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  • Make a #ResolutionForNature for 2016

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    Tags: new years resolution, resolution, resolution for nature, resolutionfornature, conservation, recycling

    Created: 12/31/2015      Updated: 1/8/2016

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    As we began closing out 2015, we asked our visitors to make a New Year's #ResolutionForNature. We asked them to complete an ornament to be hung on our Resolution tree, and the response was incredible. Visitors of all ages stopped to pledge their natural resolution for 2016, and we wanted to highlight our top 20 favorites. Check them out below! Then, share your own #ResolutionForNature with us in the comments section. Happy New Year and a Green 2016!

    As we began closing out 2015, we asked our visitors to make a New Year's #ResolutionForNature. We asked them to complete...

    Posted by Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on Thursday, December 31, 2015

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  • Camping in Cook County

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    Tags: camping, campground, cook county forest preserves

    Created: 11/20/2015      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    Cook County has an extensive forest preserve system that has served as an example of habitat preservation, public involvement in stewardship, and species conservation throughout the world.  This land also provides a variety of ecosystem services, such as flood control that, along with the sheer beauty of the space, increases the value of our neighborhoods.  And, of course, the forest preserves provide space for a wide range of recreational opportunities.  Whether you simply want a peaceful place to walk or a shelter to host a family reunion; if you need a path to bike, skate, or run on, or a river to paddle in; if you like to bird watch or fish, the forest preserves are there for you.  You can even do things like golf, fly model airplanes, ride horses, snowmobile, ski, and more.  To me, it has long seemed the only thing missing in our forest preserves was camping.  Well, that lack is no more.  This summer, under the leadership of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the forest preserves are now home to five campgrounds, too. 

    forest preserve camping groundThese campsites are set up for people of all camping preferences with places for tents, groups, RVs, and even cabins. 

    I am admittedly a campground snob.  I grew up backpacking so if I’m going to spend time in a developed campground, it has to be a good one.  Even for an overnighter, I usually drive an hour or two from home.  However, after my experience at Bullfrog Lake last weekend, I discovered that nice campsites are within walking distance.

    Steam rising from a pondFrost covered leaves

    Visitors who have to drive from home will usually miss such sublime scenes as watching steam rise from the pond and listening to ice tinkle as it melts in the first rays of sun…or frost-kissed leaves.

    First of all, booking was easy (much better than the online booking for most state parks) and a staffer called me a few days before I was scheduled to show up to check in and see how many parking passes I would need.  Our group arrived well after dark and I was a little worried that I would have to deal with a gate, a trick padlock, or some obstacle.  Nope.  The path was clear, the signs direct, and the campsite easy to find. 

    campground officeThe office is always open, stocked, and staffed by exceptionally friendly folks.

    I set the kids to pitching the tent while I wandered over to the headquarters to see how check-in would work.  I expected a dark hut, lit with a single mercury vapor bulb next to a cobweb filled pipe where I was supposed to cram some damp paper work.  Again I was wrong.  It turns out the forest preserve campgrounds are staffed 24 hours a day.  I stepped into a well-lit, well-stocked, heated reception cabin and was welcomed by a staff member so enthusiastic that she would make Smokey the Bear seem grumpy.  Check-in took a few seconds, plus time to spin a prize wheel (I won a free high five but the guy after me won a boat rental).  Moments later, I was heading back to my camp site with a few pieces of well-seasoned ash wood.

    The physical construction of our site was excellent and well prepared for heavy use.  Where the average campground would use a few treated 4x4 posts to display site numbers, hold lanterns, and mark boundaries, this campground used 8X8s, heavy steel posts, and wide concrete.  Paths around the site are wide, firmly packed limestone.  Roads are wide enough to for two way car traffic without being so wide they feel like a barrier. The bathrooms are constructed on slabs with meter-high concrete wall foundations, finished with hardboard siding. 

    These features may seem inconsequential but such details are the difference between a durable campground that feels comfortable for years to come and a place that will soon feel more like Lower Wacker.  For example, in addition to looking good, the high foundations on the bathroom ensure durability and ease of cleaning.  They also keep out the bugs.  Well packed trails ensure that trails drain and remain functional year round.

    Year round functionality is important because these campgrounds are open 362 days a year.  We were there on a cold night, the sort that makes one dread visiting the loo.  As it turns out, the bathrooms are heated.  They also have hot water, a shower, and automatic lights.  Such details make camping very comfortable.  In fact, I initially felt like heat and comfort was a bit excessive but then I met my camping neighbors.

    These campgrounds are in the midst of one of the largest urban areas in the country.  As might be expected then, many of the campers have never camped before.  Frankly, for a first timer, especially if you don’t have an experienced buddy, camping can be daunting.  Clean, spacious, heated bathrooms go a long way to making a pleasant experience for a neophyte.  And the attention to detail doesn’t stop there.  If you don’t have camping gear, the office has a variety of things for sale, including sleeping bags.  They also have things like naturalist backpacks with binoculars and field guides available for check out.  Apparently there are also staff-led nature hikes, archery, and other programs at times, too.

    Frost covered echinaceaThe landscaping uses a wide variety of native plants and, as it matures, will make the sites even better.  This Echinacea was just outside my tent door.

    I think such amenities are really important because camping can be a powerful way to learn about and appreciate nature.  When you are camping, you are more likely to be at the right place and time to see amazing animals, plants, and natural phenomena than if you have to drive there from home.  We saw tons of birds as they began their day--flickers, a downy woodpecker, a flock of geese flying into the mist on Bullfrog Lake-- and a wide range of frost-spangled plants.  But the great thing is, you don’t even have to sleep in a tent to have these experiences, either.  Across the path from the tent sites are camper sites with electric hook ups (and access to a dump station) and up the slight hill from there are some small cabins.  Nearby, with a nice lake view, are some larger cabins, too.  Clearly, the needs of people from all experience levels and abilities have been considered in the planning and construction of these camps.

    Camouflaged downy woodpecker
    Can you spot the foraging downy woodpecker?  We watched him for 15 minutes.

    After a nice hike in the frost- flaked air, I stopped by the office again.  The staff person was new but the cheerfulness and devotion to the campers was the same.  In the end, I’d say this is the best run, best built, and cleanest developed camp site I have ever been to.  The only thing that might be missing are a few logs to sit on around the fire and use as chopping blocks for fire wood but, then again, the place is pretty new.  The native grasses, flowers, and trees are still establishing and they are obviously paying close attention to how people use the space.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see logs the next time I go camping in the forest preserve.  It’s not easy to have camping in an urban area and this is a first rate opportunity.  I hope everybody in the county will take advantage of these places; maybe I’ll see you there.  Anybody up for snow caving in February?

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Tackling Recycling FAQs for America Recycles Day

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    Tags: america recycles day, recycling, sustainability, recycle

    Created: 11/13/2015      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    Recycling display inside the Peanuts...Naturally exhibit

    America Recycles Day is held annually on November 15 as an initiative of Keep America Beautiful and as part of the wider effort to get more Americans actively recycling. Since sustainability is so important to our institution, and plays such a big part of so many of our exhibits (including Peanuts...Naturally!)we wanted to help get citizens educated about recycling. We used America Recycles Day as an opportunity to field some of your recyling questions, and our Sustainability and Chicago Conservation Corps Manager Kristen Pratt found the answers!

    Do we need to wash clean every container that goes into the recycling bin? Do they not get recycled if they still have stuff in them?

    No. A small amount of food/beverage residual in the container is acceptable. Containers still partially full of food or liquid should be emptied before being placed in the blue cart. A benefit to rinsing containers is for sanitary purposes while storing the empty containers in the home, and the ultimate goal is to prevent the contamination of other recyclables (especially paper, which can't be washed).  So...clean out what you can, but it doesn't have to be spotless!

    What should we do with plastic caps?

    Plastic bottle caps are generally made from different plastics than the bottle. Since different plastics are recycled in different ways, the caps should be separated from the bottles. That said: because people often DON'T remove the bottle caps, many recycling facilities have taken to cutting off the tops of bottles to separate the caps. Sometimes these caps are sold as a commodity, sometimes they aren't. For Blue Cart Recycling in Chicago, the caps ARE accepted, so throw 'em in!

    Where can I recycle light bulbs?

    Unbroken CFLs can go to the Household Chemical and Computer Recycling Facility or to most box stores where they are sold (Home Depot, Lowe's). Broken CFLs and incandescents go in the trash.

    Where can I recycle old cleaning supplies?

    Cleaning supplies go to HCCRF, as well.

    Where can I recycle old pills?

    Pills go to ANY police station.

    Does the demand for recycled plastic drop after the price of oil decreases?

    Yes, they're connected. Manufacturers often ask: which is cheaper? To make new plastic (out of oil) or to pay for post-consumer plastics? When oil is cheap, it unfortunately drives down the demand for the recycled plastics.  

    Want to learn more about Chicago Conservation Corps? Click here, or sign up for the C3 Volunteer Opportunities newsletter here. Have more pressing recycling questions? Submit them via this form and we will help find the answers!

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  • Spooky Science: Dress like the Chicago Academy of Sciences founders this Halloween!

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    Tags: founders, kennicott, gloyd, elizabeth emerson atwater, william stimpson, halloween

    Created: 10/22/2015      Updated: 10/24/2017

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    Halloween is just a week away, but if you still don’t have a costume ready to go, don’t worry. We have some scientifically-focused suggestions that date back to the early days of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, many of which you can recreate just by visiting a costume store, thrift store, or your own closet!

    Robert Kennicott

    Robert Kennicott

    If you’re the outdoors type, rugged Academy founder Robert Kennicott is your man. To recreate his look, grab:

    • A heavy, long wool coat
    • A western style or oxford shirt
    • A neck scarf or bandana
    • Dark pants
    • A woven sash and garters
    • Moccasins or other soft shoes
    • Unkempt hair and facial hair

    Finish the look by toting around an animal pelt or, perhaps, a plush owl (bonus points if it is a Western screech owl, one of Kennicott’s scientific namesakes). Learn more about Robert Kennicott's work and legacy here.

    William Stimpson

    William Stimpson

    Feeling a bit more refined? Academy founder and director William Stimpson is your man! Embrace the refined naturalist look by putting together the following ensemble:

    • A frock coat or formal coat
    • A collared shirt
    • A floppy bow tie or cravat
    • A formal vest
    • A pair of old-fashioned spectacles
    • Dark trousers
    • A mustache

    Finish the look by grabbing an aquatic invertebrate friend or two, perhaps a mollusk or crustacean, since Stimpson devoted much of his life to cataloging and researching aquatic invertebrates. Learn more about this work here.

    Elizabeth Emerson Atwater

    Elizabeth Emerson Atwater

    An important woman in the history of the Academy, and the history of botany, Elizabeth Emerson Atwater is the ideal subject for those who love plants and Victorian fashion. To create her look, assemble the following:

    • Long-sleeve, Victorian style dress
    • Shawl
    • Victorian hairstyle – a low, parted bun is probably the easiest to attempt

    Be sure to bring along a scrapbook of some plant clippings or pressings to complete the look! Did you know that Atwater embraced botany because it was one of the scientific activities that a "proper" lady could participate in? Learn more about her legacy here.

    Howard K. Gloyd

    Howard Gloyd


    Love all things reptile and amphibian? Then herpetologist and Academy director Howard K. Gloyd is the perfect costume for you! And the look is not very difficult to put together! Simply grab:

    • A Panama hat
    • A safari or cargo vest
    • A white oxford shirt
    • Tall hiking boots
    • Khakis
    • A bow tie
    • A mustache

    Gloyd spent his life researching herps of all kinds, so having a rubber snake or two in tow will help complete the look! Learn more about the species that are named after Gloyd here.



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  • A Summer of Blanding's Fieldwork

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    Tags: blandings turtle, conservation, fieldwork, turtle tuesday

    Created: 9/14/2015      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    You may have noticed some new faces in our Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Lab, that’s because we have taken in a new group of Blanding’s hatchlings to headstart.

    Two Blanding's Turtle hatchlings

    It all began a few months ago, when our Biology team and Dan Thompson of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County went out into the field to track down some gravid Blanding’s turtles that were ready to lay their eggs. Each turtle has a tiny radio transmitter attached to her shell which gives off a unique signal so using a receiver we can track them. After locating them, the turtles were put into secure laying pens so they could lay their eggs in safety before being re-released. The eggs were then collected and put into an incubator to hatch.

    Nature Museum biologist Jamie Forberg holding a Blanding's turtleDan Thompson of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County holding a Blanding's turtle

    After a couple of months, the tiny turtles began to emerge from their eggs.

    Baby Blanding's Hatching

    Looks like #TurtleTuesday decided to turn into #TurtleWednesday! We caught one of our adorable baby Blanding's Turtles hatching on camera!

    Posted by Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on Wednesday, August 26, 2015

    It was about at this same time that our 2014 hatchlings reached the point where they were ready to be released into the wild. So, a few weeks ago, our Biology staff, along with Dan Thompson, released 60 of our 2014 Blanding’s hatchlings into the wild. We kept 24 of the 2014 hatchlings (some of which you can see in our Blanding’s display tank in Mysteries of the Marsh), and have introduced 106 2015 Blanding’s hatchlings to the Conservation Lab.

    Museum biologist Celeste Troon and Dan Thompson releasing hatchlings

    The majority of turtle predation takes place as eggs or during the first two years of life. By giving the Blanding’s hatchlings a "headstart" at the Museum during this vulnerable time, we are increasing their chances of survival. Although our Animal Care team works hard to provide them with this headstart, we don’t want the turtles to become habituated to humans. In order to reduce the risk of this happening, our biologists keep handling to an absolute minimum and the turtles that are on exhibit at the Museum are behind one-way glass. This is all part of a larger effort, in collaboration with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to help restore the population of this endangered, native species and help re-establish ecological balance to the area.

    Museum biologist Lalainya Goldsberry releasing hatchlings

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  • Behind the Scenes: Foundations of a Story

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    Tags: collections, collection, specimens, specimen, data, museum collections

    Created: 9/1/2015      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    Museum collections are filled with all types of objects – fish in jars, textiles, oil paintings, mammal skins, fossilized plants, historic photographs. These tangible items, the specimens and artifacts, are very cool and I’m only a little biased. But, the really good stuff is something more intangible. The really cool stuff in museums is the data associated with those objects. 

    Why is data more cool than the real item, you say?

    Detail of the label for a Passenger Pigeon specimen

    With data, we can tell the story of each specimen and artifact. Here is a label from a Passenger pigeon specimen, Ectopistes migratorius, which states:

    “Purchased by Mr. James Richardson, of [the] Am. Museum of N. Hist. [American Museum of Natural History], in the flesh, in the New York Market.” 

    Passenger Pigeons are an extinct species; the last member of their species died in 1914. This specimen was collected along the Canadian River in 1889, two and a half decades before they went extinct. The pigeon was shipped to New York for the purpose of being sold as food, where it was being sold in a local meat market. That a staff member of the museum purchased the bird and then added it as a scientific specimen to the museum’s collection is fascinating to me. It sparks questions in my mind -- Why did they collect this specimen? Did they have knowledge about the species’ decline at this time? Were they in the habit of scouring city markets for different species? Other species have been re-discovered this way, most notably the Coelacanth.

    Without data, the specimen, artifact, or piece of art is only that. We might be able to identify it and give it a name or title, but we won’t know how that particular piece fits into the larger puzzle that lets us understand our world. We won’t know who the artist was or why the piece was created. We won’t know where the animal lived or when or be able to discern how it interacted with its environment. The story is truncated, as is any knowledge that we may have gained.

    In the process of caring for the Academy’s museum collections and archives, it is not just the specimens and artifacts that we are preserving, but the information about those items as well. The relationship between a specimen and its data is protected as these components are not nearly as useful separated from each other.

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • The Life of a Dead Tree

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    Created: 8/20/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    Ichneumon wasp on tree bark

    Dead and dying trees are one of the most exciting parts of any landscape. Like a star in supernova, trees may persist for decades or even centuries before they are consumed in a flurry of activity.  Of course this analogy brings to mind some of the wildfires that happen each year. The destructive power of fire in a dry, fuel-laden forest is both terrifying and exhilarating, the ratio of which probably determined by one’s distance from the fire and the skills and tools available to control the flames. 

    Trees burn so well because they are dense collections of carbon-rich molecules, such as cellulose, that are created, year after year as the tree uses energy from the sun and carbon dioxide from the air to construct its architectural matrix. When terrestrial plants first arose, they could simply cover rocks and gather all the sunlight they needed. But, with the advent of stems and leaves, some plants were able to outcompete others for sunlight and so a cold war of sorts began. The individual with the largest leaves gathered the most sunlight while shading out the other plants. When one kind of plant grew taller, it was more successful. But at some point, gravity and wind would pull it back to the ground-- at best, making the race start again for that plant, at worst, killing it. But with the development of woody tissue plants could get taller and taller while withstanding the effects of gravity and wind as well as climbing vines, perching birds, and our clamoring primate ancestors.    

    Bee and yellowjacket on tree bark 

    This cellulose is tough and not very nutritive. Termites famously being one of the few animals that can, through their symbiosis with gut bacteria, eat it. Some species further protect their wood with a variety of toxins. The volatile oils found in eucalyptus are especially interesting—they contribute to the hot/cold feeling of products like Vicks and they are explosive when burned. Most animals that appear to eat wood actually only consume a thin layer of the plant found just beneath the bark called the phloem. This goes for rabbits, deer, voles, even beaver. Many wood-eating insects are also only found in the phloem, too, most infamously, the Asian long-horned beetle and the emerald ash borer. The wood portion of a tree is useless to most organisms. 

    Of course you can see all sorts of animals in a forest but dead and dying trees are rare, at least in a healthy forest, so there are many species that utilize them more frequently than a given living tree, dead trees called snags are like the corner bodega where it seems everybody stops briefly during the day. Lack of leaves makes snags perfect perches for birds of prey. Even more importantly, as water, ice, fungi, and bacteria invade and soften the wood, that once tough and useless superstructure becomes accessible to many more species. 

    Bee and yellowjacket on bark

    Woodpeckers are the most famous cavity nesting birds. They have a range of special adaptations that allow them to be among the first animals to take him take advantage of softwood:  toes and claws that can grip vertical surfaces, stiff tail feathers that help form a tripod while they’re excavating, chisel shaped beaks, tendon strengthened for necks, and shockproof brains. Less specialized birds like nuthatches also excavate dead wood and there are a lot of species that either modify existing cavities or just move in to whatever is available. As the holes grow in size, they allow more water in which promotes fungal growth. Many species of fungus only grow on the decaying wood of certain species of tree. Soft wood also allows insects like carpenter ants to construct galleries to live in and raise their brood. (They don’t eat wood, they just remove it to create living space.) This soft, punky wood also provides good bedding for animals as diverse as mice and queen hornets.

    Hornet on tree bark

    All this leads me to the elm that I stopped at this morning. The tree is just 100 yards north of the Nature Museum along Cannon drive, south of a park bench. It’s mostly dead but still has a good quantity of sap within it. This sap is slowly oozing out nutritious sugary gobs of elm candy which are being eagerly consumed by many animals. Although these gobs are the elm equivalent of maple syrup at first, natural yeast in the air have also begun fermenting it.  Standing beneath the tree, you can smell warm, beer-like yeasty-ness. This betrays the presence of alcohol, as well as sugar.

    Here’s a list of the animals I’ve seen on the tree just today:

    Birds: starlings, robins, barn swallows, flickers, English house sparrows, a downy woodpecker, and a crow

    Fox squirrel on tree 

    Mammals:  I only saw one grey squirrel in the tree, and he was there simply because a dog was chasing him. I suspect squirrels will avoid the tree for some time due to some of the insects that are so prevalent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some rats eating the cicadas at the base in the evening though.

    Cicada and cicada exoskeleton on tree

    Arthropods:  Here’s where you hit the jackpot.  2 species of ant, cicada exoskeletons and adult cicadas, moth egg masses, spider sacs, some cocoons (one with a dead pupae inside), flesh flies, picture winged flies, and house flies. The occasional butterfly flits past: red spotted purple, questionmark, red admiral, and painted lady. The coolest part though, are the hymenoptera galore!  Of course the cicada killers are the most obvious, but there are also honeybees, bumblebees, yellowjackets, bald-faced hornets, and even an ichneumon.

    There are lots of things I expect to see at the tree but have not seen there yet. Since the tree is an elm and is just dying this season, it should be able to stand safely for many years. It will be interesting to see all of the diversity that uses this tree over the next few years and seasons. I hope you’ll take the time to visit the elm and tell us what you have seen there, too.

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  • Remembering Dr. William J. Beecher - Part 2

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, fossil, Beecher, volunteers

    Created: 7/27/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    Dr. William Beecher died on this day in 2002. In addition to being a Chicago native and ornithologist, Dr. Beecher held the position of Chicago Academy of Sciences director for 24 years! His legacy continues to live on at the Museum. The Beecher Lab, located in the Wilderness Walk, is named after him, and some of the students who studied under him as teenagers have returned to the Museum as volunteers! In this post, Collections volunteer Joan Bledig remembers her time with Dr. Beecher.

    Dr. William Beecher holding binoculars

    Dr. William Beecher

    Dr. William J. Beecher was a dominant force in my life in the late 1950s-early 1960s. In an era when young women interested in science were considered weird, Dr. Beecher was there championing everyone’s right to study science and nature, girl or boy. He was my mentor in things scientific. And, unlike most adults of that era, he treated me and the other members of what he named his Junior Academy as equals, never talking down to us, never disregarding our questions or comments.

    I was interested in anthropology at the time I discovered the Academy, but Dr. Beecher widened my horizons to include an appreciation of many other natural sciences, including Geology. Because of my participation in the fossil hunting trips Dr. Beecher arranged to the Mazon Creek area about 70 miles south of Chicago, I developed a love of this fossil assemblage which I never lost, and resulted in my returning to volunteer once again 45 years later.

    Dr. Beecher had developed a program at the Academy to assist high school students with their science fair projects. I decided to participate, wanting to do something concerning human evolution. Beecher said that was out of field for the museum, since the projects would be incorporated into future exhibits once the science fair competitions were over. He said, “You enjoyed participating in those fossil hunting field trips to Coal City and Braidwood. Why don’t you do something on the Mazon fossils?” He was very convincing, so I agreed to do a science fair project on how the Mazon area had appeared when it was a living forest of tree ferns and giant insects 306 million years ago. And what an experience that became!

    Joan Bledig with her 1961 Science Fair project at the Academy.
    Joan Bledig with her 1961 Science Fair project at the Academy. Photo by Nancy Bledig.

    The entire museum preparation staff, it seemed, helped me create a life-size tree trunk, some examples of ground plants, and the piece de résistance, Meganeura, a dragonfly with a two-foot wingspan. Dr. Beecher made arrangements with a noted expert at the Field Museum, George Langford, Sr., to assist with the research portion. When the science fair was over, parts of the project were eventually incorporated into a life-size, walkthrough coal forest in the back of the lobby of the building at 2001 N. Clark Street.

    Dr. Beecher had a humorous side as well. Once he told us about one of his experiences while stationed on a remote Pacific island when he served in World War II. It was hotter than Hades; the native population didn’t speak English; and it was doubtful that they had much, if any, previous contact with modern civilization. He managed to get it across to one of the natives that he was thirsty. Suddenly, an islander appeared, offering him a bottle of Coca Cola! The islanders may not have had 20th century civilization, but they sure had Coca Cola. The punch line? Beecher said some future archaeologist would be beating his head against a wall wondering what the culture of “Coca Cola” was since its bottles were found everywhere on Earth.

    With great regret I tendered my resignation from the Junior Academy when I finished high school in 1964. My father had recently passed away and I needed to find a full-time job in order to earn money to pay for college. It was a sad day, parting from the Academy and Dr. Beecher. However, I never left behind the marvelous influence he had on me. A great friend of Dr. Beecher, June Hanna, stated he said he chose not to marry because he felt he could be either a great ornithologist or a great father, but never both. Maybe he didn’t think he could be both, but I believe he did a great job being both to all the boys and girls he influenced during his tenure as Director of The Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    Joan Bledig
    Collections Volunteer

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  • Remembering Dr. William J. Beecher - Part 1

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, Beecher, volunteers

    Created: 7/27/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

    Dr. William Beecher died on this day in 2002. In addition to being a Chicago native and ornithologist, Dr. Beecher held the position of Chicago Academy of Sciences director for 24 years! His legacy continues to live on at the Museum. The Beecher Lab, located in the Wilderness Walk, is named after him, and some of the students who studied under him as teenagers have returned to the Museum as volunteers! In this post, Collections volunteer Bob Morton remembers his time with Dr. Beecher.

     
    Dr. Beecher leads a field trip with four students
    Dr. Beecher leads a field trip
     

    Dr. Beecher He was a world renowned ornithologist and I remember reading about him in the Tribune quite often. He was usually consulted when there was an article about birds or the environment. My one distinct memory of this time was the mural in the Laflin building lobby. Dr Beecher created this by himself. He was on scaffolding for months in addition to his duties as Director. His apartment was only a block away from the Museum so he practically lived there. 

    He gave me the position of Junior Curator around 1962 when I was 13 years old. The previous summer I had taken an entomology course given by the Academy and had attended a number of workshops and field trips conducted by Dr. Beecher. As a Junior Curator I worked primarily in the library and as a secretary. I prepared correspondence and on a couple of occasions Dr. Beecher received letters with insects inside them. People had found them in their homes and wanted to get rid of them. He had me research and identify the insects and then prepare a letter explaining how they could be exterminated. Dr. Beecher then signed his name to the letters. He also told me that I could prepare an insect exhibit for the Museum using only my imagination. I never took him up on this offer. 

    Dr. Beecher and a reporter examine dead birds on the beach
    Dr. Beecher and a reporter examine dead birds on the beach

    There were 3 of us Junior Curators who assisted with the Entomology course taught each summer. Most of the students were Chicago High School teachers. We assisted with the laboratory work and on the weekly field trips. Others worked on exhibits and I am aware of one other teenager who published a paper on the Monarch butterfly. 

    It was amazing, the responsibility that he gave to young kids and he never once micromanaged, to my knowledge. 

    Bob Morton
    Collections Volunteer

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  • Restart Your Engines!

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    Tags: emissions, epa, driving, cars

    Created: 6/17/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    A Great crested grebe near the Helsinki Museum of Natural History at about 11 pm

    A Great crested grebe near the Helsinki Museum of Natural History at about 11 pm
     

    I recently returned from presenting some of our Project Squirrel data to the International Colloquium on Arboreal Squirrels. This time, the meeting was held in Finland. Although the meetings filled the day, I spent a lot of time outside too because, this time of year at least, the sun doesn’t set for long in the northern latitudes. On my first night there, between 10pm and midnight, I was able to find nearly 20 species including wagtail, oystercatcher, and even a goshawk being mobbed by dozens of fieldfares and hooded crows. Along with the birds, I noticed something that seemed odd to me—there was no noise coming from stopped cars at red lights. 

    A Barnacle goose

    Barnacle geese are relatives of Canada geese
     

    At first I thought locals must really be into hybrid cars but upon closer inspection I couldn’t find a single vehicle identified as a hybrid (and because of the danger they can be to rescue workers after a crash, hybrids are usually required to be labeled as such). In fact, amongst the mix of the usual commuter autos, I saw lots of patently non-hybrid and non-quiet vehicles like big American pickups, bigger Audi busses, and even a giant Avtospetsoborudovanie Silant rescue machine (I’m not sure what Silant means in Russian but it can’t be a synonym for “quiet”). Yet these were quiet at intersections too.

    So what gives? It turns out that everyone was simply turning off their vehicles when they stopped at a light to prevent idling. Now I know that idling is bad but where’s the sane line between pausing in your forward motion and idling? I felt a little silly that I didn’t know the answer but as I asked around to various eco-conscious friends, none of them knew the answer either (hence this blog post because I assume lots of people don’t know the answer.)

    Remember back in the 80s and 90s when schools would leave their lights on 24/7 “because it takes more energy to turn on the lights than it does to keep the running overnight”? Cars were like that too.  Carburetors and chokes used a ton of gas to get the car started then required a good 15 minutes or more to warm up to operating temperatures. On the other hand, modern fuel injected, computer controlled engines are ready to drive as soon as you start them (even in cold weather, as long as you don’t stomp on the gas pedal but stomping on the gas pedal is bad for different reasons under all conditions) and the amount of gas you burn when starting is about equal to the amount you burn during 10 seconds of idling. That said, restarting your car causes wear on the battery, starter, and other parts. Most of the references I found suggested the cost of gas begins to exceed the increased maintenance costs after a mere 30 to 60 seconds of idling.

    My conclusion from all this is: turn the car off as often as possible. Now I don’t think that turning your car off every time you come to a stop is a safe thing to do, at least in American traffic. In fact, it’s usually illegal here and, at least as far as I can determine in the English language translations, Finnish law doesn’t require it either. Some countries apparently do require turning off the car at intersections under certain circumstances and many countries have laws that prohibit more than 1 minute of idling per hour. However, I am convinced that idling the car as I wait for the kids to get in or for the cabin to warm is costing me money that I don’t need to spend, not to mention creating tons of excess CO2. I have also begun paying more attention to what I do at the beginning and end of every trip; I’m careful to turn the car on only after I’m done fiddling with my phone, jacket, glasses or whatever, and turn it off as soon as I park. 

    This really was something I should have known since study on the topic was active in the late 80s. I didn’t find a lot of news reporting on it until the early 2000s which is reasonable since it took until then for the knowledge to be applicable to most drivers. In researching this topic, I found a lot of reporting online but links from the articles to official sources and governmental reviews were broken more than usual. There are, of course, a lot of academic papers on this but most are behind paywalls, though you can still get a lot out of the abstracts. This one about motorcycles highlights some of the consumer issues.

    That said, this Canadian site gives a great summary and the EPA has lot of detailed tables that could let you do some interesting calculations for your own vehicle.

    Though it seems most of the EPA site is devoted to understanding what you can buy and how to shop, if you read between the lines, they also say, idling less makes a measurable difference.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Feasting on S.C.R.A.PS.

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    Tags: plants, horticulture

    Created: 6/8/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    Apparently it’s been three days north of forever since I wrote a blog post. I realized this recently when our social media guru began dropping subtle hints about it.

     

    Angry woman yelling into a phone

    (Picture is unrelated.)

    What can I say?  I’ve been busy with, you know, spring. But I get it; all y’alls been waitin’ for me to drop some botanical flava on this blog, and I just can’t keep letting you down. So hey, how about a new feature? What if I were to present, in no particular order and with no discernible practical application, an ongoing listicle of botanical wonderment? You down? Good. I think it should look a little something like this:

    Stuff that’s Cool and Rad About PlantS

    Still with me, despite the puerile, half-baked title?  Then let’s do this.

    1.  Graft Chimeras

    When it comes to stuff that’s cool and rad and rad and cool, it’s hard to beat a graft chimera.  Few are known to exist, and even these are rarely seen.  But before you can understand the extent of their coolradness, you’ll need a basic understanding of grafting.

    Grafting is the age-old process of cutting off a piece of one plant, sticking it onto another, and hoping they get along.  It’s extremely common in certain areas of horticulture, particularly fruit production.  For example, basically every single apple you’ve ever eaten was grown on a grafted plant.  A typical apple variety starts as a branch that just happens to be different from its neighbors on the tree.  An orchardist might notice that this branch produces fruit that is redder, larger, or holds later into the fall.  Perhaps it has a wicked backhand, and the orchardist is in need of a mixed-doubles partner.  Whatever the reason, he or she cuts off a part of this branch, clones it, and then grafts the clones onto the bottom halves of young apple trees that have been selected for their superior roots.  The resulting grafted plants will now produce reams of tennis-playing fruit on healthy-rooted trees.

    Typically, the “root” portion of a grafted plant (called the rootstock) and the “shoot” portion (the scion) remain distinct from each other. But sometimes the union between the two gets…fuzzy.  The result is a graft chimera, a plant that mixes two different sets of genes – and thus two different types of growth – into one.  Here are a couple of famous examples.  Below is a +Laburnocytisus ‘Adamii’, and man, do I want one!  Check it out:

    +Laburnocytisus ‘Adamii’, a tree that has two different types of flowers -- one is pink the other is yellow.

    Yep, that’s one tree with two entirely different types of flowers.  Here’s another example, aptly named a Bizzaria:

    A graft chimera citrus plant, containing a fruit that is half bitter orange and half citron.

    This harvest-time nightmare is a genetic tutti-frutti of Citrus medica and Citrus aurantium.  It was discovered in Florence in 1640, and is perhaps the best known graft chimera, with none other than Chuck Darwin taking a stab at describing it.

    Unfortunately, graft chimeras are notoriously unstable, so individual plants may lose one of their conjoined halves, returning to a non-chimeric state. But that just makes them cooler, right? And rad-er.

    2.  The Mountain Buffalo

    By now you’ve no doubt glanced ahead at the picture, BUT, before you go getting all excited, I must add a disclaimer to this entry. Most of the information I’ve found about this plant comes from not-so-sciencey sources, so please take it with a grain or two of salt. That being said, just look at this thing:

     A toddler sitting on top of a giant potato

    No small potatoes.

    That is a tuber which will not be denied. According to this website, it is from a species of Thladiantha that grows in the Yunnan province of China, and if this picture is to be believed, it is one of the largest tubers in the world. Also, someone is trying to pickpocket a baby. (Good luck – babies are notoriously cash-strapped.) As the website helpfully explains, “The tubers are resembling resting buffalos when seen from the distance in dense forest, hence their name.” I’ve done some digging to try and find out more about this beast of a plant, and I can say without doubt that the genus Thladiantha is a real thing and that several species within this genus produce large tubers. But is this photo legit? I want to believe.

    3.  Sand Food

    No disclaimer needed here; sand food is definitely legit and definitely weird (and cool and rad.) Found only in the Sonoran Desert, this bizarre member of the forget-me-not family is not-forgettable indeed.  Its name is blandly appropriate, since it grows as a ropy stem buried under shifting sands, and it is an important food source for the area’s indigenous people and jawas. Containing no chlorophyll, sand food lives as a parasite on the roots of various desert shrubs. In the spring, it produces a mushroom like flower head, like so:

    Sand food 

    Photo courtesy of Tatooine Botanical Gardens

    How the 10 or 20 tiny seeds that each flower produces manage to locate a suitable host plant is not well understood. Ants or kangaroo rats may carry the seeds underground. Or perhaps they move through the desert by clinging to the feet of lost droids. We may never know, but I would guess that the Force is strong with them.

    Seth Harper, Nature Museum horticulturist

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  • Fire in the Metropolitan Block

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, history

    Created: 6/7/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    Years before the Chicago Academy of Sciences called the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building home, it resided in the Metropolitan Block located in downtown Chicago. Though the Academy was still very young, by 1864 its collection had grown so much that it outgrew the space it occupied on the corner of Clark and Lake. It was at that point that the Academy made the move into the Metropolitan Block at the corner of LaSalle and Randolph, along with a variety of other businesses and corporations. While there was some space for specimens to be displayed, the space wasn’t ideal for creating museum space for the public. Despite this, for two years the Academy called the Metropolitan Block home, until one fateful day in June 1866.

    Map of Washington and LaSalle intersection in downtown Chicago, circa 1893.
    View of Metropolitan Block (building number 13) circa 1893 from Rand, McNally & Co.'s Birds-Eye Views and Guide to Chicago

    On June 7, 1866, a fire broke out on the north end of the Block in rooms adjacent to the Academy’s rooms and moved to the museum hall. At the time of the fire, the Academy’s collection consisted of 40,000 specimens, making it one of the largest scientific collections in the United States at the time. Sadly, of the 40,000 specimens housed there, over 18,000 were destroyed or badly damaged. Acting as Academy Curator following the sudden death of Robert Kennicott in May 1866, Dr. William Stimpson sadly reported, “Half the animals and birds were lost; the extensive collections of bird’s nests and eggs were mainly consumed; nearly all the insects were destroyed; the dried crustaceans and echinoderms were all destroyed. The large herbarium was saved, with the exception of the plants of the Northern Pacific expedition. The library was much damaged by water, but most of it was still in a condition to be used.”

    Stimpson endeavored to repair and preserve the damaged pieces by transporting them to a building on LaSalle and Lake. The focus turned to repairing the Metropolitan Block space for the interim and finding a permanent space to move into. The specimen wall cases were repaired and several new cases for specimen storage were constructed, turning the space into a taxidermy prep room. Because the space was meant to be temporary, little focus was put on exhibitions for the public, with only a few cases being reserved for that purpose.

    A lot on Wabash north of Van Buren was purchased and a new building made of brick and iron was erected at the cost of $46,000. In an effort to protect the Academy’s invaluable collections, this structure was built “as nearly fire-proof as the technology of the time permitted.” The stairways and principal doors were made of iron, the windows featured iron shutters, and the brick walls were two feet thick. A laboratory and storeroom were located in the basement, while the first floor consisted of space for the secretary, an office, library, and meeting hall. The second floor consisted of a larger museum hall with two galleries. In December of 1867, the collection, which had continued to grow, was moved into its new home.

    Resources:

    Chicago, A Strangers and Tourists Guide to the City of Chicago. 1866.

    Chicago and the Great Conflagration. Elias Colbert. 1872.

    The Chicago Academy of Sciences: Its Past History and Present Collections. Vol. 2. Frank Collins Baker. 1908.

    History of Chicago: From 1857 until the fire of 1871. Alfred Theodore Andreas. 1885.

    The Nautilus, Volumes 7-9. 1893-1894.

    Special Publication – Chicago Academy of Sciences, Volumes 1-3. 1902.

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  • Migratory Birds: Connecting Us to the Rest of the World

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    Tags: birds, ornithology, migration

    Created: 5/13/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    Red-winged blackbird

    Red-winged Blackbird

    It’s Christmas at the Nature Museum today. Or at least that’s what it seems like with all of the colorful ornaments adorning the trees around the building. These ornaments are actually migratory birds though, arriving to celebrate spring. Blue-winged and yellow warblers, red-winged blackbirds and redstarts, gold finches in their breeding finery, and blue-grey gnatcatchers seem to be flitting from every bough. Veery and wood thrush provide holiday songs, while kingfishers lay down the beat.  Even the catbird, while not as melodious as some, contributes soft mews that spice the soundscape, too.

    Palm warbler

    Palm Warbler

    For many of these species, Chicago is the last layover on a transcontinental flight from winter home to breeding grounds. For others, this is their final stop; they will spend the summer eating bugs and weed seeds in our neighborhoods. Such a migration is one of the amazing phenomena of life. For example, the blackpoll warbler may fly for 1,500 miles in one hop, often over open ocean. Though some will pause at North Pond after they leave Brazil, Blackpolls only finish their seasonal travel when they are near the arctic, where the trees and the bugs are perfect for nesting and feeding protein-hungry young. 

    Though I’ve spent my share of time in airports and flying over the ocean, migration remains an abstract concept to me. My own personal peregrinations rely on fossil fuels and technology, punctuated by stops at greasy spoons and historical monuments. In contrast, birds cross continents using their own metabolic power. They spend a few frenetic weeks foraging on every high calorie insect they can find, sometimes doubling their summer weight. Then, when the weather is right and the moon is full they launch themselves into the void and fly. 

    Male cardinal

    Cardinal

    I’ve hiked a lot at night in the desert and sat in the shade all day-- which might be comparable to some of the weakest migrators-- but imagine walking day and night, in weather foul and fair. Such a trek is almost inconceivable for me, yet many birds do it every spring and autumn for their whole lives. More concrete to me than migration is the physical presence of a bird. All winter I enjoy the blue jays, chickadees, and house sparrows that live in my neighborhood. Then, suddenly one morning I see a flash of red that is somehow more intense than a cardinal, faster than a flicker, and more skulking than a nuthatch—a scarlet  tanager! This bird flew from the foothills of the Andes, crossed the Panama canal, probably spent a day or two in the Yucatan then bee-lined across the gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri only to pause in a tree outside my window, pluck a bug from the branch, and disappear into the leaves.

    Scarlet tanager

    Scarlet Tanager (CheepShot via CC BY 2.0)

    It’s easy to have a feeling of ownership towards the birds that live near us. When a robin builds its nest above the back door, it’s “your” bird. Did the baby’s hatch? Did they fledge? Maybe you even left some worms on the sidewalk to supplement the meals. Doubtless you would close the door softly or even stop using the door altogether during incubation. And what would you do if a cat began stalking “your” robin?

    In the same way that the robin is “yours,” so is the scarlet tanager. Cats will kill it and pesticides will starve it just as surely as they will the local robin. However, that scarlet tanager lives in many people’s backyards during the year. All it takes is one loose cat in Costa Rica, one field sprayed for bugs in Honduras, one windmill in Texas, or one well lit building in Chicago to kill that tanager before it gets to your back yard. If migratory birds belong to anyone, they belong to all of us. Our stewardship of the environment today matters for both the bird and for our brothers and sisters around the world everyday.

    While it may not actually be Christmas at the Nature Museum today, it is a season of celebration of life and of the parts of life that we all share.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • No Specimen Left Behind: Publishing the Academy’s Biological Collections Data Online

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, academy collections, Academy History, museum specimens

    Created: 4/28/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    There is a secret side to the Nature Museum. Behind the butterflies, behind the dioramas, behind the turtles and frogs and snakes, the museum has an offsite collections facility filled with nearly 300,000 natural history specimens. Wander through these collections and you might come across a Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) collected in 1889 by an astute citizen who purchased the pigeon from his neighborhood meat market. You might see a specimen of the Southern Rock Vole (Microtus chrotorrhinus carolinensis), which was used in 1931 to describe this species for the first time. You also might turn up a sparrow prepared just last month by one of the museum’s dedicated taxidermy volunteers. The Academy’s collections help us explore past biodiversity, as well as gather and preserve evidence for future generations.

    Drawers containing specimens of the extinct Carolina Parakeet and Passenger Pigeon.

    So how do you get to this hidden side of the museum? Well, that’s a problem we’ve been trying to address. The Academy has an ethical duty to preserve and provide access for our specimens, but our collections facility isn’t really designed for drop-in visitors. You could email our friendly Collections staff, Dawn and Erica, but they are only two people and don’t always have time for guests. Instead, we worked with VertNet, a project funded by the National Science Foundation to bring together specimen data from collections across the country, to publish all of our mammalogy and oology (bird eggs and nests) specimen data online. It’s not quite the same as exploring the collections in person, but being able to search through our collections online is a great first step.

    VertNet Screenshot

    Try it for yourself at www.VertNet.org. As of mid-April, we have data from 4,643 mammal specimens and 9,075 bird eggs and nests published on VertNet, as well as on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and iDigBio (two other projects that bring together natural history specimen data). On the VertNet homepage, you can search for specimens with our collection prefix (CHAS) by going to “Search Options” and entering CHAS in the “InstitutionCode” box. See if you can find the oldest specimen, or the specimen collected farthest away, or your favorite mammal or bird species!

    Type specimen of Southern Rock Vole

    We are currently working hard to make data from our ornithology (bird) and herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) collections available on VertNet also. Eventually, you’ll be able to access all of our specimen data online, including images. After all, these aren’t the Academy’s specimens—they’re yours. We’ve just been taking care of them for the past 150 years, and will continue to do so for the next hundred.

     

    Erica Krimmel
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Curious What We’ve Been Up to for the Past Century? Find out on Internet Archive!

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, academy publications, chicago naturalist, internet archive

    Created: 4/28/2015      Updated: 8/1/2016

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    The Chicago Academy of Sciences has been around for quite a while. Since 1857, in fact. Over the course of our history, we have produced various series of publications, and over the past seven years the Collections Department has been digitizing these historic Academy publications. Recently, we started uploading the digitized copies to Internet Archive, a non-profit organization with the goal of providing permanent access to historical collections that exist in digital formats. Through Internet Archive you can search or browse the Academy’s publications, read them online, and even download a PDF for later!

    Screenshot of an Academy publication on Internet Archive

    Our publication archives offer insight into not only the institution’s history, but life as a naturalist over the past century. In a 1940 issue of Chicago Naturalist, the Academy’s Offield-Beaty expedition to Arizona is described. According to then Academy director, Howard Gloyd, “our objectives were to continue faunistic [animal] studies already in progress, to make colored motion pictures of desert wildlife, and to augment the study collections of the Academy’s museum. But with some of us, at least, there was a very real desire to re-experience the beauty and charm of the desert wonderland,” (p. 67, Vol. 3, No. 3). In the same issue, well-known ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice recounts her experiences birding in Hungary in 1938.

    Map of Lake Michigan's shoreline history

    Although many of the articles in these publications describe travels to far off lands, the Academy was also actively involved in understanding and supporting the natural history of Chicagoland. For example, the Bulletin of the Chicago Academy of Sciences often published scientific papers, such as taxonomic or behavioral studies, floras or faunas of local regions, etc. In 1942, one of the papers in the Bulletin is titled, “The ecology of the spiders of the xeric dunelands in the Chicago Area,” (Lowrie, Donald C. Vol.6, No. 9). Around the same time, Chicago Naturalist published an interesting natural history of Lake Michigan’s shoreline—did you know that 14,000 years ago the lake level was sixty feet higher (1938, Vol. 1, No. 1)? If you lived in Glenwood during that time, you’d have had lakefront property!

    Readers of the Academy’s Bulletin were invited to lectures with a vast array of topics on everything from “The Illinois Petroleum Industry” (1908) to “Cats and the Lands They Inhabit” (1972). Today, you can still catch up on how the eye works (Chicago Naturalist, Vol. 4, No. 4), or what makes some animals able to produce bioluminescence (Chicago Naturalist, Vol. 2, No. 4). And don’t neglect to read until the very end of a publication—the advertisements are often amusing!

    We already have issues of two Academy publication series uploaded to Internet Archive: Chicago Naturalist, published from 1938 to 1948; and The Bulletin of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, published on and off from 1883 to 1995. Keep checking back though, because we’ve got plenty more to share in the future, including motion film. And if you appreciate being able to see our publications online, thank the Collections Department volunteers who made it possible: Jessica Bernstein, who digitized all of our Academy publications, and Jessica Weller, who has been uploading and adding metadata to each of the PDFs.


    Erica Krimmel
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • May Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS

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    Tags: herpetology, herps, chicago herpetological society, snakes, Turtle, reptiles

    Created: 4/24/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

    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! Come and join us as we share our passion for these wonderful animals.

     

    Junior Herp Society logoChicago Herpetological Society logo

    Join us for some fun with our reptile and amphibian friends!

    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 visitors to the museum. The next meeting will be on Sunday, May 3rd. Our scheduled topic is "Herping Responsibly" which is the observation of these animals in their natural habitat and respect for nature and the animals while we do that. We are looking forward to this and we are also planning a trip out to Channahon, IL to do some actual field herping with our March speaker, Ranger Kevin Luby from the Willowbrook Wildlife Center on May 30th. We are developing plans to start utilizing the skills and knowledge of some of our teenage members as leader mentors which has been a goal of ours since the beginning. We had alot of fun at our trip to Brookfield Zoo on April 4th and we are very grateful to our friends at the zoo for helping to make that a wonderful day.

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

    Junior Herp Society Members on a field trip   Junior Herp Society Members on a field trip

    The Chicago Herpetological Society is a non-profit all volunteer organization dedicated to the conservation of all wildlife, especially reptiles and amphibians, the cooperation of amateur and professional herpetologists toward a more complete understanding of herpetofauna, and the education of the general public about these often misunderstood but fascinating animals.​

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

    You can learn more about CHS adoptions here.

    Two bearded dragons   Woman holding snakes

    The Junior Herp Society was founded by members of the Chicago Herpetological Society and we encourage our members to become members of the CHS as well. General meetings of the Chicago Herpetological Society are held on the last Wednesday every month at 7:30pm at the Notebaert. Meetings are free to attend. The April 29th meeting of the Chicago Herpetological Society will feature Scott Ballard of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Mr. Ballard is the author of the Illinois Herptiles-Herps Act that went into effect the beginning of this year. Everyone in Illinois who owns a reptile or amphibian or enjoys field herping needs to review this new law, but it’s particularly important for breeders, native animal keepers, and keepers of large or venomous animals. Talk with the man who wrote the law. 

    You can learn more about the Chicago Herpetological Society here.

    Thanks and hope to see you there!

    Rich Lamszus
    Chicago Junior Herp Society
    Chicago Herpetological Society

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  • Meet Some of the Stars of National Frog Month

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    Tags: critter connection, herpetology, frogs, toads, national frog month

    Created: 4/8/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    April is National Frog Month, and we're marking it with weekly frog and toad-focused live feedings, as well as weekly frog and toad Critter Connections. Since these toad-ally cool critters are going to be in the spotlight this month, we thought we would take a closer look at the different species you might find in Mysteries of the Marsh and our Look-In Lab.

    Northern Leopard Frog

    Northern Leopard Frog

    Although they can have lots of color variations, the most common variations are green and brown. As the name implies, they are distinguishable by the large, dark circular spots on their back, sides and legs, which are normally bordered by a lighter ring. They're often found in ponds, swamps, marshes, and slow-moving streams, preferring to inhabit bodies of water that have abundant aquatic vegetation. In the summer, they'll actually leave the ponds and move to grassier areas and lawns. 

    Pickerel Frog

    Pickerel Frog

    Although the Pickerel and Leopard frogs are similar at a glance, you can tell them apart by taking a closer look at their spots -- while Leopard Frogs have circular spots, Pickerels have irregular rectangular spots. Pickerel Frogs are also uncommon in Illinois, while Leopard Frogs are widesparead. Northern Pickerel Frogs prefer to live near cold, clear water, preferring rocky ravines, bogs and meadow streams. They can also be found around lakes and rivers that are heavily wooded. Unlike many of our other native frogs, Pickerels have a unique defense mechanism -- they can emit skin secretions which are actually toxic to some predators. For humans, the secretions generally only cause skin irritation, but it's important to wash your hands after handling them. This clever defense mechanism makes the Pickerel the only poisonous frog native to the United States!

    Northern Cricket Frog

    Northern Cricket Frog

    These small, warty frogs generally grow between 1.5 and 3.5 centimeters long. Unlike other frogs, they actually don’t have toe pads, which you can see if you look closely. They can be gray, brown or green and prefer open, shallow water with plenty of vegetation. And, as you probably guessed, their calls resemble that of a cricket.

    Gray Tree Frog

    Gray Tree Frog

    While their name suggests that they're only gray in color, Gray Tree Frogs are generally gray, green or brown depending on what they’re sitting on. They can actually change their camouflage from nearly black to nearly white, though they do change at a slower rate than a chameleon. Also, as their name would suggest, they're common in forested areas and are highly arboreal. In fact, they rarely ever descend from the treetops, with the main exception of breeding. Their calls are often heard in rural residential areas of the east coast and Midwest.

    Want more National Frog Month fun? Hop on over to our Instagram account! We'll be featuring a new frog or toad friend every Friday as part of our month-long #FrogFriday series. Not on Instagram? You can still follow along by jumping over to our Twitter account or Facebook page!

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  • March & April Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS

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

    Created: 3/23/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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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! The Notebaert is an awesome and beautiful place to go and reconnect with nature during these colder months.

    Junior Herp Society logo Members at a Junior Herp Society meeting, with an alligator snapping turtle

    Join us for some fun with our reptile and amphibian friends!

    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 visitors to the museum. We are sad to announce the cancellation of the April 5th meeting as scheduled. We made an error in planning and did not see that this will be Easter Sunday and many of us have other plans that day. We have some friends at the Brookfield Zoo and they generously helped us to arrange a behind-the-scenes tour for the kids there on Saturday, April 4th. We had good response to this and it should be fun. The next meeting will be on Sunday, May 3rd. Our scheduled speaker is Matt Bordeux and he will be discussing field herping, which is the observation of these animals in their natural habitat. We are looking forward to this an we are also planning a trip out to Channahon, IL to do some actual field herping with last month's speaker, Ranger Kevin Luby from the Willowbrook Wildlife Center on May 30th. 

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

    Girl with a snake  Closeup of a man's hand holding a snake

    The Chicago Herpetological Society is a non-profit all volunteer organization dedicated to the conservation of all wildlife, especially reptiles and amphibians, the cooperation of amateur and professional herpetologists toward a more complete understanding of herpetofauna, and the education of the general public about these often misunderstood but fascinating animals.​

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

    You can learn more about CHS adoptions here.

    Chicago Herpetological Society logoBearded Dragons with Chicago Herpetological Society promo card

    The Junior Herp Society was founded by members of the Chicago Herpetological Society and we encourage our members to become members of the CHS as well. General meetings of the Chicago Herpetological Society are held on the last Wednesday every month at 7:30pm at the Notebaert. Meetings are free to attend. This month's meeting will feature guest speaker Danny Mendez. He'll be discussing Raising Ethical Standards in Herpetoculture.

    We regret to announce the cancellation of ReptileFest 2015, which was planned for April 11 and 12, due to a cancellation of our venue due to unforseen circumstances. We are currently working on the best possible venue for ReptileFest 2016 and we hope to make this better than ever.

    You can learn more about the Chicago Herpetological Society here.

    Hope to see you there!

    Rich Lamszus
    Chicago Junior Herp Society
    Chicago Herpetological Society

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  • A Chicago Pioneer: J. Young Scammon

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    Created: 3/9/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    The Laflin Memorial Building was the home of the Chicago Academy of Sciences for a century, giving the collection a more permanent home than it had had in years. Unfortunately, one of the men who was an early supporter and founder of the Academy died before it became a reality.

    J. Young Scammon

    Jonathan Young Scammon was born July 27, 1812 in Whitfield, Maine, and from an early age expressed a fondness for, and interest in, agriculture and horticulture. In fact, were it not for an accident that stripped him of the full use of his left hand. Instead, he studied law and was admitted to the bar. He began practicing and became an early settler of Chicago, arriving in the city in 1835. In 1837 he was selected as Attorney of the State Bank of Illinois, and in 1839 became reporter of the Illinois Supreme Court.

    In addition to his legal work, Scammon became an organizer and supporter of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, created a charter for Chicago’s public school system, and established the first bank under the general banking law of Illinois. Despite this work, he never lost his love for nature, and kept a beautiful garden at his home on Michigan and Randolph. It was this interest in horticulture and the natural sciences in general that brought him to begin meeting with other original members of the Chicago Academy of Sciences in the offices of Dr. Edmund Andrews. Once the Academy was officially formed, and plans were discussed to create a museum, Scammon joined the Board of Trustees, and served on the Board until 1883. Scammon died 125 years ago today, on March 17, 1890.

    Scammon truly was a Chicago pioneer. Visit the sources below to learn more about the contributions he made to the city, and the societies he worked to found and organize.

    William H. Bushnell, Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Settlers of the City of Chicago, pp. 19-31

    Jonathan Young Scammon

    Charles Henry Taylor, History of the Board of Trade of the City of Chicago, pp.122

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  • A Rainforest Refresh - Introducing Our Newest Critters!

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    Tags: rainforest adventure, rainforest animals, dumeril's boa, parrots, toucans, aracari, amazon, tree monitor, henkel's leaf-tailed gecko

    Created: 3/4/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    Visitors have enjoyed our "Rainforest Adventure" exhibit so much, that we've extended its run through the end of May! To refresh it a little, we've switched out Iggy, Tonks and the rest of the critters for a new group of rainforest friends. Be sure to stop by and say 'hello' in person, and learn more about them below!

    Green Aracari

    Green Aracari 

    Green Aracaris are found in the lowland forests of northeastern South America, the northeast Amazon Basin, the Guianas and the eastern Orinoco River drainage of Venezuela. They nest in tree hollows and cavities, digging to expand the chambers for more room. Both parents cooperate to rear their young. The Green Aracari is the smallest member of the toucan family. Their diet consists primarily of fruit. The large bill’s serrated edges help the bird to grip and gather fruit. Insects are an occasional part of the diet, providing protein.

    Kindly loaned by Jason J. Crean, American Federation of Aviculture, Promoting a Future with Birds.

     

    Ivory-Billed Aracari

    Ivory-Billed Aracari

    Like the Green Aracari, Ivory-Billed Aracaris are also found in South America, mostly in the lowlands of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil, and in the lower elevations of the Andes.  Ivory-Billed Aracaris are the smallest members of the Aracari family, typically weighing about 5.3 oz. Males have a black crown while females have a brown crown. The males also typically have longer bills.

    Kindly loaned by Jason J. Crean, American Federation of Aviculture, Promoting a Future with Birds

     

    Green Tree Monitor

    Green Tree Monitors

    This small to medium-sized tree dwelling monitor lizard is known for its unusual coloring, which serves as camouflage in its natural environment. The lizards are found in tropical forests, palm swamps and cocoa plantations in New Guinea and several surrounding islands. They have prehensile tails, long claws, and the soles of their feet have enlarged scales for extra grip. Their diet consists of large tree-dwelling arthropods including katydids, beetles, centipedes, spiders, stick insects and crabs, as well as birds and small mammals.

    Kindly loaned by Julie TenBensel Vicary.

     

    Lilac-Crowned Amazon

    Lilac-Crowned Amazon

    This parrot is native to the Pacific slopes of Mexico, but there are feral populations in several Southern California counties. Lilac-crowned Amazons have been kept as pets since the 1800s, and are one of the most popular parrot species in the pet trade. Due to the loss and degradation of habitat, the wild population of these parrots has declined by an estimated 30 to 49 percent over the past decade. The illegal Central and South American pet trade has also contributed to their decline. This species is listed as vulnerable within its natural range.

    Kindly loaned by Jason J. Crean, American Federation of Aviculture, Promoting a Future with Birds.

    Dumeril’s Boa

    Dumeril's Boa

    This non-venomous Boa species is found on Madagascar and Reunion Island, located east of Madagascar on the Indian Ocean. Adults average 6.5 feet in length although specimens over 8 feet long have been reported. Dumeril’s Boa is threatened by deforestation and hunting by humans. In some areas they are killed on sight due to unfounded fear. Their diet consists of small animals, including birds, lizards, and mammals, and they are also known to prey on other snakes.

    Kindly loaned by The Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest.

     

    Henkel’s Leaf-Tailed Gecko

    Henkel’s Leaf-Tailed Gecko

    Also known as Flat-tailed Geckos, there are eight species of these animals, all native to Madagascar. All Leaf-tailed Geckos are being threatened by habitat loss caused by deforestation across the island. Leaf-tailed Geckos’ skin often resembles tree bark. This provides excellent camouflage when the geckos are basking in the sun during the day. They are carnivorous, with insects comprising the bulk of their diet, but, occasionally, they will hunt other invertebrates, small rodents or reptiles.

    Kindly loaned by The Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest.

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  • From Confections to Fossils: Charles F. Gunther

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    Created: 3/2/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    Charles F. Gunther was born on this day in 1837. Although he spent a large portion of his life as a successful confectioner, he also contributed to the Chicago Academy of Sciences in a number of ways.

    Charles F. Gunther

    Charles F. Gunther

    Gunther was born in Germany, then moved to the U.S. with his family, first to Pennsylvania then Illinois. After fighting in the Civil War, he traveled to Europe to study and learn from confectioners in Europe. He started his own company in 1868, specializing in caramels, and saw tremendous success. So much so, that he began to use his fortune purchasing unique, if not always legitimate, historical artifacts. His collection included everything from shrunken heads, to fossils, to Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed, to alleged Biblical relics. He then bought the Libby War Prison in Richmond, moved it Chicago and turned it into a museum to house his collection. It was open from 1889 to 1899. It was around this time that he became involved with the Academy.

    He joined the Academy’s Board of Trustees in 1889, and soon after began donating some of the natural history pieces of his collection to the Academy. From 1895 to 1911, he contributed fossils, minerals, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, and cultural items. Some of the largest (and most impressive) pieces he donated are actually still on display in the Nature Museum. This Mastodon jaw and tooth are from the Pleistocene Epoch and, coincidentally, were found 6 miles from Abraham Lincoln’s first home in Macon County, Illinois.

    Mastodon mandible

    Mastodon mandible. Donated by Charles F. Gunther.

    Event though his own museum closed in 1899, Gunther remained an Academy trustee until 1911. He had hoped to open a new museum for his collection, but his condition that the city provide a building to house the museum in Garfield Park was never met. Gunther died February 10, 1920, but the impact he had on the Academy’s collection remains.

    Mastodon tooth

    Mastodon tooth. Donated by Charles F. Gunther.

    Learn more about Gunther's work by checking out the resources below:

    Museum Work: Including the Proceedings of the American Association of Museums Volumes 1 & 2 pp. 205-206

    Charles F. Gunther 1837-1920

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  • "Fieldwork is the Lifeblood of Museums": Remembering Alfred M. Bailey

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    Tags: Alfred M. Bailey, Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, ornithology

    Created: 2/16/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    If you're familiar with the Chicago Academy Sciences and our history, then chances are good that you've heard the name Alfred M. Bailey before. For just shy of a decade, Bailey was Director of the Academy, and added some invaluable specimens to our ornithology collection...but who exactly was he?

    Edward Ford, Alfred M. Bailey and William I. Lyon standing on a pier

    Edward Ford, Alfred M. Bailey and William I. Lyon
    Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection.

    Alfred Marshall Bailey was born on this day in 1894 in Iowa City, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1916, and as an undergrad worked in a government-sponsored expedition to the Hawaiian Island of Laysan. From here, he quickly became involved in the world of museums. From 1916 to 1919 he worked as the curator of birds and mammals at the Louisiana State Museum, and from 1921 to 1926 he worked at the Denver Museum of Natural History, before making the move to the Midwest.

    In 1926, Bailey came to Chicago to join the Field Museum, but after a year, he made the move to the Chicago Academy of Sciences where he was appointed Director of the Academy. During the nine years he spent as Director, Bailey continued to focus on ornithology, organizing trips back to Louisiana to capture still and motion photography of migrating birds. He also organized trips to Alaska and, working with collectors there, collected birds and bird eggs. This culminated in the publication of the Academy’s Program of Activities “Birds of the Region of Point Barrow, Alaska” in 1933.

    Alfred M. Bailey in a field filming birds in Louisiana.

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

    When Bailey resigned from the Academy, he returned to the Denver Museum of Natural History where he was appointed Director, a position he held until 1969. He remained involved with the Denver Museum until his death in 1978.

    In his obituary for Bailey, Allan R. Phillips detailed that Bailey’s credo was “fieldwork is the lifeblood of natural history museums and he himself was a leading fieldman.” This extensive fieldwork not only produced Academy publications, it also resulted in some prized pieces of our ornithology collection. Some of the specimens in our collection were collected as part of Bailey’s work to document avian diversity in his book Birds of Arctic Alaska. In addition to those specimens, we also have a large number of Bailey’s photographs in our archives that were taken during his trips across the United States and Canada. To see some of them, check out this blog post.

    To learn more about Bailey’s life and work, check out these resources:

    Allan R. Phillips, “In Memoriam: Alfred M. Bailey”, The Auk Vol. 98, No. 1 (Jan., 1981), pp. 173-175

    Papers of Alfred M. Bailey – University of Iowa Libraries

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  • The Work of William Stimpson

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    Tags: william stimpson, Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, founders

    Created: 2/10/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    Although February 14 is recognized as Valentine’s Day, it’s a special day to the Nature Museum for another reason. It’s also the birthday of William Stimpson, a major force in the creation and establishment of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    William Stimpson

    Born on February 14, 1832 in Boston, Stimpson seems to have been born with a love of nature. By the age of 14, he’d begun independently exploring geology and invertebrates. Despite this love of the natural world, Stimpson found himself pushed toward engineering by his father who believed there was no money to be had in the scientific field. While Stimpson begrudgingly obeyed his wishes for a couple of years, by 1850 he was studying under the prodigious biologist/geologist Louis Agassiz at Cambridge. Two years later, he was appointed naturalist of the North Pacific Exploring Expedition. He was only 20 years old. He remained with the Expedition for four years, collecting 5,300 specimens and making special notes and drawings of over 3,000 specimens. You can read his report on the crustacea collected during the expedition here.

    Nautilus drawn by William Stimpson
    William Stimpson, Nautilus Drawing, US Pacific Expedition, Aug 14, 1853
     

    Upon his return, he began studying at the Smithsonian, later becoming the head of the invertebrates department. It was here where he met Robert Kennicott, the naturalist who’d begun to make a name for himself by cataloging the fauna of his home state of Illinois. In 1865, Stimpson was widely recognized as the leading American authority on aquatic invertebrates. It was at this time that his old pal Robert Kennicott called on him to join the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    Kennicott was about to leave on expedition to Alaska and appointed Stimpson to take his place as Curator of the Academy, as well as Academy Secretary. Stimpson not only brought a new energy to this role, he also brought much of the collection he built during the course of his own personal research, as well as what he collected while with the Smithsonian. When Kennicott died while on expedition, Stimpson was elected to take his place as Director of the Academy. Through Stimpson’s leadership, the Academy’s collection grew to be the fourth largest in the country, with only the Smithsonian’s collection as its rival in importance. Sadly, it was lost during the Great Chicago Fire – a loss that Stimpson never fully recovered from.

    Stimpson died of tuberculosis just nine months after the Great Fire. Although he had been working to rebuild the collection, he was in poor health, and the loss of his life’s work weighed on him heavily. Despite the incredible loss, Stimpson never regretted his decision to join the Academy. In a letter to his secretary he said:

    But had I lost twice as much, I shall never regret coming to Chicago, for I have found there noble and generous friends, not only to myself, but friends to science and such as no other city in America can boast; and of more value to me than worldly possessions will be the memory of the friendly experiences I have had with yourself and the other trustees and the friends of the Academy, while we together built up a monument which, though now leveled with the dust, will long live in scientific history.

    William Stimpson

    Sources:

    Josiah Seymour Currey, Chicago: Its History and Its Builders…: 157
    Alfred Goldsborough Mayer, “Biographical Memoir of William Stimpson”, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences: 419-433
    Special Publication – Chicago Academy of Sciences, Volumes 1 & 2
    “William Stimpson”, Spencer Baird and Icthyology at the Smithsonian


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  • Taking a Closer Look at Howard K. Gloyd

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, herpetology, snakes, howard k gloyd

    Created: 2/9/2015      Updated: 8/2/2016

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    Chicago Academy of Sciences Director and herpetologist Howard Kay Gloyd was born 113 years ago today.

    Howard Gloyd on expedition

    Born in DeSoto, Kansas, Gloyd taught at Ottawa University, the Agricultural College of Kansas State University and the University of Michigan before joining the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1936 as Academy Director. It was also around this time that he became vice president of the American Society of Icthyologists and Herpetologist and was a consultant for the State Natural History Survey of Illinois. While at the Academy, Gloyd worked to expand the Academy’s scientific publications and additions to the Academy’s public lecture series, and still conducted his own personal research on snakes with a special emphasis on rattlesnakes.

    Gloyd’s focus on rattlesnakes led him to organize three separate expeditions to Arizona, with the first in 1936, the second in 1940, and the third in 1946. The specimens he acquired during these expeditions are actually still in our collections. Although Gloyd left the Academy in 1958, he continued to remain an important figure in the world of herpetology, describing new species (like the Florida cottonmouth snake) and holding various lecturer and research associate positions at the University of Arizona which culminated in his appointment as Emeritus Professor of Zoology at U of A. He held this position until his death in 1978.

    In addition to his contributions to our collections, Gloyd continues to be connected to the Nature Museum. Two of the snake species featured in our living collections are actually his herpetological namesakes. The Eastern Fox Snake (Elaphe vuplina gloydi) was named for Gloyd by Roger Conant in 1940, while the Western Hognose Snake subspecies the Dusty Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus gloydi) was named for Gloyd by Richard A. Edgren in 1952. You may have met some of our own Fox Snakes, like Toblerone, during our Critter Connections, and if you’ve wandered through Mysteries of the Marsh, you’ve no doubt seen our own beautiful Western Hognose Snake!

    Eastern Fox SnakeWestern Hognose Snake

    Eastern Fox Snake and Western Hognose Snake, both named for Howard K. Gloyd

    You can learn more about Howard K. Gloyd by checking out the resource below.

    Biographies of People Honored in the Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America

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  • Bunking with the Butterflies: A Night in the Life of a Girl Scout at the Nature Museum

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    Tags: overnights, scout programs, museum programs

    Created: 2/6/2015      Updated: 1/9/2018

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    Girl Scouts playing with animal antlers and pelts during a Nature Museum overnight program

    6:00:  I arrived at the Museum to find 150 other girls with sleeping bags and pillows, waiting to see where we’d be sleeping for the night.

    6:30:  After dropping off our belongings, we all came together in a GIANT circle to meet the staff, sing some songs, and go over the rules for the evening.

    7:00:  I GOT TO MEET A TURTLE. His name is Bob and he’s a Blanding’s turtle. They are an endangered species. I can’t believe I got to pet him!

    7:30:  My troop just got to explore the Museum’s exhibits…and we were the only ones there! It was so cool to have the whole place to ourselves. We built dams in RiverWorks, then spent a long time watching the animals in the Rainforest Adventure exhibit. So cool!

    8:00:  Now I know how to tell the difference between a fox squirrel and a grey squirrel.  I got to touch some real (but no longer living) squirrel specimens and play this fun matching game where I had to find two pictures of squirrels of the same species that matched.

    8:30:  I just ate some popcorn and other snacks in Nature’s Lunchbox.  I loved the chance to hang out with my friends.

    9:00:  Craft time! We made these awesome seed bombs out of clay, dirt, and seeds. I can’t wait to plant it in my backyard.

    9:30:  It’s time to start getting ready for bed. I rolled out my sleeping bag, then I brushed my teeth and changed into my PJs. 

    11:00:  Lights out. I AM SLEEPING AT THE MUSEUM. Ah!

    ::next morning::

    7:00:  Time to wake up! So soon?! 

    8:00:  We had breakfast together and got our badges that prove that we spent the WHOLE NIGHT at the Museum.

    8:30:  Before the Museum’s even open, we got the special chance to explore the Butterfly Haven.  Since we had the place to ourselves, I had a chance to look more closely than usual at everything in there. I didn’t know there were birds in the haven! I love the button quail, running around among the plants. I’m going to come back and visit them again.

    9:00:  I stopped by the gift shop to buy a souvenir from this great trip. I got a stuffed turtle who I’m going to sleep with from now on so I always remember the night I spent at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Girl Scouts examining reptile and amphibian specimens in jars during a Nature Museum overnight program

    Sounds like a great time, right? Well, this is a REAL experience for young girls at the Museum. We are recruiting Girl Scout troops for two upcoming overnights this spring:

    Juniors (4th and 5th graders): April 24-25

    Brownies (2nd and 3rd graders): May 8-9

    5:30pm-9am

    $45/girl, $15/chaperone

    If you know a Girl Scout who might like to participate in this unique program, please have her troop leader visit our Overnight Programs page to register or learn more. Questions can be directed to overnights@naturemuseum.org or 773-755-5100 x5037. 

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  • Introducing Discovery Day

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    Tags: discovery day, specimens, collections

    Created: 2/2/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Have you ever seen something in nature that you just couldn’t identify? On Saturday, February 28, we'll be sharing our experts with you during our very first Discovery Day! Our entomologists, paleontologists, and urban ecologists will help identify your discoveries. Whether your specimen is a feather, fossil, shell, rock, plant, photograph, or observation you can join our experts at the Museum from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to learn more about it! As a bonus, visitors who bring a specimen to identify on Discovery Day will receive free admission.

    Discovery Day promotional poster

    Don't have a piece to bring in? Don't worry! You'll still be able to speak with our experts, ask questions, and learn about some of the Museum’s own discoveries by examining some specimens from our own collection up close.

    Join our experts in the Nature Museum’s Wilderness Walk on February 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to discover more about your natural treasures, or maybe even stump our scientists!

    Please note, our experts will not be giving appraisals during Discovery Day. 

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  • February Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS

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    Created: 1/23/2015      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! The Notebaert is an awesome and beautiful place to go and reconnect with nature during these colder months

    Junior Herp Society logoChicago Herpetological Society with live animals in the Nature Museum's Wilderness Walk

    Join us for some reptile fun!

    The Chicago Junior Herpetological Society is about sharing the love of amphibians and reptiles with the younger generation, and fostering an appreciation of wildlife and nature through educational speakers and hands-on interaction.

    The regular monthly meetings of the Chicago Junior Herpetological Society take place at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, on the Sunday of the first full weekend every month, from noon till about 1:30. Meetings are free to members of the CHS and visitors to the museum. The next meeting will be on Sunday, February 8th. Our speaker will be Vince Sourile from Eden's Bane Exotics and he will be discussing Ball Pythons, morphs and care. We are looking forward to the warmer weather and would like to plan a few field trips this year and lots of other fun stuff.

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

     

    Junior Herp Society meetingVince Sourile from Eden's Bane Exotics

    The Chicago Herpetological Society is a non-profit all volunteer organization dedicated to the conservation of all wildlife, especially reptiles and amphibians, the cooperation of amateur and professional herpetologists toward a more complete understanding of herpetofauna, and the education of the general public about these often misunderstood but fascinating animals.​

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

    You can learn more about CHS adoptions here.

    Chicago Herpetological Society logoBearded dragons

    General meetings of the Chicago Herpetological Society are held on the last Wednesday every month at 7:30pm at the Notebaert. Meetings are free to attend. We are also gearing up for next year’s ReptileFest, the nation’s largest educational herpetological event. ReptileFest 2015 will be on April 11 and 12, from 10am to 5pm in the University of Illinois Phys Ed building. Mark your calendars, this will be the 22nd year of this wonderful show.

    You can learn more about the Chicago Herpetological Society here and Reptilefest here.

    Hope to see you there!

    Rich Lamszus
    Chicago Junior Herp Society
    Chicago Herpetological Society

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

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

    Created: 1/22/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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

    Edmund Andrews in office

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

    Edmund Andrews in profile

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

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

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  • At Least We Have Houseplants

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    Tags: houseplants, plants, horticulture

    Created: 1/16/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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

    ~ Willa Cather

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

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

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

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

    Ficus tree

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

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

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

    Monstera deliciosa, aka Mexican breadfruit or Swiss cheese plant

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

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

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

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

    Dieffenbachia aka dumbcane

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

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

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

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

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

    Crap. Have you seen the weather forecast?

    Seth Harper, horticulturist

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  • Founder's Week Celebration 2015

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

    Created: 1/14/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    We are having a party this week!  The Chicago Academy of Sciences was founded on January 13, 1857 and was the first science museum in Chicago.  Our collections served as the nucleus for the organization of our institution and preserve our natural heritage.  These specimens, artifacts, and associated documents are used as primary source material for environmental studies and historical research.  To celebrate our birthday, we’ve brought out specimens from the museum collections that aren’t typically on display.

    One question we are often asked is, “What is the oldest specimen in our collection?” The oldest specimen in our museum collection, in terms of when it was collected, are two Merlins collected in the Rocky Mountains in 1834 by J.R. Townsend. That's right -- bird specimens that are 182 years old!  One of these is on display.

    Merlin specimen
    Merlin specimenMerlin specimen label

    Merlin   ♀
    Falco columbarius richardsonii
    Rocky Mts.
    Collected by J.R. Townsend, July 9, 1834
    CAS ORN 1848 (old 11426)

    Fossils, though, have the award for oldest in terms of when they were created!  This "Tully Monster" fossil is from the Mazon Creek area, right here in Illinois, and is approximately 307 million years old.

    Tully Monster fossil

    Tully Monster
    Tullimonstrom gregarium
    Mazon Creek Area, Will Co., Illinois
    Francis Creek Shale (Carboniferous, 307 MYA)
    Donated by Earth Science Club of Illinois, 2013
    CAS 2013.3.1

    The Academy’s museum collection includes spectacular geology specimens from the Midwest and locations across North America. These specimens help illustrate how rocks and minerals are used in our society.

    Quartz Geode

     

    Quartz Geode
    Geology collection
    No other data

    Natural Asphalt

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

    Gold and Silver Ore

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

    Sulphur

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

    Aluminum Thimble

    Aluminum Thimble
    Received from Frank C. Baker, c1920
    CAS GEO 515

    Rivers in Illinois have changed considerably over the last 200 years and pollution has severely impacted many native species of clams, mussels, and snails. Introduced species, such as Quagga and Zebra mussels, are making an appearance in our waters as well. 

    Elktoe mussel

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

    Pistolgrip mussel

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

    Zebra mussel

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

     

    Quagga mussel

    Quagga mussel
    Dreissena bugensis
    Fullerton Beach, Chicago, Cook Co., Illinois
    Collected by Academy, July 9, 2013
    CAS 2013.5.1-10

    This plant specimen from our botanic collection was collected by Floyd Swink, a prominent botanist who co-authored "Plants of the Chicago Region."  In 2013, Gerould Wilhelm, Swink's coauthor, visited our collections facility to review some of our plant specimens and annotated several, including this one.  These “conversations” left by researchers who utilize our collection adds to the scientific knowledge of those specimens.

    Parlin’s Pussytoes

    Parlin’s Pussytoes
    Antennaria parlinii parlinii
    Palos Park, Cook Co., Illinois
    Collected by Floyd A. Swink, May 17, 1952
    Annotated by Gerould Wilhelm in 2013
    CAS BOT 3775.1

    Other specimens from our ornithology collection are also on display.

    Blue Jay

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

     

    Peregrine Falcon

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

     

    Peregrine Falcon

    Peregrine Falcon   ♂
    Falco peregrines
    Ornithology collection
    No other data

    Steve Sullivan, our Curator of Urban Ecology, studies squirrels and manages Project Squirrel. Locally in the Chicago area, we primarily have Grey and Fox squirrels.  This species is found in the Southwest.

    Abert’s Squirrel

    Abert’s Squirrel   ♂
    Sciurus aberti
    Grand Canyon, Arizona
    Collected by a Park Ranger, June 1965
    CAS MAM 4519

    It is important to document species even if they’re not flashy or colorful. This one drawer of moths from our entomology collection contains species in the same subfamily, Catocalinae, that were found from across North America and span almost 80 years!

    Moths

    Moths
    Catocalinae subfamily
    Collected from: AZ, CA, FL, IA, IL, IN,
    LA, MO, NM, NY, OK, PA, TN, TX, UT
    Collected between 1898 to 1976
    Entomology collection

    Our herpetology collection, which includes amphibians and reptiles, is largely preserved in an ethyl alcohol solution.  These salamanders were collected in Indiana.


    Preserved Northern Slimy Salamander in jar

    Northern Slimy Salamander
    Plethodon glutinosus
    Turkey Run, Parke Co., Indiana
    Collected by W.L. Necker, May 30, 1932
    CAS HERP 1472-1479

    Our display is located in the Beecher Lab in Wilderness Walk hall.  Come visit the Nature Museum, see these marvelous specimens in person, and help us celebrate our natural heritage!

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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