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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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