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Conservation Research


Biologists in swamp

For 160 years, our scientists have been dedicated to developing a deeper understanding of regional plant and animal species, identifying environmental threats, and working to conserve and restore threatened populations. Read on to learn more about two of our major conservation initiatives.

Butterfly Restoration Project

  • Baltimore Checkerspot
  • Nature Museum entomologist Allen Lawrance in Conservation Lab
  • Swamp Metalmark butterfly

The Baltimore Checkerspot, Regal Fritillary, Silver-bordered Fritillary, and Swamp Metalmark are just a few of the species that have benefited from the Nature Museum’s pioneering work to bolster populations of rare and endangered butterflies native to the region. A rite of early summer in Chicago has been the day when a species of rare butterflies are triumphantly released back into nature.

Butterflies are an important indicator of a healthy environment and ecosystem. They are considered a model species to study the impact of habitat destruction and fragmentation. Nature Museum scientists obtain species of females and their host plants in the hopes of seeing caterpillars emerge in the spring.

Recently, the Butterfly Restoration Project has focused on the threatened Regal Fritillary, imperiled Baltimore Checkerspot, and the endangered Swamp Metalmark.

In 2010, the Museum released nearly 200 Regal Fritillaries just south of Chicago at Paintbrush Prairie Nature Preserve. To get to that point, Museum scientists had to figure out a way for the fragile, tiny larvae to survive the winter. The solution turned out to be placing them in covered cages on the Museum’s roof to give them the full effect of the winter cold. The release of the Regal Fritillary received nationwide attention.

Over the last two years, Museum scientists have released Baltimore Checkerspots in a restored wetland at Fermilab in Batavia. The site features host plants such as Turtlehead and Mullein Foxglove.

Become a Butterfly Monitor

The Museum’s Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network monitors butterflies at more than 100 sites. Monitors identify and count butterflies along a fixed route at a predetermined location. This is crucial data for scientists to better understand area butterflies and population and habitat changes.

Become a Butterfly Monitor  

These aren't the only species we're working to protect and restore. Click here to learn about our Priority Species, including Monarch butterflies, Smooth Greensnakes, and more!

The conservation efforts of the Chicago Academy of Sciences during the 2011- 2012 season were supported in part by funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Grant #12-006.

Blanding's Turtle Restoration Project

  • Blanding's turtle
  • Biologist Celeste Troon with Blanding's turtle
  • Numbered Blanding's baby turtles

Since 2008, the distinctive yellow throat, chin and apparent permanent smile of the Blanding's turtles on display in the Mysteries of the Marsh exhibit have been a staple of the Nature Museum experience.

But the Museum’s involvement with the Blanding’s goes beyond our walls. Through the Blanding’s Turtles Restoration Project, the Nature Museum is committed to restoring the population of this endangered, native species and help reestablish ecological balance to the area.

The Blanding’s population has dwindled dramatically due to habitat destruction, an increased number of predators and an illegal pet trade. To give Blanding’s a better chance to survive in their habitat, the Nature Museum, in collaboration with the DuPage Forest District and Willowbrook Wildlife Center, headstarts the Blanding’s by radio tracking female turtles which are then brought into secure laying pens where they lay their eggs before being rereleased. The eggs are then hatched in incubators. The hatchlings are cared for in captivity for the first two years of their life before being released. This process is referred to as head starting. In order to reduce the risk of the hatchling turtles becoming habituated to humans, our biologists keep handling to an absolute minimum and the turtles that are on exhibit at the Museum are behind one-way glass. This means that you can see them clearly, they can't see you!

The majority of turtle predation takes place as eggs or during the first two years of life. By giving them a head start at this vulnerable time, we are increasing their chances of survival. Each year between 5% and 10% of the turtles released are equipped with radio transmitters so researchers can continue to study their range.

The Museum is engaged in a long-term survivorship study and has begun to see evidence of subadults and juveniles in the study area.

A special thank you to the Walls family for their generous support of this program.

Blanding’s Facts:

  • In 2009, Blanding’s status in Illinois was elevated from threatened to endangered.
  • Blanding’s can live into their 70s or even 80s.
  • Blanding’s do not begin to reproduce until their mid to late teens.
  • The lower part of the Blanding's shell (the plastron) is hinged, this allows them to partially close their shell when threatened or alarmed.

Become a Blanding’s Turtle Tracker

Become a Blanding's Turtle Tracker

For as little as $75 for one year or $130 for two, purchase a special radio transmitter that allows Museum scientists track turtle activity. In addition to helping an endangered species you will:

  • Receive a personalized certificate and photo
  • Enjoy a quarterly e-newsletter with Team Tracker updates
  • Read an information packet to discover more about the species
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