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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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