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    February Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS

    Published On 1/26/2015

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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 sets up tables in the Nature Walk for some reptile fun with the public and the Junior Herp Society holds their monthly meetings! The Notebaert is an awesome and beautiful place to go and reconnect with nature during these colder months

    Join us for some reptile fun!

    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.

    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 Sunday, February 8th. Our speaker will be Vince Sourile from Eden's Bane Exotics and he will be discussing Ball Pythons, morphs and care. We are looking forward to the warmer weather and would like to plan a few field trips this year and lots of other fun stuff.

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

     

    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.​

    When considering getting a new pet for the family, a great option to consider is adoption. There are many awesome animals out there in need of a loving home. The CHS has an adoption program available to members. There are currently some awesome animals being fostered and ready for a new forever home. Contact Colleen Schwarz or Linda Malawy of the CHS adoption program.

    You can learn more about CHS adoptions here.

    General meetings of the Chicago Herpetological Society are held on the last Wednesday every month at 7:30pm at the Notebaert. Meetings are free to attend. 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 Chicago Herpetological Society here and Reptilefest here.

    Hope to see you there!

    Rich Lamszus
    Chicago Junior Herp Society
    Chicago Herpetological Society

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    The Office That Started It All: A Closer Look at Dr. Edmund Andrews

    Tags: founder's week, chicago history, Chicago Academy of Sciences

    Published On 1/22/2015

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    Last week we celebrated our 158th birthday, this week we’re recognizing one of the founder who made ti all possible. Dr. Edmund Andrews died on this day in 1904. Andrews was born in Vermont and expressed interest in botany and geology from an early age. Although he soon turned his professional focus to medicine, this love remained with him. He studied medicine at the University of Michigan, and became demonstrator of anatomy and professor of comparative anatomy. He became a published author and had his essays featured in medical journals. It was this work that then brought him to settle in Chicago.

    Although he was a practicing surgeon, during his off-hours he returned to his love of nature. It was in his offices that the original members of what was to later become the Chicago Academy of Sciences began to meet. When the Academy was formalized in 1857, Andrews was named Curator of the Academy. By the time Robert Kennicott took over the position in 1863, Andrews had co-founded the Chicago Medical College, and had been appointed Surgeon in Chief of Camp Douglas. Although his medical work kept him occupied professionally, he still remained involved with the Academy. His interest in geology and glacial history led him to publish some of his findings in the Transactions of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, and he served as the President of the Board of Trustees for a number of terms and through some of its toughest years.

    While we recognized and remember Dr. Edmund Andrews for his work with the Academy, he truly made a name for himself as a pioneering surgeon. To learn more about his contributions to the world of medicine, check out the links below.

    Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
    Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago by J. Carbuff

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    At Least We Have Houseplants

    Tags: houseplants, plants, horticulture

    Published On 1/19/2015

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    And the snow lies drifted white
    In the bower of our delight
    Where the beech threw gracious shade
    On the cheek of boy and maid:
    And the bitter blasts make roar
    Through the fleshless sycamore

    ~ Willa Cather

    It’s cold. Like, Siberia cold. I am a person who values his time outdoors, but to heck with this. Blankets, hot beverages, and good books – these shall be the apparatus of my forbearance, until the blessed day arrives when I can stand outside for more than ten minutes without losing feeling in my extremities.

    Winter is hard on a horticulturist (as I have lamented before). But thanks to a the accidental genius of a Victorian-era Englishman named Nathaniel Ward, and the insatiable social ambitions of the ascendant middle class in his milieu, we have houseplants upon which to turn our phytophilic attentions when snowflakes fly.

    With enough space and the proper equipment, virtually any plant can be grown indoors. However, there are a few dozen hardy species that have become archetypal denizens of shopping malls, lobbies, and hotel atriums, as well as residential windowsills. You may not know their names, but you know them: aglaonemas, marantas, spathiphyllums, crotons… 

    Counter to their colloquial reputation, some familiar houseplants have secret talents and unique life stories that are worth investigating…under a Snuggie, with a laptop warming your thighs. So grab another mug of chai, and let’s explore a couple, shall we?

    (Courtesy of Kenpei via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

    We’ll begin with Ficus benjamina, known as Benjamin’s fig or, more simply, the ficus tree. Despite its deserved reputation as a finicky leaf-dropper, ficus trees frequently adorn large interior spaces. This is due to their tolerance of low light and dry air, and because their fine texture and broad branching structure fit our temperate-zone expectations of what a tree should look like. Native to Southeast Asia, the ficus is a close relative of strangler figs and banyans, and like those plants, will often send down aerial roots from its branches. As with all plants in its genus (including the edible fig, Ficus carica), the Benjamin fig relies on a symbiotic relationship with a particular species of tiny wasp in order to produce seeds.

    Botanically speaking, a fig is not an individual fruit, but rather a receptacle that encloses multiple small fruits (the fleshy bits inside). These fruits started off as hidden flowers, pollinated when the aforementioned wasp entered the fig through a tiny hole in the tip. The wasp lays eggs inside, thus protecting them from predators and providing a food source for the resultant larvae. In return, the wasp performs necessary pollination duties. In a fascinating example of coevolution, nearly all of the 800 or so species of Ficus are pollinated by different, unique species of wasps.

    (Courtesy of Mokkie via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Surely one of the best scientifically-named plants of all time, Monstera deliciosa, aka Mexican breadfruit or Swiss cheese plant, is indeed a monster of a plant. In its native Central American climes, its stout, vining stems can climb 60 feet or more into the trees. Edible, pineapple-like fruits are sparsely produced beneath its enormous, leathery leaves. 

    Grown indoors, the “delicious monster” typically stays much smaller, and may lack the bizarre fenestration that makes this plant a favorite in humid conservatories. No one really knows the wherefores of the leaves’ “Swiss cheese” stylings, but there are some theories out there.

    As with several other plants in its family, Monstera can actually generate its own heat. At certain blooming stages, its inflorescences (flower clusters) can be as much as 5°C hotter than the surrounding air. This phenomenon, known as thermogenesis, likely aids the dispersal of chemical signals that attract pollinators.

    (Courtesy of Louise Wolff/darina via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Now lets take a look the deceptively euro-sounding dieffenbachia. A relative of the Mostera, the dieffenbachia or dumbcane hails from similar, neo-tropical environs. Its speckled leaves have been bred and selected for many distinct and interesting patterns, which has led, along with its remarkable shade tolerance and overall ease of culture, to the Dieffenbachia’s predominance as a parochial favorite.

    But dumbcane is not without its dark side. In common with its familial brethren, its cells contain tiny, sharp crystals of calcium oxylate that can be extremely irritating to the skin, eyes, mouth, and esophagus. The name dumbcane derives from the tendency of the tongue to swell if the plant is chewed, causing temporary mutism. In the West Indies, exceedingly awful human beings once took advantage of this phenomenon to punish their rebellious slaves.

    Having experienced the harrowing topical effects of the dieffenbachia on more occasions than I like to admit (note to self: GLOVES!), I can attest that potency varies widely among varieties, and tends to be greatest in the stems and roots of large specimens. Fortunately the swelling, numbness, and prickly aches brought on by contact with the plant’s juices rarely last more than a day. And there is a rather unforgettable odor to the cut stems of older plants that serves as a helpful reminder not to rub an eye or bite a fingernail until one has thoroughly washed up.

    This odor comes from compounds closely related to asparagusic acid, which is the same stuff that makes your pee smell funny (giggle) when you eat asparagus. Speaking of which, is there any vegetable that induces thoughts of springtime as reliably as fresh asparagus? I can see them now -- pale stems pushing their way out of the warming soil, ready to drink in the nourishing rays of waxing daylight…I can hear a robin tweeting happily among bursting buds…And the flowers! Daffodils, hyacinths, forsythia!

    Crap. Have you seen the weather forecast?

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    Founder's Week Celebration 2015

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

    Published On 1/16/2015

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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   ♀
    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
    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
    Geology collection
    No other data

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

     

    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   ♂
    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
    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.

    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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    January Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS

    Tags: chicago herpetological society, junior herp society, herpetology, snakes, reptiles, turtles, amphibians

    Published On 1/2/2015

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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 sets up tables in the Nature Walk for some reptile fun with the public and the Junior Herp Society holds their monthly meetings! The Notebaert is an awesome and beautiful place to go and reconnect with nature during these colder months

    Join us for some fun with the animals!

    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.

    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 Sunday, January 4th. Frank Sladek will be speaking about enrichment items and training techniques that benefit the health of your reptiles and promote natural behaviors. He will have a few short videos of reptiles being "trained" and possibly a related craft idea

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

    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.​

    When considering getting a new pet for the family, a great option to consider is adoption. There are many awesome animals out there in need of a loving home. The CHS has an adoption program available to members. There are currently some ball pythons, turtles and other great critters being fostered and ready for a new forever home. Contact Colleen Schwarz or Linda Malawy of the CHS adoption program.

    You can learn more about CHS adoptions here.

    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 New Year's Eve this year. That meeting has been changed to Tuesday, Dec. 30th. Meetings are free to attend. Our December meeting will feature CHS news and announcements and will be our holiday get together. We will have food there and encourage people to bring something to share if you can. Our meeting on January 28th will feature the epic Erica Mede, speaking about her work with ARAV, The Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians. 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 Chicago Herpetological Society here and Reptilefest here.

    Hope to see you there!

    Rich Lamszus
    Chicago Junior Herp Society
    Newly elected Vice President of
    The Chicago Herpetological Society

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    Native vs Non-Native: Cataloging Plant Species on the Nature Museum Grounds

    Tags: plants, plant names, native plants

    Published On 1/2/2015

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    During the growing season, I was charged with the fun and interesting task of compiling a list of all plant species growing in the Museum’s “habitat vignettes”. For those unfamiliar with this term, we sometimes use it to refer to areas of the museum grounds where we’ve worked to recreate plant communities that were typical of our area before European settlement. Frequent visitors know these areas well: the Black Oak Savanna, Burr Oak Savanna, Elizabeth Plotnick Tallgrass Prairie, the rooftop garden, (the section visible from the Bird Walk) and our portion of the North Pond edge.

    In creating the plant list, I counted species intentionally planted by us as part of our restoration efforts as well as those that showed up here on their own. The total number of species was 350! Being in list-making mode, I divided these into categories that had more meaning in relation to what we are trying to accomplish with the habitat vignettes. To wit:

    Native Species: 229

                   Planted by us: 159

                   Spontaneous:  56

                   Unknown: 14

    Non-Native: 123

    It’s worth noting that these categories are not cut and dried distinctions. There are differing opinions on whether some species grew here before Columbus. Also, several have strains both from North America and from other continents (which can behave differently ecologically). In these cases, I tended towards the majority opinion of authors who have studied our local flora, weighted by my own opinion. Then there was the matter of how local to get while defining “native.” In this case, I considered a species native if it was known from a county at least bordering Cook.

    A final distinction I wanted to make was whether a species was invasive or not. This entered even blurrier territory as, aside from a few of the worst offenders, there is far from a standard consensus on which species are invasive locally. I used a pragmatic approach, counting any species as “invasive” if we have actively attempted to control or eradicate it. The resulting list included 63 species – 12 of them native, 51 non-native. (Yes, native species can be invasive, too. But that’s a subject for another blog post.)

    Willow Herb, Courtesy of Frank Mayfield via Wikimedia Commons/cc-by-sa-2.0

    Surprises

    In creating any such list, there are bound to be surprises.  For example, I found two native species of Willow Herb in the Black Oak Savanna that are more typically found in wetland habitats. I suspect that seeds or seedlings of these plants arrived in the soil of native plant plugs. (We happened to see Willow Herb growing in abundance at a local nursery). I was also surprised that one of the species we’ve attempted to reintroduce over the years – Marram Grass – seems to have died out completely.  It almost certainly grew here centuries ago when lakefront dunes made up portions of the museum grounds, but now its failure here is a good example of the challenges posed by “restoring” nature in heavily modified environment.  

    Marram Grass, Courtesy of UIC

    Historical Perspective

    It is impossible to know the exact species list that would have emerged if I had compiled it a few centuries ago. Historically, this land was sand dune, marsh, oak savanna and probably some prairie. The lakefront was originally much closer to the museum. The topography, hydrology, and soil here have been drastically altered over the last couple centuries, making it difficult to recreate the conditions required by some of the presumed original species. Despite this, both the museum and the North Pond Nature Sanctuary have successfully reintroduced a good number of plants that once would likely have grown here. Have any of these original species survived on the property on their own throughout all of these changes? The answer, sadly, is probably not. However, some native plants were likely in the general area the whole time and would have been able to easily re-colonize the museum grounds. These correlate to the 56-70 species that I’ve listed as spontaneous. Why did some species need to be replanted, while others came back uninvited?    

    Weediness

    You may know that some plant species are extremely sensitive to specific conditions (like Leadplant), while others will grow almost anywhere (Hairy Aster). There is a general spectrum between these two extremes. The species we intentionally replanted tend towards the more conservative, “specialist” side, while those that found their own way here are on the other, “weedier” side. Another way to describe this equation ecologically is that climax species are on one end, and pioneer species are on the other. Pioneer species do well in disturbed areas where bare soil is exposed. This situation always existed in nature but is far more common today, as a result of human land use patterns. As a result, the seeds of these species are practically everywhere. But unlike these weedier species, when more conservative, climax species have been absent for a long while, their seeds are no longer in the soil (or in nearby areas), and thus they generally will not return on their own. 

    Change

    This list might be considered a “snapshot” of what was here in 2014. While I was positively surprised by the ratio of native to non-native species growing here, it should be noted that the species list doesn’t reflect how many individual plants of each species are present, which is what we hope to alter most as the years go by. The quantity of individual, reintroduced native plants will hopefully increase with time. The number of weedy native and non-natives will probably also change, as we extirpate some, and new ones arrive. Now that we have a list, we will be able to compare it to lists of future years, hopefully showing progress as we strive towards recreating lost native habitats.

    Want to check out the list for yourself? You can view and download a PDF of it by clicking here.

    Nate Fremont
    Assistant Horticulturist

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    The Chicago Conservation Corps Club Summit

    Tags: chicago conservation club, C3, conservation, c3 summit

    Published On 12/19/2014

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    Last month, the Nature Museum hosted 24 Conservation Clubs from all over Chicago for the C3 Club Summit. The Chicago Conservation Corps (C3) clubs are organized by teachers who have gone through C3 Club training here at the museum and are now organizing afterschool programs on environmental conservation issues in their schools with support from C3! 

    At the Club Summit, the clubs got to meet, share, explore, and get pumped up about their club’s Green Vision for the year!

    During the Summit, Clubs shared their Green Vision for the school year:

    Students brainstormed action items for the environmental issue they wanted to undertake this year in their classroom, school, or community. They made posters and recorded a short video that detailed their goal, audience, and steps to complete achieve their Green Vision!


    Bronzeville students share their Green Vision through posters and a video component.


    Students from Hendricks brainstorm and plan together.

    Clubs also made PLARN (plastic yarn)-for local initiative “New Life for Old Bags”:

    Students repurposed plastic grocery bags by cutting them into strips and looping them together to create PLARN. The PLARN is later crocheted into sleeping mats for the homeless—an initiative started by “New Life for Old Bags”.


    A completed sleeping mat made from Plarn!


    Students cutting and tying plastic yarn.

    Clubs attended a "Maker Party":

    A number of partner organizations engaged Clubs in production-centered activities focused on sustainability, environmental conservation and youth voice, providing Clubs with inspiration and tools for their own sustainability projects, events, and awareness-raising campaigns in their schools and broader community. The Anti-Cruelty Society’s “PUPcycle & rePURRpose” station had students make upcycled pet toys out of reclaimed cardboard, old t-shirts, and corks. The National Veterans Art Museum showed students how to make animated GIFs. Free Spirit Media & Mikva Challenge provided a model for an awareness-raising social media campaign with their #IDreamAnEarth station.  Other partners who facilitated stations at the Maker Party included The Art Institute of Chicago, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Friends of the Forest Preserves, The Sweet Water Foundation, Scientists For Tomorrow, and CodeCreate.


    National Veterans Art Museum


    The Anti-Cruelty Society

    Clubs made connections with critters:

    Students interacted with the museum’s living collection which includes several Eastern Box Turtles and Corn Snakes!


    Students ask about Illinois native turtle habitats.

    Clubs discovered Citizen Science programs:

    Students honed their squirrel identification skills by observing real specimens of fox and gray squirrels. They were very excited to download the Project Squirrel app to contribute their data! 


    Students observe the variation between the Grey and Fox squirrels.

    In all, 375 Conservation Club Members got to take part in these events, and enjoy exclusive access to the Nature Museum's exhibits.

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    Who is Matthew Laflin?

    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, founders, matthew laflin, laflin building

    Published On 12/16/2014

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    Before the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building was built, the Chicago Academy of Sciences made its home in the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building.

    It was on this day 201 years ago that Matthew Laflin was born. Though he was born on the East Coast, he will always be recognized as a Chicago pioneer. His father was in the gunpowder business and Laflin followed in his footsteps. In fact, it was gunpowder that first brought him to Chicago. When construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal began in 1837, Laflin came west, eager to supply the Canal’s construction company with gunpowder. It was his first visit to the young city, but he recognized the potential it had. In the following two years, he established a western presence for the Saugerties Powder Works and took charge of all its western sales, establishing plants in and around the Chicago area.

    After selling his stock and severing ties with the gunpowder industry, Laflin turned his attention to real estate. He began purchasing land in and around the city. With the $900 he made by selling his gunpowder stock, he purchased nine acres of land, later selling it for $4,000. While he purchased land for hundreds of dollars, and sold it for thousands, he lived to see it worth millions.

    In addition to being a real estate tycoon, he helped establish the city’s first stockyards, aided in founding the Chicago Board of Trade, held a controlling interest in the city water works, and helped refinance the Elgin Watch Company.

    While he was a pioneering influence in the city as a whole, we remember him for the generosity he showed the Chicago Academy of Sciences at a time when it was in need of some major financial help. In October of 1871, the Academy was dealt a crushing blow when its building and holdings were decimated in the Great Fire. The Academy worked to regroup, finally moving into the lakefront Interstate Exposition Building in 1885 (this building was later destroyed to make way for the Art Institute of Chicago). While this gave the Academy a public face, it was only a temporary solution, so the Academy’s Board of Trustees turned its attention to rebuilding.

    In October of 1892, Laflin gave the Academy the help it was looking for. Through his son George, Laflin offered to give the Academy $75,000 towards the construction of a new museum, on the condition that an agreement could be reached for the Lincoln Park Commissioners to provide the land and $25,000 to be used for completion. An agreement was made, and the new building’s keystone was laid in October of 1893. Upon its opening on October 31, 1894, the building was dedicated to Laflin.

    Although the Academy’s collections are no longer housed in the Laflin Memorial Building, the building remains an important part of our legacy, and symbolizes an important turning point in our history.

    For more information, check out the Magazine of Western History, Volume 14.

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    Looking Back on the "Background for Tomorrow"

    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, film

    Published On 12/10/2014

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    Chicago has been a part of the film industry since it began. At the turn of the century, a few of the largest, most popular film studios called Chicago home. Unfortunately, after the West Coast was established as the center of the industry and the studio system was established in the early 1920s, many of these Windy City-based organizations moved west or went out of business. One company that didn’t, however, was the Atlas Educational Film Company. Based out of Oak Park, the company was formed in 1913 with the focus of making educational and industrial films. Many of their films were done in association with the Farm Bureau Federation, but one in particular featured many of Chicago’s museums, including The Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    Atlas Educational Film Company headquarters circa 1920

    Sponsored by the Chicago Association of Commerce, the film was called “Background for Tomorrow” and it was produced in 1942. Written by John Gould Curtis and directed by Bertram Bates, the film was sold as a feature-length talkie that focused on telling the story of the exhibits, as well as the behind the scenes activities of several notable Chicago museums. The Chicago Academy of Sciences, The Field Museum, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society, and The Museum of Science and Industry were the featured institutions, with schools, churches, parent teacher associations and similar organizations as the target audience.     

    Atlas crew shooting in CAS main exhibit hall

    Filming began at the Academy on May 1, 1942. As detailed in the Chicago Naturalist Volume 5, Number 1, the Atlas team shot exteriors of the building, a visit to the Director’s office, and several scenes in the main exhibit hall. The behind the scenes footage included a look into how habitat groups were constructed, in addition to the process of preparing celluloid leaves and installing them in an exhibit.

    By the end of the year, the Atlas team had completed filming and production, and the film was released. The Educational Screen reviewed it for its January 1943 issue, and praised it for its ability to present museums as “live educational centers teeming with activity and wielding a powerful influence on the minds and thoughts of millions that come within visual range of their intellectual treasures.” It also highlighted the film’s efforts to “show how events and developments from the remotest past to the present day furnish the experiential basis for still richer future for the human race. Those who still incline to think of museums as merely mortuaries for dead facts of the past should see this picture. It is a revelation of what museums really are and what they can mean to children and adults alike.”

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    Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest

    Tags: exhibits, rainforest, wildlife, alaska

    Published On 12/2/2014

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    This week's blog post was contributed by photographer and author Amy Gulick. Her exhibit "Salmon in the Trees" is currently on display at the Nature Museum, just outside the "Rainforest Adventure" exhibit. You can learn more about her and her work by visiting her website.

    As a nature photographer and writer, I am always on the lookout for interesting stories. One day, I read an article that talked about a remarkable connection between the salmon and forests of Southeast Alaska. It was such a bizarre concept that I knew I had to go to our nation’s largest state and tell this story. That was seven years ago, and I’m still telling this incredible story – through my book “Salmon in the Trees,” a traveling exhibit, two permanent exhibits in Alaska, a website, a YouTube video, and a Facebook page.

     

    People think the title of my book is a metaphor, but when I explain that there really are salmon in the trees I get a lot of quizzical looks. It goes something like this: salmon are born in freshwater streams and rivers, head out to the oceans to mature, and then return to their birth streams as adults to spawn the next generation. In Alaska’s Tongass National Forest there are close to 5,000 spawning streams, and every summer and fall millions of wild salmon provide a bounty of food for some of the world’s highest densities of both brown (grizzly) and black bears. The bears carry a lot of salmon away from the streams and into the forest. Over time, the nutrients from the bodies of the salmon decompose and the trees absorb them through their roots. Scientists have actually been able to trace a marine nitrogen – Nitrogen 15 – in trees near salmon streams that links directly back to the fish. It’s an unexpected and yet perfectly natural connection.

    Once you understand this remarkable connection, you quickly see how everything is connected in the Tongass – the salmon, trees, bears, eagles, sea lions, killer whales, and people. It’s a glorious cycle of life that is still intact, and I want people to know how special it is. 

    Amy Gulick
    Photographer and Author
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