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  • The Challenge of Swamp Metalmarks

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    Tags: conservation, butterfly, Biology

    Created: 12/27/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Of all the species that we work with in the butterfly conservation lab, by far the most challenging has been the species that is also the most seriously endangered, the Swamp Metalmark. This species has proven difficult at virtually every stage of the captive breeding process. The populations where we can obtain founder stock are small. The few females that we are able to collect don’t lay many eggs. We feel very lucky to get more than 90 or so out of a single female. Contrasts that to Regal Fritillary females that can each produce upwards of 800 eggs. Hatching, larval growth and survival to pupation are all modest at best. In northern Illinois, the species has but a single generation per year, which means that we are confronted with the challenge of successfully carrying caterpillars over the winter, a process that has proven difficult for many species. Despite these odds, we continue attempting to breed the species in the lab so that we can return the species to the fens of northeastern Illinois where it formerly flew.

    • Swamp Metalmark Chrysalis

      Swamp Metalmark Chrysalis

    • Swamp Metalmark Caterpillars

      Swamp Metalmark Caterpillars

    • Swamp Metalmark adult butterfly

      Swamp Metalmark adult butterfly

    This past August we were able to obtain 4 females from southern Indiana. True to form one of the females died after laying only a single egg. All told, we were were able to harvest about 80 metalmark eggs. Only 63 hatched. We began feeding them leaves of swamp thistle, their preferred host plant The goal is to have adult butterflies next spring that we can release onto a fen in northwest Cook County.

    Throughout September and early October we experienced the kind of gradual attrition that is typical of our experience with the species. We were faced with a dilemma: should we try moving the larvae to cages where they would spend the winter outdoors? We have never succeeded with this approach. Or should we raise them through to adulthood and try to get an additional generation with perhaps greater numbers. We have only once before succeeded in rearing the species to adulthood, but did not get any offspring. Despite the uncertainty, the latter course of action seemed less perilous, so we retained the caterpillars in the lab and continued to offer them food.

    By mid October we were down to 21 caterpillars. There the numbers stabilized as the caterpillars continued to eat and grow. With few additional losses, we obtained 19 pupae. At the time of this writing we have about 10 adults, four of which are females. We have paired them in small cages where we hope that mating will occur. After a few days we will move the females into egg laying cages and hope for the best.

    Mating Cages

    Mating Cages


    Although this species is proving difficult to work with, I believe that it is well worth the effort. Swamp metalmarks were once part of the great species diversity that was found in the fens of Illinois. It my firm hope that they will one day fly there again.

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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  • Butterfly Lab on Christmas Morning

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    Tags: butterfly, volunteer

    Created: 12/24/2012      Updated: 5/28/2015

    There are a handful of reasons why I love volunteering on Christmas morning:

    • My partner and I get to spend some time together away from the usual Christmas chaos,
    • Volunteering when the museum is closed feels like a super-secret-behind-the-scenes-tour, and
    • Butterflies are awesome.

    When I was a kid I loved the excitement of sitting around the tree on Christmas morning and opening presents. As an adult it’s been hard to replicate that kind of excitement. Last year, my partner and I decided to volunteer in the Butterfly Lab on Christmas morning… and it was AMAZING.

    When we walked into the lab, there was a moment of wonder and excitement as we took a peek into the case to see who had emerged overnight. The flurry of color was just so beautiful. The butterflies looked like little presents that had been opened just for us!

    Although I enjoy volunteering in the lab throughout the year, there’s something special about doing it on Christmas morning. I love turning on some Christmas carols, rolling up my sleeves, and getting to work. It’s a great new holiday tradition, and I can't wait for my shift this year!

    Jen Walsh
    Butterfly Lab Volunteer

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  • Why Should the Summer Solstice Soak Up the Entire Spotlight?

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    Tags: winter solstice, public programs, green gifting, hot cider

    Created: 12/21/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Cannon the bison with holiday wreath

    The focus of the Winter Solstice is often that it is the shortest day of the year, the day with the most darkness and least sunlight. I, however, prefer to think of it as an essential day to be celebrated. Without the tilting of the earth’s axis, we would not have the four distinct seasons that give us so much joy here in Chicago.

    For thousands of years, the Winter Solstice and nature’s harvest have been celebrated by cultures all over the world.  The day signifies nature’s rhythm; it’s a time of growth and renewal as the days begin to lengthen and plants and animals begins its push through winter to ensure a bountiful spring.

    During the peak of the holiday season – when people tend to feel stressed with last-minute details – the Winter Solstice is a reminder to pause, rejuvenate and reconnect with nature.

    And where better to do that than right here at the Nature Museum, the urban gateway to nature and science.

    In recognition of the Winter Solstice today, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is celebrating its significance to nature with two days of activities. We invite everyone to join in on the fun.

    • Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Hot cider, Make Your Own Bird Feeder, Critter Connections.
    • Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Green gifting and hot cider.

    Happy Winter Solstice, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

    Naturally,

    Deb Lahey

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  • Reducing your Holiday Impact

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    Tags: public programs, PIP, recycle, upcycle

    Created: 12/20/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    As the holidays near, it’s even more important to consider the impact that our choices have on the environment. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, an additional 1 million tons of waste is generated per week in the U.S. This waste includes things like shopping bags, ribbon, wrapping paper, and over 2 billion holiday cards[1]

    So what can the average person do to reduce their own holiday impact? The good news is that there are many ways to make a difference.

    • Don’t forget your reusable shopping bags! Keep disposables out of the landfill by bringing a cloth bag, or reusing those grocery bags you have stashed under the cabinet.
    • Use newsprint to wrap gifts. Try the funny papers- it’s a unique and often unexpected way to package gifts that will help yours stand out.
    • Make your own holiday cards by “up cycling”! Save cards you receive throughout the year- cut them, tear them, and paste the pieces together to create new, one-of-a-kind designs.
    • Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany any electronics, and consider including a battery charger as part of the gift.
    • Consider durability and recyclability of gifts before you purchase. If it isn’t expected to last for years, can it be recycled?[2]

    Challenge your family to try one (or more) of these tips this holiday season and see what a difference it makes. Children can participate by keeping track of how many bags, rolls of wrapping paper & holiday cards you’ve saved from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

    Have green gifting tips of your own? Please share in the comments.

    • Visitor crafting
    • Mosaic craft
    • Cutting out butterflies

    Want to learn more? Visit the Nature Museum throughout the holiday season for hands-on fun!

    Green Gifting

    Saturday, December 22 and Sunday, December 23
    11am to 1pm

    Join us in preparing for the holiday season by creating your own gifts for all of your friends and family at our "green gifting" craft workshop. All crafts will be environmentally friendly and nature oriented. Perfect for anyone on your list! Cost: $3/project, $5/two projects.

    Trash to Treasure
    Wednesday, December 26 through Saturday, December 29, 11am-2pm

    Bring your holiday trash (wrapping paper, boxes, cards, ribbon) to the Nature Museum to create Trash to Treasure thank you cards and create musical instruments to ring in New Year’s Day. Move, sing, and play with Lily Emerson, the Nature Museum’s Artist in Residence, in this special family workshop celebrating the sounds of the season. Cost: Free

    Heather Grance
    Manager of Public Interpretive Programs



    [1] California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/PublicEd/Holidays/

    [2] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/osw/wycd/funfacts/winter.htm

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  • What Do You Do On Your Day Off?

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    Tags: PIP, volunteer, volunteering

    Created: 12/18/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    It’s Sunday afternoon and I have helped a group of second graders spot the queen of our leaf-cutter ant colony, held two fox snakes, acted as a perch for a bunch of newly hatched butterflies not quite ready to fly, and fed no less than three box turtles. What do you do on your day off? I am a Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer, or just PIPster for short.

    I'm also a biology student working my way through school and busier than one of our rooftop honeybees. With work, school, and taking care of my canary, Ladybird, my week can be a little hectic. Yet, I have made it a priority to volunteer for the Nature Museum every Sunday.

    Stephanie Maxwell with butterfly

    I began volunteering here last spring after meeting a few past volunteers who couldn’t say enough good things about the Museum. As a newer student to biology, I had been searching for a way to get more experience to compliment my interest in local wildlife -- something more than a laboratory internship or research assistantship. Boy, did I hit the jackpot.

    Working as a PIP volunteer truly compliments the material I am learning in the classroom, but provides more of a hands-on perspective. Instead of reading about the territorial nature of red-winged blackbirds during the breeding season, I get to witness firsthand what happens when my coworkers venture too close to a nest while exploring the prairie (think Alfred Hitchcock).

    Working for the Museum has also solidified my desire to pursue a career in the wildlife rehabilitation field. Beginning my studies as a biologist, the most important thing that fueled me was my desire to affect this planet in a positive way through some kind of conservation effort; I just wasn’t sure how I could make that a reality. Saving all of the Bengal tigers in Nepal is a bit daunting for a 20 year old in Illinois to contemplate, you know?

    When I began talking to my fellow volunteers and really dove into what the Nature Museum is about -- preserving and protecting native Illinois wildlife while giving the public an opportunity for an authentic connection to nature -- that is when I found that concentrating on a local level is much more approachable to someone like me, and probably you as well.

    That is why I volunteer for the Nature Museum every Sunday. I get to introduce people to an amphibian they never even knew existed, let alone knew was in their backyard. I get to see the absolute wonder mixed with terror on a kindergartener’s face as they feel the scales on a snake for the first time. Volunteering as a PIPster is an amazing opportunity I wouldn’t have had in any other city, because there is no city that has a nature museum quite like ours here in Chicago.

    If you come across a volunteer in a green shirt the next time you’re visiting the museum, don’t hesitate to ask us questions! We’ll be sure to have an answer. I’ll see you on Sunday!

    Stephanie Maxwell
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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  • Nature in Your Backyard

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    Tags: nature, education, science on the go, chicago

    Created: 12/6/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    A couple of years ago, I taught a lesson about Midwest ecosystems in a fourth grade classroom on the far south side. Two weeks later, I returned to the same classroom, but before I could make it through the door, several students began excitedly shouting, “We saw a wetland! We saw a wetland!  It’s right behind the school!”  (And I’m not talking about moderate excitement; they were “I just won a million dollars” excited!)  They couldn’t believe that the wetlands they had learned about in the classroom – cattails, ducks, and all – could be found right here in their neighborhood. Just behind their school, stuck in between the busy city streets, here’s what they had found:

    Ducks in the pond

    Over the past several years, we’ve ramped up our efforts to connect students to the nature in their neighborhoods. Last month, as part of these efforts, I traveled around Chicago to photograph wetlands in different areas of the city. We know that many teachers aren’t able to take their students to visit wetlands, so we wanted a chance to bring those wetlands – the ones right in their neighborhoods - into the classrooms. 

    Can kids who live near McKinley Park learn to appreciate that their local wetland supports living things that aren’t found on most city blocks?

    Ducks in a wetland setting

    Can students in Lincoln Park get excited about turtles sunning themselves near their school?

    Turtles in North Pond

    Can school kids on the northwest side learn about bird migration by studying a Green Heron in Humboldt Park?

    Green Heron

    We think we have the answers to these questions: YES! ABSOLUTELY! OF COURSE!  But let’s not forget that these connections to nature are always there, waiting for people to experience them, and not just in schools. Get out there and find out what’s going on with the nature in your neighborhood, and when you find something cool (which you certainly will!), we want to hear about it!

    Kristi Backe
    Curriculum Coordinator

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