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  • January Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS

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

    Created: 12/29/2014      Updated: 8/24/2015

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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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  • The Chicago Conservation Corps Club Summit

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

    Created: 12/15/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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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!

    C3 Student Club Projects

    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!

    Students presenting their Green Vision
    Bronzeville students share their Green Vision through posters and a video component.
     
    Hendricks students brainstorming
    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”.

    Plarn sleeping mat
    A completed sleeping mat made from Plarn!
     
    Students helping to make plarn sleeping mats
    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.

    Students meeting with the National Veterans Art Museum
    National Veterans Art Museum
     
    Students meeting with The Anti-Cruelty Society
    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.
    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.
    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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  • Native vs Non-Native: Cataloging Plant Species on the Nature Museum Grounds

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    Tags: plants, plant names, native plants

    Created: 12/10/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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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

    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

    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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  • Looking Back on the "Background for Tomorrow"

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, film

    Created: 12/4/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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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

    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

    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

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    Tags: exhibits, rainforest, wildlife, alaska

    Created: 12/1/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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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.

    Man in Alaskan forest Dead salmon

    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

    Amy Gulick
    Photographer and Author

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  • Who is Matthew Laflin?

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

    Created: 11/24/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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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.

    Matthew Laflin portrait

    211 years ago, on December 16, 1803,  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.

    Matthew Laflin portrait

    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.

    Matthew Laflin Memorial Building

    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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  • December Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS

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    Tags: chicago herpetological society, herps, junior herp society, turtles, frogs, snakes, herps

    Created: 11/24/2014      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 sets up tables in the Nature Walk for some reptile fun with the public and the Junior Herp Society holds their monthly meetings!

    Junior Herp Society logo

    Join us for the herp enclosure workshop!

    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.

    We had lots of fun at the November meeting. Patrick Carroll joined us with many of his awesome lizards for a discussion in Colleen’s Critter Corner, and Yvette Mendez joined us for a discussion of reptile reproduction.

    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, December 7th. We will have a herp enclosure workshop, discussing different enclosures, substrates, heating methods, lighting and keeping them clean. This will be a fun and informative meeting!

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

    Chicago Herpetological Society logo

    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, box 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.

    Child holding box turtle

    You can learn more about CHS adoptions here.

    If you like anacondas, jaguars and hyacinth macaws, come see Dr. Steve Barten’s talk on the Wildlife of the Pantanal, Brazil, at the November 26 CHS general meeting. He promises a ton of animal photos. The Pantanal of central-western Brazil is the world's largest wetland ecosystem, covering an area 15 times the size of the Everglades (it's also bigger than 29 of the states in the U.S.). It has the densest population of crocodilians--Yacare Caimans--found anywhere in the world, and is a great place to find yellow anacondas. It also is one of the best places in the world to see wild jaguars, giant river otters, giant anteaters, tapirs, howler and capuchin monkeys, coatis, and capybaras, as well as the critically endangered hyacinth macaw and over 650 other species of birds. Steve Barten toured the Pantanal by bus, truck, boat, and foot, which allowed him close approach and photography of the wildlife. The highlight was witnessing a jaguar catch a 6-foot caiman.

    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. That meeting has been changed to Tuesday, Dec. 30th. 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

    CHS, CJHS

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  • Meet the "Rainforest Adventure" Critters

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    Tags: rainforest, animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, rainforest adventure

    Created: 11/17/2014      Updated: 8/24/2015


    One of the most exciting parts of our newest exhibit Rainforest Adventure, is the added element of having live animals as an intricate part of the experience. Just what are these animals? Read on to find out! 

    Blue-Throated Macaw

    blue-throated macaw

    Upon entering Rainforest Adventure, the first beautiful bird you’ll encounter is Iggy, our Blue-Throated Macaw. This species of macaw is critically endangered. Population estimates vary, but it’s believed that there are between 50 to 400 individuals living in the wild. Blue-Throated Macaws are also far more threatened than their Blue and Yellow Macaw cousins. While the two look very similar, Blue and Yellow Macaws actually have green feathers on the crown of their heads (instead of blue) and black feathers on their throats (instead of blue). Though their habitats are threatened, they’re typically found in Northern Bolivia and can live 30 to 35 years in captivity.

    Macaw kindly loaned by Jason J. Crean, American Federation of Aviculture.

    Violaceous Turaco

    violaceous turaco

    Also known as the Violet Turaco or the Violet Plantain-Eater, Violaceous Turacos are typically found in West Africa. Their feathers are a distinctive, glossy violet color, which appears in stark contrast in addition to their red, white and yellow heads and bright orange bills. If you visit Rainforest Adventure, you’ll probably notice that our Turaco is quite active and has a distinctive call.

    Turaco kindly loaned by Jason J. Crean, American Federation of Aviculture.

    Spectacled Caiman

    spectacled caiman

    These small to mid-size crocodilians are typically found in Central and South America, and is actually the most common crocodilian due, in part, to its ability to tolerate both fresh and salt water. Their name comes from the bony ridge that is present between their eyes and gives the appearances of glasses. Our Caiman isn't alone, though. Stop by and you'll probably see the Caiman and an African Mud Turtle soaking side by side.

    Caiman kindly loaned by the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest.

    Powder Blue Poison Dart Frogs

    poison dart frog

    Poison Dart Frogs, in general, typically measure from half-an-inch to two-and-a-half inches in length. Although their skin produces toxins that can be dangerous when ingested, they don’t synthesize the poison themselves. Instead, they obtain it from what they eat, like ants and centipedes, meaning that the frogs that are raised in captivity don't have these toxins present in their systems. Powder Blue Poison Dart Frogs tend to be larger than most other species of Poison Dart Frogs. Typically, their bodies are primarily black, with an irregular pattern of yellow or white stripes running along their back, flanks, chest, head, and belly. Their legs range from pale blue, sky blue or blue-gray to royal blue, cobalt blue, navy blue, or royal purple and are typically spotted with small black dots. 

    Frogs kindly loaned by Tundra Exotics and the Chicago Herpetological Society.

    Green Tree Python

    green tree python

    Green Tree Pythons are typically found in Southeast Asia and Australia. They are often seen in a position known as saddling, as our beautiful python illustrates in the photo above. In saddling, the snake coils its body and lays it over the branch in a saddle position, with tits head placed in the middle. Although it’s visually similar, it shouldn’t be confused with the Emerald Tree Boa which is typically found in South America. They are actually only very distantly related.

    Python kindly loaned by the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest. 

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  • Cataloging the Zoology of Illinois with Robert Kennicott

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    Tags: founders, Chicago Academy of Sciences, robert kennicott, kennicott

    Created: 11/7/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

    One hundred seventy-nine years ago today, one of the most important figures in the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum was born -- Robert Kennicott. His work lives on through the Nature Museum, but did you know that even before the birth of the Academy, his work helped naturalists and biologists better understand the zoology of Illinois as a whole?  

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott


    Robert was born to Dr. John and Mary Kennicott in New Orleans on November 13, 1835. The family moved to Illinois while Robert was still an infant, and settled in an area that would later become Glenview. Dr. Kennicott dubbed their home "The Grove," landscaping the property with walks, shrubbery and flowers. His father's love of horticulture and the outdoors undoubtedly had a profound impact on Robert. So much so that in the winter of 1852, Robert traveled to Cleveland to study under Dr. J.P. Kirtland, a naturalist and co-founder of what would become the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 


    Label for a specimen collected by Robert Kennicott
    Specimen collected by Robert Kennicott in 1855 in Union Co., Illinois

    In 1853, Robert returned home and began building and categorizing his collections, including fishes and reptiles native to northern Illinois. In the summer of 1855, at the age of 19, the opportunity arose to catalog the wildlife of Illinois on an even larger scale. The Illinois Central Railroad had just completed a track that ran from Chicago south to Cairo. In order to help publicize the wealth of the plant and animal life that ran along this new route, Illinois Central approached the State Agricultural Society in hopes of creating a preliminary survey of the state's natural resources. Participants in the study would be able to collect along the route, disembarking and embarking on any train they wanted. The Agricultural Society would just have to train the would-be researchers in the ways of natural history collecting. Robert's father, John, was the Society's secretary and recommended Robert for the job.

    He left for Southern Illinois on May 30, 1855 and worked on the project, hopping from train to train, for three months. Robert had hoped to make a compete catalog of the state's zoology, and viewed this assignment as just first step towards that goal. Kennicott's efforts did have a lasting impact. In late 1855, the Illinois State Agricultural Society published his findings as the first "Catalogue of Animals Observed in Cook County, Illinois" (even though the animals had primarily been observed in the southern part of the state). You can find his original study, and read it, here.

    Sources:

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  • "Rainforest Adventure" Brings the Rainforest to the Windy City

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    Tags: rainforest adventure, Nature's Struggle, gorilla, macaw, caiman, tropical, birds, conservation

    Created: 11/7/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

    The average Chicagoan doesn't get the chance to experience the rainforest, but thanks to our new exhibit, Rainforest Adventure, families will get the chance to do just that. This temporary exhibit introduces visitors to rainforests around the world, highlights the challenges they face, and suggests ways that people can help positively impact these threatened habitats.

    Rainforest Adventure's kapok tree
    Kids will love the fact that they can explore a gorilla nest, climb a 9-foot kapok tree, play the role of a conservationist research assistant, and explore through a variety of different interactive exhibit features. In addition to these interactive features, though, the Nature Museum has brought a personal touch to the exhibit with the help of some live animals and specimens from our collection.
    Spectacled Caiman
    Six types of live animals can be found in the exhibit's main hut, including a Blue-throated Macaw named Iggy, a Violaceous Turaco, Powder Blue Poison Dart Frogs, a Green Tree Python, a Spectacled Caiman, and an African Mud Turtle. In addition to the live animals, preserved specimens of a Peach-faced Lovebird, Salmon-Crested Cockatoo, and a variety of colorful beetles are also on display. 
    Iggy and the other rainforest critters are the stars of the exhibit, particularly when the Museum biologists interact with them in their enclosures and teach visitors about their way of life.
    Visitors looking at Chicago Academy of Sciences bird specimens on display
    The Rainforest Adventure exhibit isn't the only tropical environment in the Museum, though. You can visit the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven just down the hall to get a closer look at 75 species of insect life and birds in a tropical region. 

    Although Chicago and the closest rainforest are thousands of miles away, we're actually connected to them in a variety of ways. The purchasing habits of people in North America are one of the chief drivers of rainforest destruction. These purchasing habits are often directly related to unsustainable agricultural, ranching, mining, and logging practices in these delicate ecosystems. Unfortunately, these practices and habits have resulted in a drastic reduction of rainforest animals. It's estimated that the number of animals in a rainforest has decreased by about 40% because of these practices alone.

    So, what steps you and your family can take to help conserve and protect the rainforest? Get some inspiration from Nature's Struggle featured conservationist Madison Vorva here, and be sure to visit the Rainforest Adventure exhibit in person.

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  • What You Need to Know About Feeding Wildlife in Your Backyard

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    Tags: feedings, animals, wildlife, birds, squirrels

    Created: 10/31/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    I have recently received many questions about feeding animals so I thought a general discussion about backyard feeding of animals like birds and squirrels would be useful. Feeding animals can be fun and it provides an opportunity to watch the animals closely. On the other hand, feeding can concentrate diseases dangerous to the animals and sometimes to you, and can attract pests and predators.  

    Birds on birdfeeder

    To deal with the disease problem keep your feeders, baths, and the area you feed in clean and sunny. Also keep an eye on frequently used perches and loafing areas. Remove food debris daily, hose down everything with water, use soap when appropriate (I like Dawn best—skip anti-bacterial varieties) and use a mild bleach solution to regularly clean bird baths, feeders and other appliances. Rinse and dry well. UV light is your friend -- it kills most disease causing organisms pretty quickly but it doesn’t penetrate shade or underneath objects. 

    You might also consider moving your feeding site around. It’s difficult to remove every last bit of chaff, crumbs, and poop, but ants, earthworm, millipedes and many other garden organisms will do the final cleanup for you. While these invertebrates are beneficial components of our neighborhoods, rats and mice are pests that will also move in to clean up debris from your feeding stations. The reason rats and mice are a problem is because they can cause substantial economic damage through their gnawing and foraging activities. More importantly, they can carry diseases that can be readily contracted by humans. Many municipalities have banned bird feeders simply because they quickly become rodent feeders and thus a public health concern. By keeping a scrupulously clean feeding station, you greatly minimize the chance of making your yard a vector of human or wildlife disease.

    Squirrel eating

    Although you may have certain species in mind when you put out a feeder, many species will be influenced by the additional food you have introduced to the environment. To maximize the chances of seeing your target species, make sure you are providing the most appropriate food. If you want to see goldfinch, you must supply thistle seeds. If you supply hazelnuts you might see squirrels and woodpeckers, but sparrows will ignore you. Cracked corn is, in general, just a filler that does little to attract the species most people want to see. If it is present in your seed mix, there’s a good chance it will be tossed out of the feeder in favor of more palatable food like millet only to later attract rodents. Regardless of what you put out though, you will also attract non-target species. Sugary hummingbird feeders will also give you a chance to watch a variety of bee species. Seed feeders will often bring squirrels to your yard, but the songbirds they attract will also bring raptors. These birds of prey can’t feed their young on seeds, they must have meat. Don’t feel badly if you find feathers and other sign of a predation even hear your feeder. This is simply an indication that nature is at work in your neighborhood maintaining the strength of your avian friends and increasing biodiversity.

    If you want to minimize predation you can feed infrequently or move your feeder around regularly. While this will keep the predators guessing, it will also keep your target species guessing so you might not see the large and regular concentrations of birds that you would with a more regular feeding time and place. Of course, if you are unlucky enough to live in a place where cats roam at will, nothing you do will be enough to prevent predation and you will have less diversity at your feeders.

    Finally, when choosing a place to put your feeder, make sure you don’t become the predator — via your house. Windows can kill a lot of birds. During the day, birds usually hit windows because of a mirror effect where the window looks like open sky or a sheltering bush. At night, lights lure birds too close. There are many online resources to help you determine how to prevent your house from becoming a deathtrap. Making the windows visible is important. It’s hard to avoid putting feeders in places where there is some danger from windows though, since a primary reason for feeding animals is to see them better. So, in general, feeders should be sited close to the windows. This not only improves viewing but it also limits the danger of windows for birds because, if they are frightened when at the feeder and take off in the direction of the window, they aren’t flying very fast when they hit it. If the feeder is further, the bird gathers enough speed to cause a concussion when it hits.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • 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.​

    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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  • Rodent “Pests” and How to Deal With Them

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    Tags: rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, pests, pest removal

    Created: 10/15/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    First, let’s get one thing straight. Pests are only pests because they’re doing something that interferes with something you want to do. Western ranchers view wolves and bison as pests; pelicans and cormorants are pests to some fishermen while snakes and otter are pests to others; a bobcat is beautiful to most people but can be a pest to a chicken farmer.

    Squirrel in trash can

    That said, rodents can significantly interfere with some of our goals related to our gardens, homes, and health. The range of solutions to the problem is more or less the same regardless of whether we’re dealing with a mouse, vole, chipmunk, tree squirrel, or even a lot of non-rodents.

    Poison

    I don’t like to use poison in most cases. First of all, any poison that can kill one kind of mammal, can kill any other kind of mammal; this includes you, your neighbors, and many pets. Such poisons usually also kill birds, reptiles, and fish. 

    Block of rodent poison

    To reduce the likelihood that “non-target” species will ingest the poison, it is mixed with wax, grain, and flavoring to form a little block that is then put into a plastic box that the rodent has to crawl into to access the poison. However, if the poison killed quickly, the rodent population would eventually figure out that they shouldn’t eat it. Instead, many of these poisons work by making the gastrointestinal tract leaky. Essentially, over time, whatever ate the poison will bleed to death internally.

    Poisoning is a slow death. Worse, the animal may die in a place where a dog or cat, hawk or owl, or some other animal may eat it, then die of secondary poisoning. Assuming the poisoned pest is not eaten, it may die inside your wall or crawl space, often making quite a stink. The stink is relatively short term though and when it goes away you may think all your troubles are over. However, you now have a mummified body in your wall which will attract a wide range of insects, notably the Dermestid.

    Dermestids are a kind of beetle which, as larvae, feed on dead, dry flesh. They will also feed on leather, fur, wool, and many other fibers and textiles. They can very quickly build up large populations even on something as small as a mouse carcass. Eventually they spread through the house and will happily eat that nice jacket you stored away during the summer, or your carpets, even the feathers in your pillow. Having eliminated a single rodent pest by poison, you now have hundreds or thousands of insect pests to deal with.

    Sometimes though, poison is the only solution. It can be used very effectively when deployed and monitored by trained and dedicated people. But, in a household situation, poison is rarely a good solution and often causes more problems than it solves. Instead, try one of these alternatives:

    Trapping

    For a problem that is acute – that is you have a pest currently causing damage – a trap can solve the problem quickly. Snap traps, box traps (like the Tomohawk or Havahart for large animals, or the Sherman for small ones), repeating traps, and sticky traps are all options, but some a better than others.

    Rodent snap trap

    I like snap traps. When baited correctly in a household situation, they rarely capture non-target species. They usually kill cleanly and humanely without any training on the part of the operator. They don’t need to be monitored because either they caught something and killed it or they didn’t catch anything. If you’re afraid of catching your fingers while setting traditional snap-traps, shop around for plastic ones that can be set by simply stepping on a treadle.

    Box traps and repeating traps are very useful but have two problems for the homeowner. They need to be monitored daily to ensure trapped individuals don’t suffer for lack of food and water. Monitoring has the added problem of disturbing the site and reducing trap success. The worst problem though, is that once you catch something, it has to be killed. Most homeowners simply don’t have the skills to humanely and cleanly kill rodents.

    The challenges of monitoring and euthanasia are compounded with sticky traps. From the moment the animal enters the trap, it begins suffering. These traps capture a wide range of non-target species, including reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Vegetable oil can be used to free an animal from the goo but a residue will remain that can impede movement and grooming, and the stress of handling is often enough to kill the animals a short time later. There are small sticky traps with a very thin coating of goo that are designed to aid in insect monitoring. I use these regularly but I don’t see any good reason to use the sticky traps designed to catch rodents.

    In household situations, I advocate strongly for snap traps. Regardless of situation or trap though, trap placement will strongly influence trapping success.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Fall Plant Factoids

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    Tags: fall, autumn, fall plants, autumn plants, fall facts

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

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    (Do you need an introductory paragraph? No. No you do not. So I’m not writing one. If you’re unsure about what subject matter you will encounter in the following paragraphs, please reread the title. Thank you for your understanding. This really saves me a ton of work.)

    Foliar Flagging

    Sumac exhibiting foliar flagging
    Sumac exhibiting foliar flagging

    You remember how you were taught in school that chlorophyll masks the other pigments present in leaves, and that when chlorophyll production stops in the fall, these pigments become visible? Of course you do, because you loved science, which makes you wholly superior to those mouth-breathers who’ve forgotten all about leaf pigmentation. But did you ever stop to wonder what those other pigments are doing in the leaves in the first place? Well, it turns out they might be doing lots of things. Like murder. Or something more benign, but equally fascinating, like foliar flagging.

    Let’s say you’re a sumac tree. You want birds to eat your berries, because they will then fly away, pooping out your progeny hither and yon like tiny, gross little Johnny Appleseeds. So you make your berries bright red and obvious to hungry birds. But birds are kind of dumb, so why stop with the berries? Why not turn your leaves a similar color, so even the most dim-witted and unobservant avian can’t help but notice you and your pretty berries, free for the munching? Turns out a number of trees and shrubs use this strategy – certain dogwoods and Virginia creeper to name a couple. 

    Conifers That Didn’t Get the Memo

    Dawn Redwood
    Dawn Redwood

    Ever have one of those dreams where you show up to school naked and everyone else is fully clothed? And then your substitute teacher shows up, except it’s Henry Kissinger in a clown costume, and he announces that he’s your real father? No? Just the first part, you say… Huh… Anyway, if you’re a Dawn Redwood, a Larch, a Tamarack, a Bald Cypress, or a Chinese Swamp Cypress, (or a Ginkgo, if you wanna be inclusive) you live out that archetypal Freudian quagmire every fall. All the other conifers are standing there fully clothed in green needles, while yours are falling away, one by one, until there you are all starkers, just in time for the coldest part of the year. Why? Aren’t there good reasons why needle-leaved plants are typically evergreen? Yes, but look at the big picture. There are advantages to having needle-shaped leaves: they retain water better, they’re less attractive to insects, and they take fewer nutrients to produce than broad leaves. And there are advantages to being deciduous: it avoids problems with freezing and over-drying in winter, reduces herbivory, and prevents breakage from snow and wind. So it’s not too surprising that some trees can make the seemingly contradictory “deciduous conifer” lifestyle work for them.

    Free Stuff You Can Eat

    Yew berries
    Yew berries

    Autumn is not just about pretty colors, falling leaves, and the sudden appearance of pumpkin spice everything. The fruits of many plants also mature at this time of year, making it the perfect time for nature snacking. Those aforementioned sumac berries, for example, make a nice tea. (You’ll want to sweeten it. It’s sour from malic acid, the same stuff that’s in a sour apple.) Or try some hackberries – they’re ripe when they’re smooth and dark brown. If you value your teeth, don’t bite down hard; just chew off the outer coating.  You’ll see why they’re also called sugarberries.

    If you’re feeling really adventurous, try a yew berry, but DO NOT EAT THE SEED INSIDE!! It’s poisonous. I’m serious about this, guys. Deadly. Freakin’. Poisonous. However, the flesh of the red ‘berry’ (not really a berry, but that’s a subject for a different blog post) is sweet, non-toxic, and sort of gelatinous. To be safe, squeeze the seed out, throw it away, and lick the fruity goop off your fingers. You’ll be glad you dared yourself to try it. 

    Seth Harper, Horticulturist

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  • The Endangered Species Print Project Brings New Attention to Rare Animals

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    Tags: Endangered Species, endangered species print project, jenny kendler, molly schafer, exhibit, rare nature

    Created: 9/26/2014      Updated: 8/24/2015

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    This week's post was contributed by artist Molly Schafer. Her work, along with that of her friend Jenny Kendler and other artists, can currently be seen at the Nature Museum as part of the "Rare Nature" exhibit (open through October 19). The exhibit features limited edition prints of endangered species, with proceeds going toward conservation efforts. In this post, Schafer describes the Endangered Species Print Project's origin story.

    Jenny and I met in graduate school at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We were both making art about the natural world. We talked about wanting to make more of a contribution to conservation efforts, but we were somewhat at a loss as to how since our skill set revolved around drawing and painting.

    Rare Nature exhibit

    "Rare Nature" exhibit currently on display at the Nature Museum (Photo by Jim Schafer)

    As children we both were obsessed with these illustrations of endangered species in outer space that decorated our folders and binders. The message of these images was that endangered species were magical and rare. As kids, that made them much neater to us than “regular” animals. As artists, it made us think of how monetary value is assigned to art objects. One of a kind, rare pieces are considered more desirable. The less endangered an animal was, the less precious it seemed, at least to our nerdy younger selves.

    Seychelles Sheathtailed Bat print

    Seychelles Sheath-tailed bat (Print by artist Molly Schafer)

    This unsettling thought gave us the concept for the Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). ESPP creates art prints of endangered species with limited editions to mirror the small number of individuals remaining in the wild. For example, the Seychelles Sheath-tailed bat is critically endangered with only 37 individuals remaining, so the print-run is limited to 37 prints. Once all 37 prints are sold the edition is sold out. Proceeds from the sale of prints benefits the animal or plant represented in a print.

    We started the project in 2009 with Jenny and I creating the artwork for the prints. Today ESPP has raised almost $12,500 for conservation with 26 prints by 14 different artists. All contributing artists donate their time and finished work to bring attention to the extinction crisis.

    Visit Rare Nature at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to see the prints and learn about the amazing variety of plants and animals that are endangered like the Vaquita (the world’s smallest porpoise), the Javan rhino (who is so rare it has barely been photographed), and the Guam Micronesian Kingfisher (a bird that is currently extinct in the wild but still has a chance thanks to a breeding program right here in Chicago).

    Molly Schafer and Jenny Kendler

    Molly Schafer & Jenny Kendler (Photo by Michael Czerepak)

    Molly Schafer

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  • Exploring Antarctica with J.J. L'Heureux

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    Tags: exhibits, exhibit, antarctica, leheureux, penguin, penguins, southern ocean

    Created: 9/22/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    The following post was contributed by artist and photographer J.J. L’Heureux. L’Heureux’s prints of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are currently on display as part of the Nature Museum’s exhibition “Faces from the Southern Ocean.” In this post, she describes visiting Antarctica’s Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguin Rookery and some of the snowy challenges she and her group encountered.

    I was raised in Michigan and I am not unmindful of harsh winter conditions. The trip to the Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguin Rookery added some new twists on winter. In order to visit the rookery we had to helicopter from the ship to a landing site about two kilometers from the rookery and behind a grounded iceberg. The first day we did this the day was lightly overcast, a little windy and just a bit cold.

    Weddell Seal Pup

    Weddell Seal Pup (J.J. L’Heureux)

    Antarctica is all about snow and what 100,000 years of snow looks like in all its forms. There is an enormous amount of ice that was really snow that did not melt. Antarctica is also the driest continent on Earth and yet it has most of the fresh water of Earth locked up in the ice that can be miles thick. The ice is created by snow falls that generally do not melt. From year to year, these snow falls build up on one another and ice is created by the pressure of each new layer covering the thousands of previous snow falls. The skin on top is often crusty snow or ice particles. When a wind comes up blizzard conditions can develop almost immediately, even if there are no clouds or fresh falling snow. The wind-driven snow then acts like a Zamboni on a hockey rink. The ice that lies beneath the crusty skin becomes extremely smooth and slippery. The higher the velocity of the wind, the harder it becomes to walk on the very smooth, slippery ice. These conditions briefly describe the second and third days on the ice south of Snow Hill Island. It was challenging to walk upright; the high wind and slick surface were difficult for everyone including the penguins. In fact, most of the Emperors were tobogganing across the ice rather than walking to the open sea to fish seven or eight miles away.

    Emperor Penguin Chick

    Emperor Penguin Chick (J.J. L’Heureux)

    Drifting snow/ice crust builds up when the sun melts the surface covering and it then freezes during the night and stays frozen until the sun comes out again or there is a new snow fall. There were drifts to be negotiated on the back and forth treks across mostly barren slippery ice to the rookery. Since the crusty surface of the drifts had been wind swept away one sometimes found themselves in knee deep or waist deep drifts that would not support your weight. The smart thing then was to play follow the leader, just like the penguins, and make a path through these drifts. These paths are always blazed by a lead party that checks for crevices or other hidden dangers and they lay out a red flag marked trail. At one point I stepped one foot off the path and went into the drift such that I could not free myself. Fortunately, right behind me was Russ Russell, a mining engineer from Guernsey, who is easily 6' 6" and capable of Superman feats. He just reached out and like the cranes that bring the zodiacs aboard, lifted me effortless from my snowy prison. Keep in mind that we were working against high winds and vertical snow. The second and third days were the most difficult for me because the cloud cover contributed to colder conditions and much darker lighting.

    This provides a sense of the conditions for the three particular days of the Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguins Rookery landings, and under these conditions many wonderful and special events took place that one can only marvel at in their uniqueness.

    J.J. L’Heureux

    J.J. L’Heureux

    J.J. L’Heureux

    Read more about J.J. L’Heureux’s experiences in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica by visiting her blog. You can also learn more about her work by visiting her site, Penguinspirit. Get a glimpse into the world of the Southern Ocean by visiting the “Faces from the Southern Ocean” exhibition, now on display.

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  • How to Eat, but Not be Eaten — Foraging Strategies of Four Urban Squirrel Species

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    Tags: squirrel, squirrels, urban ecology, chipmunks, chipmunk, chicago, chicago wildlife

    Created: 9/19/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    The most common tree squirrels in our region are the grey (Sciurus carolinensis) and the fox (S. niger). Both of these species are scatter hoarders. That is, they bury nuts in random places across the landscape. In contrast, the red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a larder hoarder. This means they put all of the food they have gathered in only a few places, like a hollow log or under a rock.

    Grey Squirrel digging in the ground

    Grey squirrel caching

    These two strategies have costs and benefits. A larder hoarder can defend its cache from other squirrels, nut and seed eating birds, and many other species that might rob it of food. Even you may have been scolded by a red squirrel when you inadvertently came too close to its larder. On the other hand, there’s not much a red squirrel can do to deter a determined black bear from raiding the squirrel’s cache. Scatter hoarders don’t have to worry about bears but they do lose a lot of their nuts to competing squirrels and birds, and simply because they can’t find the food once it is buried.

    Fox Squirrel eating in a hole in a tree

    Fox squirrel eating

    These two different foraging methods also result in red squirrels having relatively large territories. You don’t often see lots of red squirrels in the same place at the same time. On the other hand, there are many places where you might see more than a dozen grey squirrels foraging together. 

    Red squirrel on a rock

    Red squirrel

    One thing that does bring lots of squirrels together is bird seed. If seed is buried it either rots or germinates. Either way, it is not very useful to squirrels so, rather than run around caching, as they do with nuts, squirrels will simply sit and eat the seed. The threat of predators and more aggressive squirrels keeps them moving around a little but they are otherwise perfectly happy to sit at the dinner table and eat.

    Chipmunks, though, have a different strategy. They have check pouches. This allows chipmunks to literally stuff their faces full of food, then run back to their burrow, dump the food, and return for more once they think the coast is clear. In this way, they can collect plenty of food to eat, while only exposing themselves to the danger of predation for relatively short amounts of time. The seeds they gather are stored in cool, dry rooms (the same way we store grain) so it stays fresh and nutritious through the winter. This foraging strategy is so successful that chipmunks have become our most common ground squirrel in urban areas.

    Have you ever wondered why you don't see baby squirrels as often as you see adult squirrels? Learn why in this post.

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  • Music to Photosynthesize by -- The Favorite Bands of Plants (as Imagined by a Sleep-Deprived Horticulturist on a Rainy Day)

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    Tags: plant names, plants, music, bands

    Created: 9/15/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    It’s raining. Again. (For those of you keeping score at home, most of Chicago is now 8-12 inches above normal rainfall for the year.) This is a good thing in that I have barely touched a hose or sprinkler all summer. But there is also a downside to these soggy mornings, as I sometimes find myself spending too much time at my desk flipping through garden supply catalogs and clicking the email refresh button. On such occasions, inspiration for a great new blog post will sometimes mercifully find me. I’d like to say that this is exactly what’s happening just now – a genius idea is percolating in my mind, and it’s all I can do to keep it contained until it essentially writes itself. But today is not one of those times. Today, I am tired. It’s chilly in this office. I had Pop Tarts for breakfast. These and other excuses are why I am subjecting you to the following bizarre and half-baked blog entry. Sorry about this.

    So, here we go: Favorite bands of various plants – a thought experiment.

    Plant: Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) | Favorite Band: The Sex Pistols

    RagweedJohnny Rotten
    (John Lydon photo via Ed Vill/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)
     

    Ugly. Crass. Generally unwelcome and proud of it. These traits apply equally well to the plant and to stars of the early punk movement. Like a young John Lydon, ragweed hates you, and it does not care if you know it.  It throws pollen in your face and laughs when you itch and sneeze. And it sneers at the class system you’ve created to separate garden flowers from weeds – a system that relegates it to life in alleyways, ditches, and vacant lots. Out on the street, it grows angry and defiant, looking for ways to cause trouble. Lydon got the name Johnny Rotten because of his poor oral hygiene. Have you ever seen ragweed shopping for toothpaste? Just sayin’.

    Plant: Midnight Horror Tree (Oroxylum indicum) | Favorite Band: Slayer

    Midnight Horror TreeSlayer
    (Slayer photo via Francis/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)
     

    Why Slayer, the most metal band of all time? Because Oroxylum indicum is the most metal tree of all time. This plant gets its name from its long seedpods, which on moonlit nights look like swords or daggers hanging from the branches. Also known as the broken bones tree, its large leaf stems tend to accumulate at the base of the trunk, looking for all the world like a pile of ribs and femurs.  And of course, it blooms at night, attracting bats as its primary pollinator. Hails and horns, Oroxylum. Long may you Reign in Blood.

    Plant: Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) | Favorite Band: The Grateful Dead

    Harry Lauder’s Walking StickJerry Garcia
    (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick photo via Malcolm Gin/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0, Jerry Garcia photo via Carl Lender/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)
     

    Harry Lauder’s walking stick, otherwise known as contorted hazelnut, is a cultivated variety of the European filbert. It is grown as an ornamental for its unusual, twisting stems. So how did they get that way? Well, imagine if you will, a young, naïve filbert tree at its first Dead show. It meets some new friends. One thing leads to another. The music begins, and soon, there is no more up or down for our little tree. Its branches, much like the band’s music, begin to loop and twist endlessly with no pattern or direction. Each song seems to last for hours as the concert stretches deep into the night. The tree is forever changed. The next morning, it hitches a ride to California in a VW Microbus with an artist collective called Dawnglow Machine. To this day, when it sees other filberts growing straight and tall and producing nuts, it shakes its head and thinks, “Man, what a bunch of squares, man.” Kinda sad, really.

    Plant: Metallic Palm (Chamaedorea metallica) | Favorite Band: pre-1994 Metallica

    Metallic PalmMetallica
    (Metallica photo via Kreepin Deth/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0
     

    Because post-1993 Metallica is nobody’s favorite band.

    Plant: Century Plant (Agave americana) | Favorite Band (Artist): Jeff Buckley

    Century PlantJeff Buckley CDs
    (Century Plant photo via WRT3/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0, Jeff Buckley photo via nlaspf/Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0)
     

    Century plant uses a reproductive strategy called semelparity. It grows for 10, 20, 30 years or more, then produces a single, glorious flowering stalk. Towering up to 40 feet high, rich with nectar and pollen, and producing edible seeds, it is truly a wonder of nature that anyone should feel blessed to have experienced. And then the whole plant dies…

    I’ve really depressed myself now.

    Moving on…

    Plant: Hosta (Hosta spp.) | Favorite Band: U2

    HostaU2
    (Hosta photo via El Grafo/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0, U2 photo via Zachary Gillman/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5)
     

    Look, I like The Joshua Tree as much as the next guy, and hostas can find a place in just about any shade garden (like mine, for example.) But I’d bet dollars to donuts that an image search for ‘banal ubiquity’ turns up photos of Bono in a hosta nursery. These two are safe bets, reliable but never spectacular, the Toyota Camrys of music and horticulture. So when a hosta hits the iTunes store, it searches U2 first, then Taylor Swift for a little variety and some Dave Matthews Band if it’s feeling nostalgic. But don’t pity U2 – their harmless consistency has netted the band members a combined €632,535,925 (about $818,985,376) according to The Sunday Times. Reportedly, half of all album sales are to hostas.

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  • Madison Vorva, Lending a Helping Hand in Nature's Struggle

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    Tags: Nature's Struggle, extinction, Endangered Species, orangutan, conservation, nature museum, palm oil

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

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    Today’s post was contributed by Madison Vorva of Project ORANGS. Madison and her friend Rhiannon Tomitshen founded Project ORANGS in 2007 to raise awareness about the plight of the orangutan and the deforestation tactics used to source palm oil. The pair have been spotlighted in our “Nature’s Struggle: Survival & Extinction” exhibit for their work.

    My first trip to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum was in 2010 for Rishi Tea’s launch party with Dr. Jane Goodall. I was so excited to return to see the “Nature’s Struggle: Survival and Extinction” exhibit. The environmental problems our planet faces today are massive, with no “black and white” quick fix, but this exhibit does an excellent job of breaking down these complexities to kids. It is so important to empower young people to recognize that while nature is gravely threatened, we can each do something about it beginning with our everyday choices and unique passions.

    Madison Vorva in Nature's Struggle

    Today, I’m a 19-year-old sophomore at Pomona College, but I became an environmental activist when I was 11 years old. In 2007, I decided to earn my Girl Scout Bronze Award by raising awareness about the plight of the orangutan. I learned that their rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia is being rapidly deforested for palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, deforestation is responsible for 80% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, making it the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world behind the United States and China. Today, palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world, and this ingredient is in about 50% of the products in American grocery stores.

    After learning that palm oil was in Girl Scout cookies, my friend and I launched Project ORANGS to get Girl Scouts USA to use a deforestation-free source of palm oil. Partnering with Climate Advisers, the Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists, I’ve organized the support of over 140,000 consumers and my hero, Dr. Jane Goodall, through online petitions and letter writing campaigns. Through interviews in The Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, NPR, CBS’s Early Show, and ABC World News, millions of consumers have been educated about the impacts of their daily purchases. Working with the Philadelphia Zoo, we designed a “Guardian of the Rainforest” badge which hundreds of Scouts have earned (and you can too!). In 2011, Girl Scouts USA announced a palm oil policy, the first policy change driven by the efforts of girls in the organization’s 100+ year history. In 2014, Kellogg’s, a Girl Scout Cookie baker, announced a deforestation-free palm oil policy for its entire product line.

    Palm oil free cookies interactive in Nature'S Struggle exhibit

    For any museum visitor inspired by “Nature’s Struggle”, check out Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program which supports young people making a difference for people, animals and the environment. No matter your age, never underestimate your ability to make our world more peaceful and just. As Dr. Jane says, “If you really want something, and really work hard, and take advantage of opportunities, and never give up, you will find a way.”

    Madison Vorva in Nature's Struggle exhibit

    Madison Vorva 

    Founder, Project ORANGS
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  • Eulogy for the Passenger Pigeon

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    Tags: passenger pigeon, extinction, extant, bird, ornithology, passenger pigeon extinct, 1914, Cincinnati Zoo, conservation

    Created: 9/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    September 1st marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon. To mark this somber occasion, and to help prevent another such extinction from occurring, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology Steve Sullivan has written this eulogy for this beautiful bird.

    Imagine a bird shaped a bit like a mourning dove but much larger, with slate blue on its back, salmon pink on its breast, and an opalescent necklace of green and pink. This bird lived in flocks so large they would darken the sky, sometimes for three days, as they passed overhead. Their wing beats were strong enough to cool the air and loud enough to frighten horses. People could kill 1,200 of these birds before breakfast.

    Passenger Pigeon specimen

    This bird was the passenger pigeon. An endemic North American species—one found nowhere else. Larger than the carrier pigeon, also known as the homing or messenger pigeon, that domesticated bird brought by the earliest colonists of our continent. Though this non-native bird was also prized for its meat, the passenger pigeon was free for the taking and better tasting.

    Today, the non-native carrier pigeon loafs in the rafters of the subway and poops on statues in the park of cities around the world. The passenger pigeon, whose population was included billions of individuals, is gone. Extinct. We ate them all and left just a few skins to be studies in museum collections around the world.

    Today, we continue to consume. Everything we have ever touched and nearly everything we’ve ever even seen was grown from the earth or dug out of it. When we buy a product, a hole is created in the earth on our behalf. What will we fill that hole back up with? Something that can re-enter the ecological cycle and preserve choice and freedom and health for future generations? Or will we leave a dirty, toxic earth where one place looks essentially like every other place?

    The story of the PP continues today, from the once abundant monarch butterflies and little brown bats of American neighborhoods, to animals that live half a world away but are impacted by our purchasing decisions. Every time we eat palm oil, buy a new electronic gadget, or try to keep up with the Jones’s, our purchases contribute to resource extraction that can result in catastrophic extinctions like that predicted for wild gorillas and orangutans in the near future.

    Passenger Pigeon specimen

    I see three fundamental reasons to conserve biodiversity: utility, aesthetics, ethics. 

    Utility:  What good was the passenger pigeon? You and I can’t enjoy the kinds of meals that most of the country ate from time to time, from the earliest people to come to this continent til the late 1800’s. If your family line goes back more than 3 or 4 generations in the US, your ancestors probably ate passenger pigeon. But you cannot. We can’t use the bird’s down and feathers. For those who enjoy hunting, they can’t have the challenge of pursuing this bird that could fly 60 miles per hour. We have lost the ecological functions of the birds as food to other animals (from the peregrine falcon to the endearing American burying beetle), their function as seed dispersers for some of our favorite hardwoods like beech, and their function as competitors with animals like mice. The absence of passenger pigeons allows mice to thrive in unprecedented numbers, providing homes for more ticks than ever, and putting you at greater risk for acquiring Lyme disease as you hike or even just work in your garden. 

    Aesthetics:  Beauty is subjective, but most would agree that the individual bird is pleasing to look at, their flocks awe-inspiring, and their effects on generations of forests gratifying.

    Ethics:  Who are we, a bipedal, binocular, megacephalic, sparsely-furred primate, to say, “You’re useless, you’re ugly, you deserve to die!”?

    Perhaps none of us really feel any different as a result of the loss of the passenger pigeon, yet our life experience is different than it could have been. Maybe the passenger pigeon is not really an “important” species to ensure the survival of humans. But which one is? How do we know? When will we know? Certainly the great web of life that we, as a species, rely on has key players. Will our human activities unravel the web too much?

    I hope this tragic centenary will stimulate people to live more sustainably. Reduce your consumption to the minimum. Recycle to the maximum. Don’t worry about how much your neighbors have; set an example of how much one can live without. Do you need a new cell phone every time the contract is up? Do you need a new car, or boat, or tv, or pool, etc., just because your neighbors bought one or your kids bug you for one? Skip processed food, turn off lights, car pool. You’ve heard lots of options. Take the time during this centenary year to find ways that work for you to reduce your impact on the earth and help others to do the same. Make the loss of the passenger pigeon have some redemptive value in your own life.

    Visit PassengerPigeon.org for ideas and more information on this remarkable species.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

    Passenger Pigeon feather

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  • Year of the Passenger Pigeon

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    Tags: passenger pigeon, extinction, extant, bird, ornithology, passenger pigeon extinct, 1914, Cincinnati Zoo, conservation

    Created: 8/27/2014      Updated: 8/25/2015

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    September 1, 2014 marks 100 years since the extinction of the majestic passenger pigeon. Though much has changed over the last century, this extinction is still relevant today and should not be dismissed. Over the past year the Nature Museum, as well as many others, have worked to bring attention to this bird that once numbered in the billions. Below is a special guest blog from Joel Greenberg, Nature Museum researcher and author of A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction.

    Passenger Pigeon Specimen

    "Big Blue", passenger pigeon specimen residing at Millikin University, Illinois

    The passenger pigeon was unlike any other bird in at least three important respects. It had a huge population, probably in the billions, but certainly the most abundant bird in North America if not the world. Second, it would aggregate in vast numbers that are difficult to imagine today: as just two examples, John James Audubon reported a flight that darkened the sky for three days. And as a segue to point three, a three-day movement of the species in Ontario in May of around 1860 likely exceeded two billion birds. Yet despite that abundance, it was extinct in the wild by 1902 and extinct everywhere on the afternoon of September 1, 1914 when the last of the species died in the Cincinnati Zoo. What happened to the bird? In the words of filmmaker David Mrazek, "we" happened to the bird, subjecting the species to unrelenting killing throughout the years.


    I have been working on passenger pigeons since August 2009. I started with research for a book, and that expanded into a vision of using the 2014 anniversary of the pigeon's extinction as a teaching moment to tell people about the bird and to emphasize aspects of the story that are still critically relevant today. Other people had similar ideas. We had an opportunity to convene in one place when the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum hosted this important meeting in February 2011. There were folks from a range of disciplines and institutions including the Smithsonian, Cornell University, Wesleyan (CT), Michigan State University, University of Louisiana, Indiana State Museum, Philadelphia Academy of Sciences (now Drexel Institute), University of Wisconsin, and Illinois Natural History Survey. And out of that gathering emerged Project Passenger Pigeon.

    We had big plans. The amazing thing is that even with little money raised for P3, many of those plans have been realized. The web site was a huge undertaking and required major help from web-site designer George Mrazek; Steve Sullivan and colleagues from Notebaert; and the Cincinnati Zoo. I traveled to cities like Lansing, Minneapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Cambridge spreading the word (Steve Sullivan was a partner in many of these excursions.). A symphony about passenger pigeons that was performed once in the 1850s will be performed at least twice this year, once in Madison and once in New Haven. My book, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, was released in January 2014, the same day I appeared on the Dianne Rehm national radio show. It has been reviewed very favorably in a number of national publications. The very first public program was a reception held at Peggy Notebaert. (About 200 people were in attendance.) The documentary that David Mrazek and I worked on, From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, was funded through a crowd sourcing effort spear-headed by David. The world premier was shown at Notebaert and over 150 people showed up. (The movie will be airing on WTTW at 10 pm on September 11.) In June, Notebaert opened their wonderful exhibit on extinction, Nature's Struggle: Survival & Extinction.

    So this has been a long haul with lots of talks yet to come (by years end I will have given over 60 talks in 23 states and one province). The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has been an enthusiastic partner through it all. I really want to thank Deb, Marc, Steve, Doug, Rafael, Alvaro, and everyone else at the Notebaert who have contributed so much to making this centenary so effective as a teaching moment.

    Joel Greenberg
    Author and Nature Museum Researcher 

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  • Frog Facts and Toad Tidbits

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    Tags: frogs, toads, animal feeding, crickets, amphibians, frog, toad

    Created: 8/7/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    At the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, volunteers feed different groups of animals on different days as part of public interpretative programs (PIP). Recently, to keep things fresh for volunteers and visitors, the schedule was shuffled, and now aquatic animals are fed on Monday, fish on Tuesday, Blanding’s turtles on Wednesday, water snakes on Thursday, box turtles on Friday, and endangered turtles on Saturday.

    Leopard Frog with cricket sitting on top of its head
    Leopard Frog wearing his lunch


    And on Sunday, frog and toad feeding takes place in the Look-in-Lab, where the volunteers offer crickets by hand or tweezers to the anurans in tanks along the viewing window. (Frogs and toads belong to the order of amphibians called “anura” so collectively are referred to as “anurans.”) The session is entertaining for visitors; they laugh when a volunteer involuntarily jerks her hand back as the critter grabs mouth first for its meal (you tell yourself not to, but it is a reflex that is hard to overcome), and they applaud when the critter gets the cricket. To make the feeding educational as well, other volunteers stand on the public side of the window to provide visitors information about frog and toad diets and habits.

    Fowler's Toad
    Fowler's Toad


    Frogs and toads are usually sit-and-wait predators, relying on camouflage to hide their motionless bodies until an unsuspecting potential meal moves within reach of a lunge and “lingual flip:” the tongue flips out and slaps on the target and then flips back with the prey stuck on. This capture technique is made possible by a tongue that is attached to the front of the jaw and free at the back (unlike those of humans and other animals) and by a gummy mucous exuded at the instant of contact. Thus, the anuran tongue does not shoot out like the tongue of a chameleon or a cartoon frog. The whole action takes less than 15/100ths of a second, faster than our eyes can follow. Below is a cool, slow motion video of a leopard frog flipping up a waxworm with its tongue.


    Frogs and toads have teeth but only along their upper jaws. Their teeth are weak and are not used to chew or tear, but to hold prey before it is gulped down whole. Their eyes help anurans swallow their meals; an emphatic blink presses their eyeballs through holes in the skull, pushing food down the throat.

    Cricket Frog
    Cricket Frog


    Most frogs and toads eat insects, spiders, worms, larvae, and slugs, although larger species may also eat small birds, reptiles, or amphibians. Every two to three weeks, the Museum orders 2,500 crickets (1,000 small, 1,000 medium, and 500 large) -- between 65,000 and 44,000 a year. They are fed not only to the frogs and toads, but also to the Museum’s salamanders, some turtles, aquatic insects, and spiders.

    The Museum has 12 species of anurans, all also found wild in Illinois: Fowler’s toad, American toad, pickerel frog, green frog, leopard frog, plains leopard frog, chorus frog, cricket frog, wood frog, green tree frog, Cope’s tree frog, and gray tree frog.

    Cindy Gray
    PIP and Animal Care Volunteer 

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  • TEENs Summer Program

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    Tags: TEENS, summer project, after school matters, hive chicago, citizen science, data collection, scientists

    Created: 7/10/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This summer, with support from After School Matters and the Mozilla Foundation (through Hive Chicago) 32 high school students are participating in the Nature Museum's TEENS (Teenagers Exploring and Explaining Nature and Science) program. The students are learning ecological and environmental monitoring techniques, data collection methods and are learning basic digital mapping skills to share what they have learned with their peers and the wider science community. This blog, written solely by one of the participants, is a great introduction to experiences of their first two weeks.

    Hm...where should I start?

    I’m Ashley Guzman, a rising senior at Walter Payton College Prep. I started the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Program for Teens in the middle of June. It’s the first After School Matters program I’ve taken part in, and so far I’ve been having a lot of fun.

    During our first week, we focused on introductions. We met the group of around 30 students and 4 instructors we would be working with, and began a conversation about our goals for the summer. A group goal we established was our hopes to become citizen scientists- everyone has the potential to be a citizen scientist. We defined a citizen scientist as someone who takes action in their scientific community; in our case, it’s contributing meaningful data as well as working to restore our environment, which I’ll get into later. By the end of this program, our collection will culminate in self directed projects that could launch us towards solutions and information, even on a smaller scale.

    Small pond on Nature Museum grounds
    Pond on South Wall of Nature Museum

    We started off collecting data on epicollect, a handy little app on our tablets that allows us to collect data while cataloguing the approximate area we found the data in. We started off with qualitative, observation based data. We took notice of the different plants that existed in the area, taking trips around our research area in Lincoln Park to note the diversity. We went through using dichotomous keys, which helped us identify the different plants based on specific details about them. I started noticing things like the patterns of leaves on plants, their petals, length, and the like because of these keys. We went through a similar process when identifying and cataloguing trees. I’m curious about these tags I’ve found on the trees in my neighborhood, perhaps the city has a similar plan?

    By being more aware of the types of trees and plants in the area, we can be more careful to preserve them. Like ash trees, which I’ve now learned are dying out due to the emerald ash borer (thank you Dave!).

    Bureau of Forestry Tree Tag
    Bureau of Forestry Tree Tag

    Today, after doing work both inside and outside of the lab to gain more knowledge about biodiversity, our group merged and brainstormed; we pointed out observations that stood out to us and observations that could possibly direct us to our final project ideas. I want to point out something that my friend Richard said; he pointed out that he couldn’t seem to avoid bees while we were collecting data by North Pond, which had a high water level due to heavy rains. I wanted to thank him, because it’s observations like that that send my brain into a flurry of ideas, which I’m sure happens to others as well. I started thinking about something I had seen on tumblr, which said that you should give a bee water mixed in with sugar if you see that it’s stuck out of flight, because it’s likely due to exhaustion. I try not to accept these things as pure fact, because everything should be questioned! However, I wondered if this could have something to do with all of the bees near North Pond. Is this going to be my final project? Well, maybe, but I have time to collect more data, make more observations, and develop my hypothesis. I just wanted to give you an example of this train of thought, and express how much I like this kind of conversation! Sometimes, introducing observations that you didn’t think much of originally can lead into a great investigation. I’m glad we’re going to get more chances to have these kinds of discussions.

    Until then, I will leave you with this: don’t scratch your mosquito bites. They aren’t that bad.

    Also, just a fun little frog we found in the forest preserve we visited!

    Baby frog resting on a student's hand

    Ashley Guzman
    TEENs Summer Program Participant 

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  • The Benefits of Weeds

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    Tags: weeds, violets, maple tree, lake trout, spring

    Created: 6/10/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Ok. Ok. There are a lot of Norway maple haters out there, and I think they are justified in their position.  I agree with everything Seth said in this post, and I’d certainly see a sugar maple instead of a Norway.  That said, there’s an old one outside my house and everyone (including me) enjoys the shock of bright yellow when the leaves turn colors overnight in the autumn. Few people though notice the flowers of the maple. Lots of trees flower before they leaf out in the spring and maples are among these. The flowers are pretty small and the petals are about the same color as the bracts, resulting in a powdery yellow cloud appearing in a cloud around the twigs of the tree. If you’re lucky enough to have squirrels in your neighborhood, you may notice them clipping off these flowers. They are doing this to access the sweet sap, maple syrup in the raw, and unintentionally they are pruning the tree, keeping it a nice, compact shape. They are also delivering little monochromatic bouquets of maple flowers to you.  My kids have been decorating the dinner table with bowls of floating bouquets of maple flowers and arranging them in tiny vases in their doll house. Take a moment to give inconspicuous flowers like those of the maple a close look. You’ll find a cheerful beauty.

    Norway Maple Blooms
    Norway Maple Blooms

    Speaking of cheerful weeds, violets are blooming in profusion these days. Sure they’re weedy but they are not to aggressive and I think they are cute. Plus, their flowers make any dish more beautiful. Sometimes the flowers even have a delicate violet pastille flavor, but you can’t guarantee this with the weedy ones.

    Violets
    Violets

    Finally, this is the week to work on garlic mustard. It’s a vilified weed in this country and rightfully so.  It crowds out our native wildflowers both physically and chemically. (Within its native range, it is a valued wildflower itself and host of a butterfly). Wherever you see it, pull up the beast. This is the best time of year to do so because it has not begun to seed and the soil is easy to work. You may see patches of trillium, ginger or other wildflowers that are surrounded by garlic mustard. Help them out and carefully pull all the mustard nearby. Make sure to clean your boots and pats when you are done though, especially once the plants begin to set seed. It has been observed that garlic mustard is often more common in the gardens of nature lovers and their neighbors. Presumably we are tracking seeds around. 

    Lake Trout with garlic mustard pesto
    Lake Trout with garlic mustard pesto

    The reason this is my favorite week for pulling garlic mustard though is because the plants have begun to bolt—they’re sending their flower stalks up. Pick these stalks before many flowers have opened and steam them as you might asparagus, or mince them into a pesto. You can eat the leaves, too but they are often more bitter. No matter what, I like to add quite a bit of salt to counteract the bitterness and I often cook the shoots with an acid like lime juice or balsamic vinegar, depending on the cuisine. You can often add garlic mustard to Southeast Asian dishes without modifying the recipe. Burmese and Cambodian both regularly make use of bitter herbs; my daughters love adding garlic mustard to Vietnamese spring rolls. As with violets, since these are not cultivated m the flavor can vary from plant to plant so taste as you pick. By adding a bit of garlic mustard to your springtime diet you are helping native ecosystems, eating sustainably, and adding interesting variety to your diet. 

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Spring Flowers Around the Museum

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    Tags: spring flowers, prairie, savanah, horticulture, wildflowers

    Created: 5/18/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Walk around the restored habitat vignettes on the East and South sides of the museum grounds, and you may notice much of what you see is last year’s dead vegetation, with patches of green and a mixture of native and non-native flowers. Early spring on the prairie is a notoriously dull time for flowers, compared to woodlands or savannas. This is in part due to the fact that, in woodlands, the herbaceous layer is in a race to grow and flower before the trees fully leaf out and gobble up the available light. This results in a floral display intensely concentrated in late April and early May. In prairies, there is no shortage of light and therefore no hurry. Here, the greatest number of species flower in mid to late summer. In addition, tallgrass prairies (and, to a lesser degree, savannas) tended to burn more often in early spring than dense woodlands. This could also be a factor in why saving the flower show for later would be advantageous. Our native habitat restorations are a mixture of both prairie and savanna. Many of the native plants in bloom around the museum are found in both.
     
    I have compiled a list of native species that are in bloom this week. This isn’t meant to be a field guide, but could save time for anyone interested in doing an internet search on a plant they see. I  have attempted to include every native species, but It changes fast, and this list will be obsolete soon!  (Also, there are several species of the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae), in addition to the two I have listed, which cannot be identified until their seeds ripen)   

    These are the native species which we have intentionally planted:

    White Trout Lilly



    White Trout Lilly (Erythronium albidum) We have already missed this one’s blooming period, but some may have noticed this plant a couple weeks ago. A small but conspicuous part of our early spring flora.  It grows in large colonies, usually with the basal leaves far outnumbering the flowering stalks. The number of plants which flower varies greatly from year to year. This plant can be seen in almost any moderately intact woodland or savanna near Chicago in the early spring, and often ventures into nearby prairies as well. Around the Museum, they can be seen in greatest number in the Prairie on the southern side. The show doesn’t last long however, and within a few weeks the flowers and leaves seem to vanish without a trace, until next spring.

    Penn’s Sedge


     
    Penn’s Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)  Most people may not think of grasses or sedges as flowers, but if you look closely in certain spots around the museum’s restored areas, you will notice what looks like patches of thin grass with tiny yellow flower petals at the end of short stalks. Actually, this is not a grass but a sedge- a similar looking, but different family of plants. The differences between grasses and sedges are a bit complex to get into here, but an age old rule-of-thumb cliché is that “Sedges have edges.” The base of a Sedge stem is solid and triangular, while grasses have hollow, round stems.  It may be difficult to see, but if you roll the base of a sedge stem between your fingers, you can feel the “edges.” If not, it is probably a grass. This sedge is also a trademark of Chicago area woodlands and nearby prairies that are not too shady. It is one of the first sedges to bloom, and its flowers are also extremely short-lived. The leaves remains visible until at least late summer however. Around the museum, it can be seen in patches all over, especially along the trail to the right of the entrance doors, and on the north side of the “ravine” in back, just before it meets North Pond.

    Jacob’s Ladder


    Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) Another attractive purple flower with “ladder-like” leaves which will persist until June. Grows in damp meadows and woods with rich soil. More occasional around Chicago than common. Very conspicuous on the hill facing Fullerton Ave. at the moment.

    Golden Alexanders


    Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) Found in prairies to open woods, this bright yellow flower is just beginning to bloom.

    Wild garlic/onion


    Wild garlic/onion (Allium canadense) Not quite in bloom yet but will be soon.  One of two species around Chicago (and the museum) this one blooms earlier than the other.

    Shooting Star


    Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)-One of the earliest blooming Prairie Plants. It is distinctive, conventionally attractive, and quite popular in restoration projects and prairie gardens. It can be found in both prairie and savanna/open woodland. It is somewhat sensitive to disturbance, and unless reintroduced, indicates the land has not been plowed or  too heavily grazed. Currently, it has just began to flower, and will do so for about a month. A colony can be seen on the hill on the right side of the museum entrance.

    In addition to the Native plants we have intentionally planted, there are others that are not as sensitive to habitat disturbance, and came here on their own. These are some weedy natives:

    Common Wood Sedge


    Common Wood Sedge (Carex blanda)  This is probably the most common sedge of the Chicago region, and also one of the most bland-looking.  It has much wider, floppier leaves and stems than Penn’s sedge, and is a grayish blue-green color. (though the petals are also yellow).  It will grow almost anywhwere.

    Common Blue violet


    Common Blue violet (Viola sororia) Very common in our area, this species is unusual in its adaptability. It can be found in almost any habitat that is not too wet or dry; full sun to dense shade, pristine natural areas to mowed lawns. It has a long blooming period of a month or two. Around the museum, I have only seen a few near the tent out back (the blue variety) 

    Missouri Violet


    Missouri Violet (Viola missouriensis) Almost identical to common Blue Violet, except for its leaves, which are triangular and pointed, rather than heart shaped and round. Near Chicago, it is most often seen in moist woodlands and meadows, though it can sometimes be seen in more disturbed habitats as well, such as here.

    (Note - These two violet species caused me quite a bit of confusion. The majority of the plants around the museum are apparently of the white variety of Missouri Violet. Both have a blue and white variety. The white form is less common but not rare, especially with Common Blue Violet. In the Chicago region, The Missouri Violet is less common in general, and is less likely to occur in lawns and gardens, though around the museum, the reverse is apparently true!)

    Kidney-leaved Buttercup

    Kidney-leaved Buttercup (Ranuculus aborvitus) Blooms April-June. Part of the huge family of buttercups (Ranunculaceae), this one is the first to bloom and, of the natives in this area, the least sensitive to disturbance.  It can be found in almost any slightly damp place. This one came here on its own.

    Aunt Lucy


    Aunt Lucy (Ellisia nyctelea) Just beginning to bloom, and will continue into early summer. The flowers are very small, a dull white and easy to miss. This plant is a spring wildflower in woodlands but also a very common weed in gardens and disturbed ground.

    Purslane Speedwell


    Purslane Speedwell (Veronica peregrine) Very tiny and easy to miss, it looks very similar to the other, non-native Corn Speedwell, except with thinner leaves and white flowers.

    Nate Fremont
    Assistant Horticulturist

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  • Motion Film Collection Highlight: Leon F. Urbain (1887-ca. 1980)

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, motion film, Leon F. Urbain, microscopy, photography, moth, minerals, Microscopal Society of Illinois

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

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    This blog post continues our Motion Film Project series. Post #1 titled: The Motion Picture Cataloguing Project can be viewed here. Stay tuned for a third blog post coming soon.

    Leon F. Urbain, through his association with the Microscopal Society of Illinois, gave free classes for students in the 1960s at the Chicago Academy of Sciences' museum (the old Laflin Memorial Building). An architect by trade, he had a passion for photography, especially photomicrography, whereby he could bring the smallest worlds to life. His motion films include studies of minerals, plants, insects, aquatic life, and ecology. The Academy's collections include personal papers, photographs, motion film, and microscope slides from Urbain. Here is a sample of those tiny worlds Urbain captured and shared with others.

    From Urbain's film, “The Regal: Rarest of Local Moths,” created in 1972:

    Film still of Regal Caterpillars
    Regal Caterpillars

    Film still of Regal Moth
    Regal Moth Face

    Film still Regal Moth
    Regal Moth

    Here are images from a  time-lapse film of crystals growing under a microscope, titled "Crystals Growing," created in 1967:

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing



    Images from two films on moths, ca. 1958, "Cecropia" and "Luna Moth:"

    Cecropia moths mating
    Cecropia moths mating

    Luna moth
    Luna moth

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • 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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  • Volunteer Appreciation Week

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    Tags: volunteer, volunteering, volunteer appreciation week, service

    Created: 4/11/2014      Updated: 5/27/2015

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    On your last visit to the Nature Museum, did you notice anyone in a green apron? I bet you saw several of these folks, actually. Maybe they brought out a live snake for you to pet, or maybe you glimpsed them through the glass pinning chrysalides outside the Butterfly Haven. Those are volunteers, and to tell you the truth, this place wouldn’t keep running without them.

    Well over 300 people contribute about 13,000 volunteer hours to the Nature Museum every year –all because they love this institution and they want to help further our mission. We try to find small ways to thank them throughout the year, but every April we pull out all the stops and throw a recognition dinner to express our deep appreciation for all they do for us.

    We give service pins to those who have stuck with us through the years. Several volunteers are celebrating their 15th anniversary with us this year. That means they’ve been volunteering since before we even opened our doors to the public back in 1999!

    But it’s not just about numbers. We also honor those who go above and beyond their volunteer duties and provide truly exceptional service to the Nature Museum and our visitors, animals, and collections. This set of awards was inspired by creatures that live here at the museum.

    For example, the monarch butterfly is perhaps the most recognized butterfly in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, not to mention the Midwest region. This striking butterfly is renowned not only for its beauty but also for its determination and tenacity as it travels over a thousand miles to find its wintering grounds in Mexico. This iconic butterfly is the perfect symbol for our Volunteer of the Year.

    The box turtle will entertain and educate the largest crowds of visitors whilst reassuring the most nervous amongst them that nature does not have to be big and scary. The volunteer selected for this award finds a special individual way to reach out to all our visitors, making them feel welcome. 

    So without further ado, please join me in congratulating the recipients of this year’s excellence awards and service milestones.

    The Rainbow Darter Award for enthusiasm: Tom Mattingly

    The Corn Snake Award for dedication: Jim Nitti  

    The Button Quail Award for behind-the-scenes work: Alan Barney

    The Metamorphosis Award for growth: Lenny Cicero

    The Fox Snake Award for visitor service: Julianna Cristanti

    The Box Turtle Award for visitor education: Jon Meisenbach

    The Tiger Salamander Award for mission focus: Luis Melendez

    The Green Tree Frog Award for eco friendliness: Valerie Sands

    The Leaf Cutter Ant Award for teamwork: Dee Kenney and Doris Devine

    The Monarch Award for Volunteer of the Year: Nicole Johnson

    Celebrating 15 years of service:
    Dee Kenney
    Doris Devine
    Joan Rathbone
    Judith Brenner
    Kristine Dombeck
    Ross Capaccio
    Ruthmarie Eisin
    Vickie Lau
    Jacki Casler

    10 years of service:
    Mary O'Shea
    Pat Hanneline
    Pat Moran

    5 years of service:
    Joan Bledig
    Paula Calzolari
    Yvi Russell
    Dana Crawford

    Celebrating 3,000 hours of service:
    Judith Brenner

    2,000 hours of service:
    Sheri Thomas

    1,500 hours of service:
    Ross Capaccio

    1,000 hours of service:
    Joan Rathbone
    Cindy Gray

    500 hours of service:
    Linda Montanero
    Aaron Goldberg
    Walt Mellens
    Lorraine Kells

    Jill Doub
    Manager of Volunteers and Interns

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  • A Unique View: The Motion Film Cataloguing Project

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, Collections Inventory Project, motion film, preservation, Chicago Film Archives, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust, digitzation, environment, Midwest

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

    Background

    As part of the Collections Inventory Project, Collections staff with the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (CAS/PNNM) conducted an inventory and preliminary condition survey of the museum’s motion film collection in 2011. The majority of the over 1,300 films were original films created by Academy staff, Board members, and local naturalists, created between the mid 1920s and the 1980s. These films documented Academy field studies, local natural areas, and different species, as well as travel by Academy staff and Board members to conduct research for exhibits. Historically, these films were used regularly by the Academy in public programs and presentations. Now, the films were becoming increasingly fragile, and the information contained within their frames was found nowhere else.

    Preservation Issues

    The films were still in their original metal and cardboard containers and needed to be rehoused with archival quality materials. The original containers -- acidic papers, cardboard, adhesives -- were causing the film to deteriorate. 

    Original Leather Film Case

    Original metal and cardboard container

    The old metal reels caused breakage to the film and were susceptible to rust, which caused chemical deterioration of the film. Acid migration from papers and cardboard affected the film’s stability. Original paper labels glued onto the reels became detached over time, creating the potential for information to become disassociated.

    Original film cardboard boxes

    Film on original metal reels

    The Project

    Due to the fragility of the films, CAS/PNNM sought funding support to work with a contractor who had the equipment and expertise to work with historic motion films. In 2012, CAS/PNNM was awarded a $35,000 grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation for the project. Matching funds were generously provided through a $25,000 grant from the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust and $10,000 in individual donations from our paddle raise at the Butterfly Ball. In November of that year, CAS/PNNM began working with the Chicago Film Archives (CFA) on its motion film cataloguing project.

    View from the Chicago Film Archives studio in Chicago.

    View from the Chicago Film Archives studio in Chicago.

    At the CFA’s studio, each film was individually assessed. Information about the film was catalogued, and included: subject matter, creator and publisher, date created, film stock, date code, footage, film gauge, and other physical attributes of the film. The CFA evaluated the condition of each film, noting shrinkage and warpage, physical damage, and color fading. A few were found with damage from mold of vinegar syndrome. 

    A film with tentite mold.

    A film with tentite mold. 

    Mold growth on emulsion of a film.

    Mold growth on emulsion of a film. 

    Vinegar syndrome is the process of the cellulose acetate film base degrading -- it is caused by humidity, and the film starts to warp, buckle, shrink, and give off a vinegary smell.

    Removed head of film with advanced vinegar syndrome.

    Removed head of film with advanced vinegar syndrome.

    The acetate base of the film is cracking due to vinegar syndrome.

    The acetate base of the film is cracking due to vinegar syndrome.

    The films were cleaned and minor repairs, such as repairing splices, were made to stabilize the films. The films were then outfitted with new archival cores, leaders, and containers to provide an inert micro-environment to help stabilize the films and protect them from further deterioration.

    Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container. Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container.

    Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container.

    Single frames from some of the films were also captured during CFA's assessment, providing visual references for several of the films in the collection. These digital images will be utilized to provide examples of the films’ contents for research requests, social media relating to the collection, grant proposals, among other uses.

    The project with the CFA was completed in February 2014, and the collection organized at the CAS/PNNM collections facility. A total of 1,356 films were verified and catalogued in the collection. The information resulting from the cataloguing and condition assessments gives our Collections staff a baseline with which to monitor the preservation of the films and additional data about the films to manage the collection.

    Updated film collection housed at the Ravenswood Collections Facility

    Future Plans

    The historic value of the films for conservation studies is immeasurable. Through this project, the Academy is developing a much clearer understanding of its motion film collection and how we might apply the unique field information contained within these frames. However, the films are fragile and projecting them with standard equipment would damage them. Digitally duplicating the films – the process of scanning the frames to produce a digital copy – would make the collection fully accessible. In 2007, the Academy had a small amount of its footage digitally transferred by the Film Video and New Media Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This footage is shown in the Heritage exhibit at the Nature Museum and enjoyed by our visitors today. CAS/PNNM will use the information from the motion film cataloguing project to set priorities for digital duplication of the collection and will be seeking funding for this next project to provide broad access to these films.

    Dawn Roberts

    Collections Manager

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  • Harbingers of Spring

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    Tags: spring, red-winged blackbirds, birds, ornithology, mating calls, Biology

    Created: 3/26/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Bluebirds have been the traditional avian harbinger of spring throughout our nation’s history. However, with the various pressures applied by habitat conversion, heavy pesticide application, and the introduction of exotic competitors like house sparrows and starlings, the bluebird is a species few city dwellers will ever see in their neighborhoods again. On the other hand, human activity has been generally good for the red-winged blackbird and throughout the region---city, suburb and rural areas alike—wherever there is tall grass and some standing water, male red-winged blackbirds are arriving in droves.

    As with many bird species, the males arrive first to stake out the best territories; he with the best territory will have the most mating opportunities later in the spring when the females arrive. The male proclaims his fiefdom with a loud metallic call that sounds a bit like a squeaky swing set. At the same time he leans forward to display his eponymous red wings, really just a patch of bright red feathers on his wrist that contrast well with the rest of his jet black body. While it’s a small patch of color, it makes all the difference.  The bigger and more intense patches attract the most mates. 

    In fact, scientists have influenced mating opportunities by experimentally cutting the red feathers off of some males and gluing them on to others. Much like humans who are stereotypically impressed by a man driving a red sports car, regardless of his age or personality, female red-winged blackbirds apparently look no deeper than the red patches on a boys wrists.

    Red-Winged Blackbird with vibrant plumage
    Red Sports Car

    Red-Winged Blackbird with dull plumage
    Hand-me-down van from your parents

    Once the male has established his territory, he will aggressively defend it against all interlopers, including you. It can be fun, and a little daunting, to walk past a breeding colony of red-winged blackbirds. Most will simply scream at you but usually one will sneak up behind you and, when you are not looking, he may drop out of the sky and hit you on the back of the head. Keep your eyes to the sky this spring.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Just Grow 'Em

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    Tags: native plants, black-eyed susans, purple coneflower, native gardening, Gardening, horticulture

    Created: 3/19/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    For all you tweethearts out there who prefer knowledge disseminated in 140 character quanta,  I will be participating in a Twitter discussion (follow me @HorticulturSeth) on #NativeGardening tomorrow, 3/20, at 12:00 pm CST.  No surprise, preparing for this event has turned my thoughts away from the tropical plants I was perusing just last week in Florida*, and back to local flora.

    Thoughts are really all I have at this point – interactions are limited by the fact that most plants ‘round here are still hitting the snooze button awaiting more favorable weather.

    Some of you may remember my “bottom ten” lists (to which I still owe a promised conclusion.) I must say, it’s fun writing those. I mean, who doesn’t love making fun of terrible, terrible things? Especially plants, which have a limited capacity for retaliation? So hopefully you will not think less of me for admitting the temptation to combine my love of cruel mockery with my current focus on native plants in order to generate a bottom ten native plant list. (I’m looking at you, Hackelia virginiana.)

    But alas, I don’t have the heart. Native plants are underused, underappreciated, and under assault from development, climate change, and invasive species. So instead of following my baser instincts, I’m just  gonna drop some sweet, sweet native plant knowledge. To wit –

    Six native plants Chicago area gardeners really have no excuse for not growing:

    1. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – It’s attractive.  It’s available. It’s a potent pollinator magnet. And it’s easier than shooting fish in a barrel, assuming the fish are relatively large and not similarly armed. Seriously, all you need is sun and sorta decent dirt. You have that, right?
    2. Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) – Also easy to grow, though maybe a little harder to find in the garden center. Needs decently draining soil. The best thing about butterflyweed is that whole “butterfly” part. Monarchs feed on this plant from cradle to grave.**
    3. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) – You may be asking yourself, who is Joe Pye? Well, the answer is twofold: I don’t know and I don’t care. This is one of my favorite plants, and it wouldn’t change my opinion if I found out Joe Pye had invented spam email, parking meters, and the word “irregardless.” It should be noted that this plant’s kinda big. And it needs consistent moisture. But when in full bloom, there’re few plants that can rival its beauty and raw butterfly magnetism.
    4. Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) – Sun and dirt that’s not soggy - got that? You can grow this.  When you do, you’ll enjoy masses of colorful flowers over a long season, starting in early summer. You’ll also draw bees and butterflies like…flies.
    5. Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) – Whether their eyes are black or brown, the Susans really hit the spot for daisy lovers. There’s a place for a Susan in every garden, assuming she’s relatively sedentary. Also, I really needed something yellow on this list.

      Black-Eyed Susan
      Black-Eyed Susan
    6. Swamp Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) – Got a wet spot in your yard? As long as it’s sunny and the soil’s reasonably rich, you can grow flowers the size of your face.

    Swamp Mallow obscuring child's face
    Swamp Mallow

    *mic drop*

    *I travel to the Sunshine State once a year to purchase plants for the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. Can I be frank with you a moment? I have strong opinions about Florida, and they are not congenial.  I hope you’re happy, butterflies.

    **I use “grave” metaphorically, as very little is known about lepidopteran death rituals.

    Seth Harper, horticulturist

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  • Where is the polar bear?

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    Tags: Nature's Struggle, collections, polar bear, taxidermy, exhibits

    Created: 3/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    When you visit the Nature Museum, you will definitely notice that something is missing on the first floor…our polar bear mount.  It has been temporarily moved to the second floor of the museum to become part of our latest exhibit, Nature’s Struggle: Survival and Extinction.  Moving a mount this large, even from one floor to another, takes some planning and plenty of help. 

    Staff prepping polar bear mount

    Although the polar bear is mounted onto a base that has wheels, at just under 10 feet tall it was not a simple matter of pushing it onto our freight elevator. Before any of our specimens are moved, we plan out how we are going to get them safely moved to their desired location, particularly tall, heavy mounts like the polar bear. Impediments in this case were hanging light fixtures, an archway, watching out for museum visitors since we had to move the mount during museum hours, and the mount itself (those claws are still extremely sharp).

    Polar bear mount

    In this case we decided the safest way to move it was to place it on its back on large, wheeled platform that would provide support during the transition. The most delicate part of the procedure was in lowering the mount onto its back. It needed to be done smoothly so that we did not cause any torque, or twisting, to the mount that could result in damage to the internal armature, or structure. 

    Staff transferring polar bear mount to cart

    Mounts like this one are typically attached to their bases by long bolts that extend through their legs and feet that are secured by nuts on the underside. If one of these bolts were twisted or broken the mount would no longer be able to support itself when put back into its upright position.  Once the polar bear was successfully placed on the wheeled platform, it was taken to the freight elevator and then moved into the second floor gallery, where it was lifted back up into its standing position. 

    Staff with polar bear mount in freight elevator

    Come see the polar bear, as well as other specimens and objects from our collection in
    Nature's Struggle: Survival & Extinction.

    Amber K. King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • To Bee or Not to Bee

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    Tags: bees, honeybees, winter, spring, honey, pollinator, pollinators, beekeepers

    Created: 3/6/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    We had a mini moment of truth up on the roof this past week -- we took a look into our honey bee hives to see if by chance, some had survived the winter so far. Honestly, there was not much hope. With beekeepers around the country reporting major losses it seemed too much to hope that any of our hives had made it through one of the harshest Chicago winters on record. 

    Honey from the Hive

    Last fall we made the decision to leave all the honey in the hive for our bees, taking none for our traditional honey sale in the museum gift shop. You can buy a little taste of the previous seasons labors in a jar from our gift store. The jars are small, just enough to taste how special our roof top bees are, and not so much that we did not leave them what they need to get through that year, or so we thought. 

    Truthfully, even in the best of years it seems a bit rude and even a little crazy to take honey. Open up a box of bees and take some of their most precious resource, without getting stung…too may times.  We spend the whole summer watching and waiting for this other moment of truth.  How strong is the hive? How much were they able to produce and store? Can they spare some for their caretakers and fans?

    It’s not a new story. People in cultures around the world have been after honey for centuries. There is evidence of humans harvesting honey in cave paintings. Only bees can make it, with their remarkable nectar gathering skills, specialized honey stomach, and a work force to rival whole cities. 

    The manner in which bees are kept, and the ease with which we are able to take a little of the extra honey, has made some real strides over the years. It used to be that you had to completely kill a colony in order to harvest that honey. Now with the use of moveable frames we simply take a few out, process them for honey and return them with much of the comb still in tact.

    Harvesting honey
    Harvesting excess honey in a banner year.

    The previous year it was a hard winter for many of the honey bees in the area and the ones on the roof of the museum were no exception. Like many of the local beekeepers we were sad to see that despite our efforts, few of our bees made it through the winter in 2012/2013.

    We started fresh this past spring with new colonies. With the help of our local beekeeper Anne, we installed them in June and were happy to see them get as busy as, well, bees. They could be seen around the grounds buzzing around flowers and collecting nectar in the various habit recreations featuring native plantings throughout the growing season. 

    Supplementing hives with sugar water
    Supplementing the hives with sugar water.

    So without taking any of the fruits of their labor, we tucked our bees in for the winter of 2013/14.  We added a little extra nutrition to tide them over and some insulation so it would be less drafty. We hoped for a strong start in the spring.

    Hope Springs

    Rooftop hives with snowmelt
    A good sign of live bee activity. Snow melt around the hive.

    The good news so far is that when we looked into our hives we found 10 out of 12 with activity. Some look stronger than others and there is still a long way to go until we can say they’re going to make it into the full growing season, but this is far more then we dared hope for.  

    Working with bees
    Working quick to minimize cold exposure

    We keep hoping for better years for the honey bees and their relatives the native bees. These species are important in helping to provide the pollination that gives us many of our favorite summer flowers and fruits. It’s hard to over estimate the importance of these services in both the natural world and in the cultivated crops we rely on for much of our diet. For now we’ll take this small victory.

    Karen Kramer Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist

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  • Person Behind the Program: Andy O!

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    Tags: public programs, children and family programs

    Created: 2/6/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Hi there! My name is Andy O and I’d like to take a little time to tell you about my upcoming interactive story time, “Stories and more with Andy!” at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on Monday, February 17 at 11 a.m. This program offers a chance for children and families to tell and act out different nature stories for a fun, educational, but most of all, REALLY GOOFY time!

    Andy posing with a butterfly in the Haven

    So, what makes me the expert for a really goofy time? Well, for four years I taught a Star Wars and Harry Potter “Hogwarts” themed camp. My work involved encouraging children to use their imagination. We were able to harness the essence of our favorite animals in our “Transfiguration” class and study evidence left by dragons during “Care of Magical Creatures.” In Star Wars Camp, children spent a week learning intergalactic life lessons in our “Jedi Training Academy.” They were able to direct, write and star in their own Star Wars movie!

    I’ve never felt happier than watching the kids watch their own movies, patting their friends on the back, laughing and and being proud of their own work. Positive experiences like these are rewarding for children’s self-esteem and overall emotional growth.

    Andy posing with polar bear mount

    Although we will not be at Hogwarts or riding the Millennium Falcon, the Nature Museum offers a stimulating and interactive environment for children to explore. Who wouldn’t want to enter a beaver’s den or slide on down from a tree house? The easiest path to opening up and learning is through new experiences that are fun and educational. This is what will be going down at the Nature Museum on Monday, February 17 at 11 a.m. It’s science. I’ve watched the Ted Talk. Come prepared to help me tell stories, interact and have some laughs!

    Andy O      

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  • The Dreams of Martha

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    Tags: extinct, extant, ivory-billed woodpecker, carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon

    Created: 1/27/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    We’ve asked watercolor artist Kristina Knowski to tell us about her inspiration for depicting the beauty of birds. Currently, our exhibit, The Dreams of Martha, features Knowski’s artwork and connects us to the Nature Museum’s year of the Passenger Pigeon, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the extinction of what was once the most abundant bird in North America. Keep reading to learn more about Knowski’s creative process and her love for nature!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    There was always that unsettling footnote at the bottom of the books picturing some of my favorite bird species. My most memorable was just after I had fallen in love with the Ivory-Billed and what would have been the largest woodpecker in North America. It was a beautiful image: a rich black bird contrasting with large white primaries and a thin streak of feathers trailing from its chin to its back. To top it off, a long pointed crest streamlined its head, the male of its species wearing his in a brilliant crimson. Yet the footnote was there, the disclaimer at the bottom, stating that this species was most likely extinct.

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Since I have discovered my passion for birds, extinct species have always been a main focus for me as an artist. Birds represent something natural, fragile, and beautiful. Extinct birds represent those same things, but also something that has been lost. I enjoy creating work that questions our ideas of reality and sense of existence, and extinct birds have become a personal element in my work in conjunction with other nonexistent beings. The paintings included in The Dreams of Martha exhibit focus on both extinct and extant birds of North America, some which can be found in your backyard, while others haunt their old habitats with empty skies. I wanted to create for the viewer a sense of compassion for these animals. While the images are mostly identifiable with some level of detail, those details become more and more, faded like an old memory. The bird seems to vanish into the background, losing its sense of physicality and wholeness. Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers, Carolina Parakeets, Passenger Pigeons, Ryukyu Kingfishers, Bush Wrens, and other extinct birds are now inhabitants of my theoretical world where nonexistence reigns supreme and “nothing” is everywhere. 

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    September 1, 2014 marks 100 years since the death of the last recorded living Passenger Pigeon, Martha. While this is a tragic reminder of the destruction humanity is capable of, it is also a remembrance to a vast and unique species that we will never encounter again. This day should serve as a severe warning to not repeat history and to treasure the species we are still sharing this planet with. A seemingly limitless species, such as the Passenger Pigeon, can be wiped out within less than a century. I humbly paint to aim as a reminder of this tragedy and hope for a less tragic future.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    We hope you have a chance to see her exhibit, which is located on the Museum’s second floor south gallery. You can also view more of Kristina’s work at: kristinaknowski.com

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  • Year of the Passenger Pigeon

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    Tags: project passenger pigeon, year of the passenger pigeon, joel greenberg, passenger pigeon, extinct

    Created: 1/20/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    2014 is the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. It was almost three years ago that thirty or so people convened at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from around the country to discuss this poignant milestone. They represented a range of institutions including Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  We were there to formulate plans to mark the 2014 anniversary of the pigeon's extinction. What emerged was Project Passenger Pigeon (soon given the shorthand moniker “P3”)  with the 3 part mission of familiarizing people with the passenger pigeon as a species and a phenomenon, using that story as a portal into consideration as current issues related to extinction and humanity’s connections nature, and the need to create sustainable relations with other organisms.

    Project Passenger Pigeon Logo
    Project Passenger Pigeon Logo

    A lot has happened since that first meeting. Over 160 organizations have formally joined P3 with many contributing content to our website, passengerpigeon.org and planning for public activities throughout 2014. In addition to these institutional members, many individuals are planning commemorative activities. Joel Greenberg and Steve Sullivan have talked to a wide range of special interest and professional groups over the last year, ranging from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to the Illinois Science Teachers Association and many individuals in such groups have let us know that they intend to spread the message of P3 through their own activities like newsletters, art projects, and even library story time. 

    Passenger Pigeon Specimen
    Passenger Pigeon Specimen

    Other far-reaching P3 projects that are nearing completion include the documentary From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction directed by David Mrazek. This documentary will likely air on public TV stations across the US. In addition to a compelling depiction of the passenger pigeon story, it features some Academy passenger pigeon specimens. Also, Stan Temple has been working with students at the University of Wisconsin to digitize all known sightings of the passenger pigeon. This data set should be of interest both to people with a casual interest in extinct species as well as scientist looking to better understand how such a wide-ranging and numerous species could have gone extinct so quickly. School teachers will also be able to use these data in classroom lessons that use the interesting stories of biology to teach mathematical concepts.

     Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction book cover
    Joel Greenberg's new book

    At the Nature Museum we will begin the year’s activities on January 23 with a reception for the new book A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction. by renown Chicagoland author, Joel Greenberg. You can hear stories about his journey to gather information for the book and learn about his most important discovery—that of a  previously undocumented specimen of passenger pigeon. This specimen was right here in Illinois at Millikin University. We are fortunate to also have David Horn from Millikin to show this well-preserved specimen to the audience. Not only is it a beautifully preserved mount, it is now the last known wild bird. Following the brief presentation, visitors will be able to view the bird and Joel will sign his book. If you’ve never read a Greenberg book, don’t take our word for it that he’s a great writer, you can read reviews in places like The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Reader, and Maclean’s or listen to interviews ranging from local (The Mike Nowak Show) to international (the Diane Rehm Show) and international (Newstalk Ireland).

    Todd McGrain Passenger Pigeon Sculpture
    Todd McGrain Sculpture

    Later we will post details about some of our other P3 activities including a new exhibit  in March Nature’s Struggle:  Survival and Extinction, a large art installation by Todd McGrain, and a weekend symposium in May Why Prevent Extinction? that will feature exciting speakers like entomologist May Berenbaum and ecologist Joel Brown. In the meantime, stop by to see some beautiful watercolors by Kristina Knowski that depict passenger pigeons as well as ivory-billed woodpeckers and Carolina parakeets.


    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part III; 1958 - 2014

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founder's week, Archives, collections

    Created: 1/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1958
    Chicago native and ornithologist Dr. William Beecher becomes the Academy’s Director. He holds this position for 24 years.

    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama.
    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama. 
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    1960-1966
    Junior Academy of Sciences formed for middle and high school children, to provide additional learning opportunities for young people in science studies and research.

    1960s-1970s
    Beecher implements redesign of exhibit spaces, including opening of the third floor of the Laflin building to the public.

    1982
    Paul G. Heltne, PhD, zoologist and primatologist, is appointed Director of the Academy.  He holds this position until 1999.

    1983
    An Education Department is formally established at the Academy, although education has been a primary focus of the institution since the 1910s.

    1986
    Museum sponsors “Understanding Chimpanzees Symposium,” welcoming primatologists from all over the world, including well-known Jane Goodall, and providing public attendance to portions of the symposium as well.

    1988
    For the first time since 1951, the endangered Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrines, successfully produces eggs that hatch on a ledge of a downtown Chicago office building. Mary Hennen, Collections Manager/Assistant with the Academy, worked on the Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Program while at the Academy and conducted research. She took this project with her, when she left the Academy to work at the Field Museum of Natural History.

    Juvenile Peregrine falcon
    Juvenile Peregrine falcon

    1990
    Fall - Pilot programs for Science on the Go! began. This program, still active today, provides training and resources for kindergarten through eighth grade educators in teaching science through more hands-on lessons and cooperative learning. 

    1991
    Jon D. Miller, Vice President of the Academy, establishes the Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy under the auspices of the Academy.

    1994
    The Academy initiated plans for an addition at the Laflin building to expand and modify it to provide more room for exhibition, collections storage, and office space. The Chicago Park District who owns the land on which the Laflin building rests, disallowed expansion, citing the need to limit construction in park areas to ensure the continuation of park lands for future generations as dictated by their original charter. At the same time, the Lincoln Park Zoo also began looking to expand their operations. The Chicago Park District offered the Academy the opportunity to build a new museum building on the site of the Park District’s North Shops Maintenance Facilities in exchange for transferring the Academy’s Laflin building to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Today the Laflin Building is used by the Lincoln Park Zoo as administration offices.

    1995
    June 4 - Academy closed to the public to begin move out of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building at Armitage and Clark Street in Lincoln Park, where the institution had resided for 102 years. Staff offices, the museum collections, the archives, and the scientific library, were moved to another building on Clark Street owned at that time by the museum and to additional space on Ravenswood. The second facility is now the Ravenswood Collections Facility. To maintain a public face for the Academy during construction, the museum had a temporary facility on the third floor of North Pier on Illinois Street which was open to the public.

    1997
    The Chicago Academy of Sciences breaks ground for a new building in Lincoln Park. In recognition of the donation made to the Academy by Mr. and Mrs. Notebaert, the building was named the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, a citizen science program dedicated to “collecting quantitative data on butterfly populations” moved under the auspices of the Academy through Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Conservation and Research.

    1999
    Summer – Museum begins partnership with El Valor, a multi-cultural and multi-purpose organization whose, “…mission is to support and challenge urban families to achieve excellence and participate fully in community life,” through a summer camp for children.  The partnership has expanded today to programs for adults with disabilities, conductive education, family field trips to the Museum, after school programs, and professional development for Head Start teachers including visits to their classrooms.

    October - The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building opens to the public. The Academy’s collections and Collections Department staff offices remain at the Ravenswood Collections Facility, where they are still housed today.

    Education Department began onsite workshops.  To date this initiative has reached 20,000 students.

    Students working with museum educators

    2000
    Joe Schactner appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2001
    Butterfly Restoration Program started with funding from the BP Leaders Award. The Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, and Silver-bordered Fritillary, Bolaria selene, were the first imperiled species added to the program.

    Fall - Teacher Leadership Center opened at the Museum.

    2005
    Laureen Von Klan appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2006
    Education department revamps its Science Teaching Network (STN).  Started in the early 1990s the program provides training for teachers through an intensive summer institute that is followed by classroom support in the fall.  Since this year, 300 teachers have been through the program.

    2007
    Nature Museum Summer Camps began. 

    2008
    Summer – Museum opens its first self-curated exhibit, “Lawn Nation” since its move into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Collections Department begins to inventory all of the natural history holdings within the Academy’s collection with grant support from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences. The initiative took 5 years to complete and over 280,000 specimens and objects were verified.

    Museum began participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program, a conservation effort spearheaded by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to rear and release endangered Blanding’s Turtles, Emydoidea blandingii, into their natural environment. Sub-Adult Blanding’s Turtles put on display at the Museum. Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections, heads the museum effort.

    2009
    Butterfly Conservation Lab opened at the Museum, a permanent research lab for the Butterfly Restoration Program.

    An expanded version of Project Squirrel, a citizen-science program, moved under auspices of the Academy through Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology.  The program was created in 1997 by Joel Brown and Wendy Jackson both professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Collections Department begins two-year project to process about 250 linear feet of materials in their Manuscript Collection in the Archive with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.

    2009-2011
    Participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program expands.  Museum helps head start hatchlings for two years, release two year old head starters with radio transmitters in the fall, track them in the spring to replace radio transmitters, track females to see if they are gravid, collect females when they are, release them after they have laid, and track the head starters again in late summer to put on their winter transmitters.

    2010
    July 1 - Deborah Lahey appointed President and CEO of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. She had previously served on the Board of Trustees and then as Chief Operations Officer (Dec 2009 to June 2010).

    2011
    February – First meeting of what would become Project Passenger Pigeon (P3) occurred at Museum. Initial participants included representatives from Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  Project has expanded to include over 160 organizations from all over the United States and will culminate in various events throughout 2014.

    April 11 – Self-curated exhibit “Nature’s Architects” opened.

    Museum began head starting more Blanding’s Turtles.

    Working with Chicago Film Archives, Collections Department began assessment and re-housing of their motion picture film collection, about 1370 individual reels, with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.  Collection composed of original nature studies to some commercially produced reels. Project to be completed in early 2014.

    Motion picture film canisters  Film still of chameleon

    2012

    Museum became the home for the Chicago Conservation Corps.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Regal Fritillary, Speyeria idalia, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network takes a national leadership role serving as a model for similar programs in states all over the United States. A collective database for information from networks all over the country is developed to provide easier access to information.

    2013

    February 10 – First Annual Chicago Volunteer Expo held at Museum. Over 60 local nonprofit institutions participated, providing information on volunteer opportunities in one convenient location.

    March 23 – Self-curated exhibit “Food: The Nature of Eating” opened.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Project Squirrel released smartphone app.

    Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Lab constructed to accommodate the 42 hatchlings entrusted to the Museum for head starting as part of the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program.

               

    Aerial shot of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum



    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part II; 1895 - 1957

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Archives, photography, director, founder's week

    Created: 1/15/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1907
    The Academy re-emphasizes its commitment to education in the natural sciences.  Its programming is not only for young students, but also continuing education and certification for teachers that focuses on understanding and interpreting the natural sciences.  In addition the Academy starts offering regular free lectures on various scientific subjects to the public.

    CAS building circa 1915
    Laflin Memorial Building, Chicago Academy of Sciences, ca. 1915
    From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection, 8x10 Glass Plate Negatives

    1911

    Academy establishes a Children’s Library to “promote science education and engage young people in the study of the natural sciences.”

    Children reading in a library. B&W photo
    Children reading in the Children’s Library of the Chicago Academy of Sciences
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection

    May-June - Academy participates in city-wide Child-Welfare Exhibit, promoting education and highlighting institutions that already have programs established.


    1913

    Work starts on developing new exhibit displays to better represent the natural flora and fauna of the area.  Work completed by Frank C. Baker, Curator and Malacologist, and Frank Woodruff, Curator, Taxidermist, and Ornithologist, under initial guidance of Wallace Atwood, Acting Director and Secretary of the Board of Trustees. 

    June - The Atwood Celestial Sphere opens at the Academy. It is the first planetarium in the United States and was designed by Wallace W. Atwood, Acting Director of the Academy.  The Sphere is now a part of the Adler Planetarium’s collections.

    Atwood Sphere

    Wallace Atwood inside Atwood Sphere



    (left) Atwood Celestial Sphere as seen from the outside. (right) Atwood stands inside his completed Sphere. From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection


    1915
    Frank Woodruff made Director of the Academy and completed his first life-size diorama depicting the dunes ecosystem and the Calumet River.

    Photographic print of compiled image for Calumet River diorama background made up of four shots.Photographic print of compiled image for Calumet River diorama background made up of four shots. From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection, 8x10 Glass Plate Negatives.

    1927
    Alfred M. Bailey, Ornithologist, appointed Director of the Academy.

    1928-1933
    Bailey makes trips to Louisiana to conduct still and motion picture photography of birds migrating along the coast.  Bailey had worked at the Louisiana Academy of Sciences earlier in his career and had formed relationships with other ornithologists and bird enthusiasts in the area.

    Seguard and Bailey (with camera) filming birds in Louisiana.
    Seguard and Bailey (with camera) filming birds in Louisiana.
    Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection.

    1928-1933
    Bailey, working with collectors in Alaska, starts collecting birds and birds eggs, culminating in the publication in the Academy’s Program of Activities, “Birds of the region of Point Barrow, Alaska” in 1933.  Bailey had worked in southeastern Alaska from 1919-1921 on a survey for the Bureau of Biological Survey, so again had contacts and interest in the area before coming to the Academy.

    1931
    Academy, with University of Chicago, sends field team to Great Smoky Mountains where a new subspecies of rock vole, Microtus chrotorrhinus carolinensis is discovered

    1932-1934
    Academy co-sponsors further field research in Great Smoky Mountains in cooperation with the U.S. National Park Service.  Specimens from this survey still reside in Academy’s collections, and trip resulted in publication, “Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains,” part of the Bulletin series published by the Academy in 1938.

    A Northern Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda, collected during the Faunal Survey of the Great Smoky Mountains.
    A Northern Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda, collected during the Faunal Survey of the Great Smoky Mountains. Chicago Academy of Sciences Mammalogy Collection.

    1936
    Dr. Howard Gloyd appointed Director of the Academy.

    Howard K. Gloyd, standing in Arizona desert.
    Howard K. Gloyd, standing in Arizona desert.
    From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    Additional activities while Director of the Academy (1936-1957) were the expansion of the Academy’s scientific publications, the continued additions to the public lecture series historically offered by the Academy, and Gloyd’s personal research on snakes with an emphasis on rattlesnakes.

    1937-1946
    Dr. Gloyd, a rattlesnake expert, organizes expeditions to Arizona. The specimens he collected are still in the Academy’s scientific collections today. The first expedition was in 1937, the second in 1940, and the third in 1946.

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Then and Now - Re-Using Display Mounts

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    Tags: diorama, display mount, Chicago Academy of Sciences, taxidermy

    Created: 1/14/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    The display mounts on exhibit at the Nature Museum almost all come from previous exhibits and dioramas that were on display in the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building.  Good taxidermy creates specimens and display mounts that will last for years if care is taken. Mounts that have been displayed before often have evidence of that past use. The most obvious are shadows of things that were a part of another diorama or exhibit, like a fern leaf or a tree branch. The whole point of a diorama is to create a “realistic” situation and if you put a display mount in an area surrounded by greenery and trees, shadows should occur. In most cases, this is achieved using specialty lighting today, but that was not available in the 1890s, the 1910s or even the 1940s, so the Academy’s artists added them.  Here are some comparisons between display mounts in some of the dioramas exhibited in 1938 and how those mounts are displayed today.

    Then

    1938: Female cougar, Puma concolor, reclines in a rocky alcove with her two cubs.

    Female cougar mount in 1938
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

    Now

    Female cougar, Puma concolor, mounted to be free-standing, on display in “Hunters of the Prairie.”

    Female cougar mount in present day exhibit

    Then

    1938: Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands outside her den with her four pups.

    Female coyote and pups mounts in 1938
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

    Now

    Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands above her den with three pups. Part of the prairie diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

    Coyote and pups in present day exhibit

    Then

    1938: Bald eagle perches on rock in a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons.

    Bald Eagle mount in 1938 exhibit
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

    Now

    Bald eagle perches on a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons with a crow with an eye to the catch.  Part of the dunes diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

    Bald Eagle mount in present day exhibit 

    Then

    1938: Pair of lynx, Lynx canadensis, standing on log with river in background.

    Lynx pair in 1938 exhibit
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

    Now

    The lynx are now displayed individually, but are located near one another. The mount shown on the left is outside the savannah diorama in the “Wilderness Walk” and the mount shown on the right is in the display cabinets that surround the “Beecher Collections Laboratory”

    Lynx in present day exhibit    Lynx in present day exhibit 

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Chicago Academy of Sciences Timeline Part 1

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, timeline, hitsory, collections, founder's week, robert kennicott, william stimpson

    Created: 1/13/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1856
    Group of men interested in natural sciences begins to meet in offices of fellow member, Dr. Edmund Andrews.  Other original members were: Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman.

    1857
    “Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” officially founded only eleven years after the Smithsonian Institution and 36 years before the Field Museum of Natural History.

    “A definite organization was completed at a meeting held January 13, 1857…[and] officers elected”.

    1859
    Academy incorporated into Illinois state law as “The Chicago Academy of Sciences.”

    “A majority of the members of the Academy, acting in accordance with a vote of the Academy, have incorporated themselves under the title of The Chicago Academy of Sciences….”

    1864
    February 22 - Meeting held to discuss creation of natural history museum with Robert Kennicott’s specimens as the “core collection”; resolution adopted by attendees to create a museum and to appoint a committee to act as trustee of any funds raised.

    March 23 - Robert Kennicott appointed “Curator of the Museum” by the Board of Trustees.

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    April 13 - Committee appointed on February 22 turned into the Board of Trustees through an amendment to the Academy’s constitution.

    1865
    January 1 - The Academy opened as a museum to the public in rooms in the Metropolitan Block located at 134 North LaSalle Street.

    February 16 - Act of Incorporation passed by the Illinois House and Senate for the Academy.

    William Stimpson became the Curator and Secretary of the Academy replacing Robert Kennicott who was leaving Chicago on an expedition to Alaska. Kennicott met Stimpson while working in Washington, D.C. as both men worked for the Smithsonian Institution.

    William Stimpson
    William Stimpson

    April 7 - Board of Trustees elects Robert Kennicott to the office of “Director of the Academy” while he is in Alaska on his exploration trip.

    May 13 - Robert Kennicott dies in Alaska on the Nulato River.

    1866
    June 7 - Fire in the Metropolitan Block where the Academy rented space for exhibits damaged the museum’s holdings, including specimens and library materials. 

    November 12 - William Stimpson elected as Director of the Academy.

    1867
    Land is purchased on the corner of Wabash and Van Buren streets for a new museum building.

    1868
    Academy opens in new rented spaces on Thirtieth Street between Indiana and Prairie Avenues.

    Chicago Microscopical Club (State Microscopical Society of Illinois) is organized as an independent organization but maintains close affiliation with Chicago Academy of Sciences through 1950s, using Academy spaces for meetings and education programs.  Many of the founders of the Club are also founders of Academy, such as Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson and Dr. Edmund Andrews..

    1870
    The Academy’s collection is estimated to be the fourth largest in the country.

    1871
    October 8-10 - The Great Chicago Fire destroys much of Chicago; the Academy’s building and holdings are decimated, including materials housed in a special “fire-proof” vault.  Apparently a keystone fell through the top of the vault during the fire, thus creating an opening and allowing the fire into the vault.

    1872
    May 26 - Director, Dr. William Stimpson, dies nine months after the Great Fire. It is thought that he died of heartbreak as he lost his life’s work in the fire, stored in the Academy’s “fire-proof” vault.

    1885
    Academy moved into the Interstate Exposition Building on the lake front. This was a temporary structure that later was demolished to build the Chicago Art Institute.

    1892
    Real estate tycoon, Matthew Laflin, donated $75,000 to construct a new museum. The building was to be named the “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” Total funds available for the new building were $100,000; the Laflin donation represented 75% of the total costs of the building. $25,000 received from the Board of Commissioners of Lincoln Park.

    1893
    October 10 - The cornerstone for the Academy’s new building is laid.

    October 30 - The World’s Columbian Exposition closes and many exhibits of plants, fossils, and animals originally displayed at the Exposition remain. Academy Board of Trustee, Edward Ayer, proposes accepting and incorporating these specimens into the Academy’s collection, but other Trustees are wary, citing the need to quickly launch the massive fund drive needed to quickly finish the building as well as transporting and finding housing for the specimens. Ayer resigns from the Board and turns to Marshall Field for the funds to build a new museum with Field’s name, ultimately becoming the Field Museum of Natural History.

    1894
    October 31 - The Academy’s new building is dedicated and opens in Lincoln Park. The institution’s name, “Chicago Academy of Sciences,” was engraved on the front arch accompanied by the dedication of the building, “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” This building was referred to internally as the “Laflin Building.” The building was originally intended to be the north wing of a larger museum building with additions to be constructed in the future.

    Chicago Academy of Sciences Matthew Laflin Memorial building circa 1894
    Chicago Academy of Sciences circa 1894

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Academy Publications

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, publications, scientific papers, Archives, Illinois

    Created: 1/10/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Sharing scientific knowledge and initiating discussions about nature and science are important facets of the work we do at the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. This happens through our educational activities, exhibits, talks given by our staff, and our citizen science programs, to name a few. Up until the mid 1990s, the Academy also published several of its own periodical series with original research.

    Selection of Chicago Academy of Sciences publications

    The Academy began its endeavor into publishing in the mid 1860s, which helped establish the Academy as a scientific institution. Our first publications were the Proceedings (1866) to and Transactions (1867 to 1870) series, which provided information to members about museum meetings, descriptions of new species, guides to regional species, and scientific papers. There are few actual hard copies of these remaining.

    The series Bulletin of the Natural History Survey (1896 to 1927) contained scientific papers on topics specifically about the Chicago area, including “The Higher Fungi of the Chicago Region” by William Moffatt and “The Paleontology of the Niagraran Limestone in the Chicago Area” by Stuart Weller. “An Annotated Flora of the Chicago Area” by Herman Silas Pepoon, published in 1927, was a major reference for local plants for decades.

    The Bulletin, started in the 1880s, was a venue for scientific papers for any location and included authors such as William Higley (botany), Frank Baker (malacology), Orlando Park (entomology), and Howard Gloyd (herpetology). This is the Academy’s longest running periodical, with its last issue released in 1995.

    The Special Publications series (1902 to 1959) reflected longer research papers and scientific papers. Howard Gloyd, a herpetologist and director of the Academy, authored “The Rattlesnakes, genera Sistrurus and Crotalus: A study in zoogeography and evolution” in 1940. “William Dreuth’s Study of Bird Migration in Lincoln Park, Chicago” was completed by Charles Clark and Margaret Nice in 1950; the Academy’s archives contain Dreuth’s original field notes of his thirty years of bird observations.

    Publications stored at Collections Facility

    The Chicago Naturalist (1938 to 1948) and the Natural History Miscellanea series (1946 to 1982) provided shorter articles on natural history topics such as scientific collecting, wave erosion, ornithology, and naturalist biographies and served as a venue for sharing the Academy’s field activities and museum programs with its membership. Science Notes (1959 to 1966) were short pamphlet-style publications; “How weather affects bird migration” and “Ancient beaches and dunes in Lincoln Park” are just a couple of the titles in this series.

    Through the Academy’s publications, readers learned about nature in Illinois – such as glacial markings found in areas throughout Illinois, amphibians and reptiles of the Chicago region, and how to identify local birds – but they were also exposed to information about ecosystems in Texas, New Jersey, and Florida, giving readers the chance to learn about other regions of the nation.

    In 2008, we began our Publications Scanning Project to preserve these documents and broaden their accessibility. Each of the Academy’s publications are scanned and the digital file cleaned and run through an optical character recognition (OCR) program to create a searchable PDF. For more information about this project or a PDF copy of a publication that has been scanned, please contact the Museum Collections & Archives. Hard copies of some publications are still available as well; contact Collections staff for more information. For a complete listing of Academy publications, click here

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Who are the Founders?

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    Tags: founding, founder's week, Chicago Academy of Sciences, kennicott, robert kennicott, laflin building, chicago fire

    Created: 1/10/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    In 1856 a group of like-minded men enthusiastic about the natural sciences began to meet in Chicago.  The original group consisted of Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Dr. Edmund Andrews, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman. The group began adding other names immediately to their list of members and formally became “The Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” on January 13, 1857, “The Chicago Academy of Sciences” by 1859, and in 1999, “The Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.” The dedication and labor of many people ensured that the Academy continued to serve the public throughout its 157 year history, and will continue to do so in the future. 

    The men who strived to establish the Academy in the early years faced many obstacles almost from the beginning. The financial “Panic of 1857” turned many of the promised financial subscriptions into useless bits of paper. Two fires impacted the collections, the first on June 7, 1866 in their rented spaces that decimated over half of the collection and then again during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that destroyed the Academy’s building and almost all of its holdings. A second financial panic effected the economy from 1873-1879, that hampered efforts to raise funds to pay off debt incurred to rebuild after the fire. When the Academy rebuilt their structure after the Great Chicago Fire, they also paid to erect an additional structure for business purposes designed to generate income for the Academy through the rents to be charged, but business expansion did not return aggressively to the area, so few were interested in the property and the Academy ultimately went into foreclosure. In spite of these early challenges, the Academy’s members and trustees never lost their dedication to establishing a permanent museum of the natural sciences and finally succeeded in 1894 with the completion of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building which served the Academy until 1994. Here is a brief overview of just a few of the individuals who helped bring about this outcome.

    Photo of Edmund Andrew
    Edmund Andrews

    It was in the offices of the Dr. Edmund Andrews (1824-1904) that the original members began meeting in 1856. Dr. Andrews was a practicing surgeon and also a teacher of anatomy and helped to form the Chicago Medical College. He developed and maintained an avid interest in geology, particularly in glacial history, publishing some of his findings in the Transactions of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. At the formalization of the Academy in 1857, Dr. Andrews was appointed the first Curator of the Academy and held that position until Robert Kennicott took over in 1863. Later he served as President of the Board of Trustees for a number of terms, the longest from 1883-1891.

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    Robert Kennicott (1835-1866) was encouraged from an early age to learn about nature from first-hand experience. He began his more formal training when his father sent him to study with Dr. Jared Kirtland, a well known and respected naturalist. Through this connection, Kennicott met Spencer Fullerton Baird, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian, and in 1853 moved to Washington, D.C. to assist and collect for that institution. Kennicott’s participation in an exploratory expedition into northwestern Canada that was funded by the Hudson Bay Company, the Smithsonian, and individual Chicago patrons, provided the final spark for the impetus to find and open the museum to the public on January 1, 1865, since the Academy would have access to a sizeable collection almost immediately.

    George Walker
    George Walker

    George C. Walker (1835-1905) was a benefactor and life-time member of the Academy. He served on the Board of Trustees as Secretary and President as well as numerous terms as Treasurer. He owned various companies but the bulk of his wealth was made in local real estate. Walker became friends with Robert Kennicott and adopted the passion for the creation of a museum heralded by the latter. Walker committed the funding necessary to ship the specimens intended for the Academy and collected by Kennicott in his 1859 expedition to the Yukon and Arctic tundra from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. He then became the chairman of a ten man committee formed in February 1864 whose sole purposes was to obtain the money necessary to make cases and obtain the space necessary to display the collection. 

    Jacob Velie
    Jacob Velie

    Dr. Jacob W. Velie (1829-1908) trained as doctor in Hammondsport, New York, worked as a dentist in Rock Hill, IL, and a druggist in Bath, NY. During this time, he was an active naturalist, developing his own collection and participating in expeditions. For example, in 1864 he worked for five months with Dr. C.C. Parry, the noted botanist, in the Rocky Mountains. He became associated with the Academy in 1870 when he became assistant curator under Dr. William Stimpson. After the Great Chicago Fire, Dr. Velie and Dr. Stimpson traveled to Florida, Cuba and the Yucatan on a collecting trip of which many specimens were donated to the Academy, helping to start the rebuilding of the collections. Velie served as curator for the Academy until 1893, constantly adding to the Academy’s collections during that time. 

    Matthew Laflin
    Matthew Laflin

    Matthew Laflin (1803-1897) was a prominent Chicago businessman.  He built the Bull’s Head Tavern (then at Madison and Ogden) which became the city’s first stockyard as it provided pens for the cattle drivers.  It was through his son George Laflin that Matthew Laflin offered $75,000 to the Academy if an agreement could be reached with the Lincoln Park Commissioners to provide the land to build the structure and an additional $25,000 toward its completion.  An agreement was reached and the work began in 1893 with the final completion in 1894.

    Laflin Building
    Laflin Building

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Karen Kramer Wilson

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This blog post is part 1 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist. Part 2 with Dr. Doug Taron and part 3 with Steve Sullivan will be published at a later date.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature, visiting museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    We sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Karen Kramer Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist.

    Karen Kramer Wilson
    Karen Kramer Wilson

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    I tell people I work with the things that people are most creeped out about, but that are also the most numerous species on the planet and among the most interesting. There are so many compelling stories and information to discover. Even the things we think we know about entomology we don’t fully understand.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    We had a dense garden, and some of my earliest memories were of mucking about in the gardens. Across the street, there was a vacant lot with a stream and we spent almost all of our summers there. I vividly remember when I was in seventh grade they fenced in the lot for some kind of development and we lost the sounds of the frogs every night.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    As a freshman in college, I took an environmental science class, and it struck me that one of the biggest sources of pollution was agricultural chemicals. I found that interesting. Instead of strapping myself to a tree, I decided to see how the industry worked from the inside and how we could pollute less. As part of that, I ended up taking an entomology class that started at 7 a.m.. My classmates in the program were from farming families in the surrounding communities and really had a grip on their farming knowledge. But the Entomology came more naturally to me. So I ended up tutoring them in that class. I was hooked.

    Working on the Nature Museum's rooftop beehives.
    Working on the Nature Museum's rooftop beehives.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    For many kids, exposure to the natural world consists of the mowed grass of a football or softball field. They don’t have the opportunities we used to enjoy of simply hanging out and exploring; many parents don’t consider that to be a good use of time and I think that’s incredibly unfortunate. Some kids are now afraid of nature. Our challenge is to turn that fear into curiosity so that curiosity can become amazement.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    It’s fantastic. We like to say the natural world needs citizens, and citizens need this natural world. This gives people a structure and a chance to realize the power of their own observations. It should be
    empowering for citizen scientists to realize how much professional scientists need and value their input.

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Dr. Doug Taron

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This blog post is part 2 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist. Part 3 with Steve Sullivan will be published on a later date.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature,visiting Museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    The Nature Museum News sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Dr. Doug Taron, curator of biology, vice president of conservation and research.

    Dr. Doug Taron
    Dr. Doug Taron

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    A lot of what I do is overseeing the live animals and plants, and helping to manage and take care of the Academy’s collection. My own research focuses on imperiled butterflies in the Midwest, particularly butterflies of the wetlands. I also lead the Museum’s work with Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, which engages citizen scientists to collect data on butterfly populations. This allows land managers to evaluate longterm trends in a changing landscape.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    My siblings and I learned from a young age that when you passed a brown sign on the highway, something cool was nearby. We enjoyed feeding the birds and doing all sorts of things that kept us in touch with the natural world. I got my first butterfly net from the Easter Bunny when I was seven years old. In middle school, I started taking shoe boxes and cutting the fronts and back out and making a cage to keep butterflies. It was a mini-butterfly haven. I had no way of knowing what I was doing would presage a future career.

    Dr. Doug Taron working in our butterfly receiving room.
    Dr. Doug Taron working in our butterfly receiving room.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    In high school, I discovered chemistry and ended up majoring in biochemistry in college. When I was at graduate school at Northwestern and living in Evanston, I started to feel disconnected from the natural world. That’s when I discovered the prairie restoration projects in the Chicago area. Then in 1982 I began volunteering at Bluff Spring Fen. That was very important in my ultimate career trajectory.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    It’s puzzling and troubling that so many people feel disconnected. So much of the news on the environment is dire. One way to get people to care and forge a bond with the natural world is to describe the wonder of the natural world and hook them on it. All we need is the opportunity to make “nature’s case.” The subject material is so wonderful that it sells itself.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    Citizen Science empowers people and gives them the opportunity to contribute directly to scientific research. The citizen scientists of the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network have not only gathered important data, but the Network is now a model for the rest of the nation.

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Steve Sullivan

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    This blog post is part 3 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature, visiting Museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    The Nature Museum News sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Steve Sullivan, senior curator of urban ecology.

    Steve Sullivan with taxidermied squirrel
    Steve Sullivan and friend.

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    I work at a bigger version of the room I built when I was in junior high called Steve’s Museum. It was my systematic collection of natural history specimens and regionally-themed vivaria. Now, I spend a good part of my day learning about animals and teaching people about why nature and science are so interesting and have direct application to their own lives - things I would do for fun anyway.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    One story I always remember is that my grandpa told me he saw snakes in his garden. I had never seen one and I challenged him to bring me one. In the end, he brought me a male and a female garder snake. He put them in a paper bag by the door and all of a sudden I had to figure out how to care for them. When you start to look at the details of a species, there are so many questions to answer. You can learn so much just from watching them; you never get bored.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    Pets were not allowed in the dorm rooms but we would keep praying mantises anyway. We loved to feed them katydids because these insects are large enough for us to easily see muscles and organs as the mantid dissected it. We invited people to watch the feedings, which had ancillary benefits because people we might enjoy hanging out with would watch with real interest; boring people would stay home.

    Steve preparing a bird specimen in the Beecher Lab.
    Steve preparing a bird specimen in the Beecher Lab.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    We have isolated ourselves from nature in a way that our perception of what “nature” is has changed and been simplified. In fact, nature is a complex and amazing system of plants and animals, and many
    other kingdoms of life that we are just beginning to figure out. It also includes interactions between living and non-living things like water and air. Nature includes us and is around us, on us, and in us constantly. As we remind people about how fascinating nature really is, they get excited about it and make more sustainable decisions. At the Nature Museum, we are always describing to people how they are connected to nature and trying to interest them in the natural world.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    When people have the opportunity to contribute to a citizen science project such as Project Squirrel, it connects them to an issue in a way they weren’t before. Project Squirrel has had more than 6,000
    observations and counting. The data we have access to would literally be impossible to have accumulated without the work of citizen scientists of all ages and from all across the country.

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