first it needs to be enclosed in a protective barrier.  In this case we used plastic sheeting because it came in a large enough size to cover the mount, but for smaller specimens plastic garbage bags or freezer grade zipper-closure bags work well. The purpose is twofold: (1) it creates a “sealed” enclosure so that insects cannot spread to other specimens and (2) it creates a moisture barrier so that any condensation that may form during the freeze-treatment forms on the exterior of the barrier and not on the specimen.

    Once the bison mount was wrapped, in what resembled a plastic cocoon upon completion, we arranged a delivery date and then booked appropriate transportation with additional people to assist with the move.  After the mount was carefully moved onto the truck and securely strapped in for the 6 mile trip north, the next step was to transfer it from our truck to the freezer truck, which was accomplished with a forklift and the help of many people. 

    Team moving bison mount

    Unlike freezing food items at home, to effectively kill insect pests, the specimen has to be exposed to at least two freeze cycles with a thaw in between. The method is pretty simple, the specimen is placed inside the freezer space and the temperature is dropped rapidly and held steady for a set time and then the temperature is gradually increased. After the space returns to room temperature, the temperature is dropped rapidly again for a second cycle and then gradually brought back up to room temperature again.  This cycle ensures that any insect pests that went into a dormant phase during the first freeze cycle are “woken up” during the thaw period and then eradicated by quickly dropping the temperature again. The amount of time needed depends on the temperature of the freezer space, the size of the freezer space, what kind of insect pest you are dealing with, and the size and composition of the specimen.

    Bison mount in truck

    When the allotted freezer time was completed, utilizing more people, two forklifts (one at each location) and a pallet jack, the Bison mount was transported to the museum for its final installation.  You can see the Bison mount as well as other specimens from the collection in the exhibit, Food: The Nature of Eating, at the museum.

    Bison mount on display

    Amber K. King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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