Created: 8/8/2018 Updated: 8/10/2018
July 25, 2018, was an exciting milestone for our conservation team. We initiated our first reintroduction effort of the threatened smooth greensnakes into a privately owned restoration site, managed by the Barrington-based Citizens for Conservation. Partnerships with private organizations like this one allow us to expand the footprint of our reintroduction initiatives in completely new ways.
This reintroduction effort is part of the multi-partner Barrington Greenway Initiative, an ambitious project with the objective of linking habitat corridors and increasing biodiversity in the Barrington, Illinois area. Through this initiative, restoration work has been carried out across ownership boundaries to promote and sustain native habitats and wildlife.
In conservation projects like this, everything takes time. The reintroduction of smooth greensnakes at this site is the result of years of habitat restoration work carried out by countless volunteers. In 2017, our team surveyed and assessed the site quality to evaluate reintroduction potential. We were excited to find that the site boasts a high diversity of native plants and appropriate habitats to support this fragile species of snakes.
Meanwhile, we continued our efforts to monitor Lake County Forest Preserve smooth greensnake populations. Working closely with Lake County, we incubated and hatched smooth greensnake nests in 2017, and after almost a year of growth, we proudly released the first group of headstarted snakes into soft release enclosures on the Citizens for Conservation’s restoration site.
Our soft release enclosures are essentially large outdoor pens built into the release site that give the snakes the opportunity to acclimate to their new environment while being protected from predators. During this time, snakes may increase their familiarity with the release site and catch insects that make up their diet. Based on past work with the species, soft release enclosures increase the snakes’ fidelity to the release site and limit excessive wandering movements. After two weeks, we take down the enclosure walls for the full release. But it doesn’t stop there. We’ll continue to monitor the site and reintroduce more smooth greensnakes into the area for years to come, all with the goal of establishing a sustaining, wild population.
Sometimes we find ourselves focusing so much on the end goal that we forget to mark and appreciate milestones like this. Really, every step along the journey is a small reward in itself – discovering healthy adults in the wild, witnessing successful hatchings, and seeing newly-hatched snakes thrive in our conservation lab. But larger milestones like this give us the opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made as we work to give this threatened species a second chance.
Allison Sacerdote-VelatView Comments
Curator of Herpetology
Created: 5/8/2018 Updated: 5/8/2018
The arrival of warm temperatures and more hours of daylight has quickly turned our thoughts to summer and to spending more time outdoors. My first inclination is to walk outdoors and watch for nature in unsuspecting places, including just steps outside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s front door here in Lincoln Park.
The opening of blooms and buds changes the feeling of walking around North Pond Nature Sanctuary, which I can see from my office window. Turtles sunning on a log, song birds calling on their migration back from the south, nesting birds along the shore, and busy squirrels remind us of the abundance of wildlife here in Chicago’s biggest park.
These experiences are far from mundane. In fact, they are quite profound to our health and to our children. We know from studies that a child’s early experiences in nature, including in city parks, will positively influence their interest in and care for nature and the Earth.
A fun, safe way for children to connect with nature in Chicago is through one of the Nature Museum’s many summer camps. I equate participating in our summer camp experiences with kicking open the backdoor and going out to play.
Our camp kids explore nature in many ways throughout Lincoln Park, which is one of the largest parks in the country and a city gem. I invite you to find out more about the wonderful options for getting your children engaged in nature through summer camp fun at naturemuseum.org/summercamp
I’d love to hear from you about your favorite place to enjoy or discover urban nature. I’ll collect a list and share it with readers in a few weeks.
Created: 4/24/2018 Updated: 4/24/2018
From longwings to swallowtails, from pansies to owls, there are an incredible number of butterfly and moth species that can be found in our signature exhibit - the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. In 2017 alone, more than 100 species took flight in the Butterfly Haven. Although some butterflies are only around for a short period of time throughout the year, there are a number of species you're likely to find on any given Butterfly Haven visit. Below is a list of the top 25 most common species you can see in the Butterfly Haven.
25 common species you can find in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven
Common postman butterfly
Doris longwing butterfly
Leopard lacewing butterfly
Blue morpho butterfly
Rusty-tipped page butterfly
Malay cruiser butterfly, Erichson's cruiser butterfly
Paper kite butterfly, rice paper butterfly
Sara longwing butterfly
Ismenius tiger longwing butterfly
Tiger longwing butterfly
Great eggfly butterfly, common eggfly butterfly
Orange emigrant butterfly
False zebra longwing butterfly
Red rim butterfly
Cydno longwing butterfly
Thoas swallowtail butterfly, king swallowtail butterfly
Ruby-spotted swallowtail butterfly
Common green birdwing, Cairn’s birdwing
Jazzy leafwing butterfly, marbled leafwing, silver studded leafwing
Chocolate pansy butterfly
Giant owl butterfly
Great Mormon butterfly
Created: 4/13/2018 Updated: 4/16/2018
Every day we use, apply and celebrate science here at the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. It is a privilege to welcome our guests and curious students into the wonders of nature – wonders that are more easily understood and appreciated because of science.
Our team stands in solidarity today with people around the world who are participating the second annual March for Science, a public testament that science matters in our lives.
I strongly support the idea of standing up for science. It can help raise public understanding of the importance of scientific study to people, wildlife and nature. Our values at the Academy and Nature Museum are seeded in discovery, research, education and science.
Perhaps today’s March for Science can inspire more people to be curious, to seek facts and to defend scientific study, on which our lives depend. My hope is that it also stimulates public discussion and a quest for knowledge by people of all ages.
The Academy has led scientific discovery in the Chicago region for more than 160 years. We offer this knowledge and rich history to the public every day. From our region’s natural history that is preserved and studied in the Academy, to the engaging experiences like seeing the exotic and complex species from around the world in our newest exhibit, Birds of Paradise, we make science fun and empowering.
I invite you to join us today in celebration of the March for Science. Come to the Nature Museum and make your own statement of support with a family photo or selfie in front of our proud “We Stand for Science” sign in our lobby. And then have fun enjoying science here and at other science-based museums that are our sister Museums in the Park institutions.
Let’s make it a great day for science.
Created: 3/29/2018 Updated: 3/31/2018
Women around the world, including here in Chicago and at the Nature Museum, bring a special passion and instinctual drive to nurturing nature. Perhaps it is the desire to help things grow, or to protect those things most vulnerable.
Whether planting a pollinator garden or teaching children to care for living things, women often lead – quietly and with great care – efforts to nurture nature. Women’s History Month is a reminder for us to reflect on the profound contributions women make to protect the Earth and all living things.
Elizabeth Emerson Atwater
At our Academy of Sciences one of the first botanists to donate an important collection of Illin ois specimens in the 1850s was Elizabeth Emerson Atwater. Her work continues to inform and inspire the study of regional plants and wildlife today.
Our legacy of female scientists continues at the Nature Museum through our dedicated team members and partners. For example, the Nature Museum’s curator of herpetology, Allison Sacerdote-Velat, is working to save several regional species, such as the wood frog and smooth greensnake. As a scientist, her studies include reintroducing and monitoring these fragile populations.
Two of our Museum’s academic partners help lead work to sustain our planet’s environments. Loyola University’s Nancy Tuchman is the founding director of Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability, which co-sponsors workshops and programs with the Nature Museum and teaches the next generation of people committed to sustainable living and work.
May Berenbaum receiving the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama
A mentor to many here, May Berenbaum is head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is known for applying ecological principles in developing sustainable management practices for natural and agricultural communities.
These women supporting work at the Nature Museum are among many in the Chicago region making a difference to nature and conservation. They inspire future botanists, biologists, and other scientists including the youth in our Museum’s many science education programs.
Rachel Carson; Wangari Maathai with Barack Obama
Those of us working on behalf of nature today draw inspiration from leader like Rachel Carson, who risked her career as she fought for environment protection and the health of children through her research and book, “Silent Spring,” that proved the ill-effects of DDT; and Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, who created a tree-planting movement that saved the lives of wildlife and people. She founded the Green Belt Movement that engaged women in planting thousands of trees in African regions, thus empowering women to restore the environment and improve their families’ lives with access to wood.
Let’s carry on the legacy of women saving nature. Who inspires you to care for nature? I would love to hear from you about who is your nature heroine.
Created: 3/14/2018 Updated: 3/14/2018
Happy #LearnAboutButterfliesDay, everyone! Although every day is Learn About Butterflies Day at the Nature Museum, we thought we would showcase something you don't get to see very often -- the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly! A huge thank you to our Education Department who captured the video of this process. Did you know that we also have a field trip workshop all about monarch butterflies? Click here to learn more.
Created: 2/26/2018 Updated: 2/26/2018
With melting snow and the first promising signs of Spring, I’m eager to be outdoors watching for those signs, including feeling warmer moist air, and listening closely for more bird songs. In these reflections, I’m reminded how fortunate I am to have access to nature through urban parks, trees, gardens, rivers, and our beloved Lake Michigan.
Multiple studies prove there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time in nature. But in reality, too many people don’t have equal access to these benefits. This is especially true for people living in predominantly African American neighborhoods in cities throughout this Chicagoland region. In many underserved communities there are significant barriers – transportation, safety, proximity, awareness – to enjoying parks, trees, school gardens, forest preserves and community green spaces.
I strongly believe every person – especially every child – should be able to experience the gifts and benefits of nature. Addressing this issue is particularly profound as we reflect during Black History Month on how we must collaborate to create more nature equality.
We need more visible environmental champions to challenge the status quo and fight barriers to a healthy environment. Environmental justice advocates like Dr. Robert Bullard, known by many as the “father of the environmental justice movement,” have increased the understanding of environmental racism and have led an important movement to end injustice that hurts many minority communities.
And I’m thankful for historic leaders like botanist George Washington Carver, who discovered healing and agricultural properties of plants and revolutionized farming practices. He faced immeasurable obstacles because of his race, but his intellect and determination helped pave the way for future African American scientists.
Nature offers many benefits to minority youth, which is why the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum places the highest priority on taking nature and science education programs to underserved communities, and on creating greater awareness and opportunities to experience urban nature. Everyone deserves to enjoy the benefits of nature and of being outdoors.
Nature access and education can create more racially, socially and economically equitable communities. During this reflective time of year, let’s renew our commitment to environmental justice for all.
Created: 1/22/2018 Updated: 1/22/2018
In this series, we'll be addressing some common questions from visitors and readers. Do you have a science question that has you stumped? Ask our museum scientists via our form here and we'll answer it on our blog!
Today's Question: Why are tropical birds so colorful?
Parrots, macaws, parakeets… these rainbowed tropical birds put to shame the brown and gray birds that are so common in Illinois and Chicago. Even Chicago's brightest birds—cardinals, blue jays, gold finches—are vibrant, but single-colored. Why are bright and multi-colored birds so common in tropical rain forests, and nowhere to be found in temperate climates like Chicago? Do the changing seasons make bright birds sitting ducks in the winter? Do jungle birds eat bright berries and fruits instead of brown and black seeds? What gives?
This Northern Cardinal is just one color: red. No one is flocking to see this bird in a zoo. Coincidence? No.
We can eliminate one option right away: a parrot's color has nothing to do with its diet. While a flamingo gets its pink color from the food it eats (brine shrimp and blue-green algae) and a cardinal is red in part because of the seeds in its diet, a parrot's color is determined by its genes. The incredible colors of the blue-and-yellow macaw do not come from tropical mangoes and imported blueberries.
Sorry about the awful pun in that other caption. Here, have a picture of an ivory-billed aracari.
It must be some other quality of the tropics that creates brighter birds: is it the rainfall? The year-round high temperatures?
The truth is that tropical birds don't tend to be more colorful. Dr. Nicholas Friedman of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology explains, "if you look at birds in the tropics, there are a lot of colorful birds that stand out. But there are really more species in general there, and there are just as many more of the little brown ones".
In other words, the tropics are much more diverse in general than temperate or dry climates. The rainfall and year-round high temperatures contribute to rainforests having many more animal and plant species than other places. Of these many more animal species, some are brightly colored birds, but there are even more species that are plainly colored. The birds that are exported from the rainforests for zoos or as pets are the brightest birds, and these are the tropical birds that we in Chicago are familiar with. This leads to the overall impression that birds from the rainforest are more colorful as a rule, even though it's not actually true!
This red-crowned ant-tanager is related to the cardinal. It lives in the rainforests of Central and South America, and it is less bright than the Northern Cardinal.
If you want to know more about tropical birds or even to see them up close, head to The Bird House exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum between now and June 18th to see some colorful birds you can't find in Chicago's trees. You can even see an ivory-billed aracari like the one pictured above during the daily Live Bird Showcase at 11:30am!
Nature Museum Volunteer
By Chris Hachmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 Koren, Marina. “For Some Species, You Really Are What You Eat”. (April 24, 2013). Retrieved January 8, 2018, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/for-some-species-you-really-are-what-you-eat-40747423/
 Cooke, Thomas F. et al. “Genetic Mapping and Biochemical Basis of Yellow Feather Pigmentation in Budgerigars”. Cell , Volume 171 , Issue 2 , 427 - 439.e21. Retrieved January 11, 2018, from http://www.cell.com/action/showImagesData?pii=S0092-8674%2817%2930941-8
 Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University - OIST. (2016, November 4). “Plumage evolution: Explaining the vivid colors of birds.” ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161104101848.htm
 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHabia_rubica_-_Red-crowned_Ant-Tanager_(male).JPGView Comments
By Hector Bottai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Created: 1/17/2018 Updated: 1/17/2018
We had a blast participating in Museum Selfie Day! We compiled our photos of staff and volunteers, as well as Nature Museum visitors, striking a pose in and around our exhibits and put them all together in one spot. Scroll through and get inspired for your own Museum Selfie! Don't forget, Chicago Museum Week starts tomorrow and on January 20th and January 21st, we're encouraging museum-goers to post their museum selfies once again!
Created: 1/11/2018 Updated: 1/15/2018
As we reflect on a day dedicated to a fearless and inclusive leader, I am reminded of all the insightful lessons Martin Luther King Jr. has gifted us through his words and actions. These lessons have the ability to resonate with many different elements of our lives.
For me, today reminds me of the importance of equality in nature access and environmental education. Regular access to nature, whether it is time outdoors in a park or prairie, sitting next to a lake, or hiking in the forest, is proven to offer many benefits from reducing stress and improving health to increasing creativity and improving children’s aptitude for problem solving that contributes to academic success. The more we learn about the benefits of regular connections and access to nature, the more critical it becomes to ensure equality of access.
I strongly believe all children should have equal opportunities to experience the gifts and benefits of nature. Unfortunately, there remains a wide gap in equality to access for many children, especially minorities and those who live in cities.
Our team at the Nature Museum is continually evaluating and extending our reach and offerings with a goal of getting deeper into more Chicago neighborhoods, especially those with diverse populations whose access to nature and environmental education may be limited.
MLK’s activism was centered around the theme of justice. Today, I’m reflecting on the injustice of the continued diversity divide in nature access and education. It is my goal, and the collective work of our team here at the Nature Museum, to narrow that gap in Chicago by increasing inclusivity and access to nature for all.
Everyone, especially children, deserve to experience the joys, peace and benefits that nature provides.