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  • Holiday Programs


    Tags: holidays, thanksgiving, animals, family fun

    Created: 11/21/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Sometimes it can be difficult to entertain the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and the weird neighbor kid that you wish would just stay with their own family and your in-laws all at once during the holidays. Where can all of you go so that the children can have fun, burn off some energy and adults can also be entertained and avoid the post Thanksgiving shopping madness that overtakes downtown Chicago? Is it worth risking a trip to the mall and possibly having a breakdown or losing a child or grandparent in the midst of stampeding crowds of crazed shoppers?

    Probably not. What is worth your time is a trip to the Nature Museum! On Friday, November 29 the Public Programs department is pulling out all the stops for your sanity and your family. Join us for Trash to Table, our annual chef demo that shows you creative ways to turn those leftovers into delicious meals no one can resist.

    Cooking class

    Then head on over to our Flying Fox animal show- a great program for your children to see bats and interact with all kinds of creatures!

    Fruit Bat

    Fruit Bat





    You want more? Come back Saturday, November 30th for our 4th annual Green Metropolis Holiday Fair.  Stroll our exhibits and shop from many local vendors. This annual favorite is a great way for every member in your family to find an original holiday gift.

    We love the holiday season here at the Nature Museum. Make sure to check out our program calendar and come back during our winter solstice celebration on December 21 and our annual Trash to Treasure holiday favorite December 26-28!

    Glenda Gonzalez
    Public Programs Coordinator

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  • David Bild, Museum Educator Heads to London for MozFest


    Tags: nature museum, science education, mozfest, mozilla, chicago summer of learning, digital badges, STEM

    Created: 10/24/2013      Updated: 10/24/2013

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    Hi! My name is David Bild and I am one of 14 Educators at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. I work on a wide variety of programming which serves middle and high school-aged students, middle school teachers, and undergraduates.

    Photo of Museum Educator David Bild

    I’m also involved with Hive Chicago, which is a network of 57 youth-serving organizations dedicated to transforming the learning landscape in Chicago by enacting connected learning experiences. Through Hive, which is funded by MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning (DML) initiative, I have been heavily involved in digital badging initiatives including the Chicago Summer of Learning and the recently formed Hive funded C-STEMM Digital Badges Working Group with Chicago Botanic Garden, Adler Planetarium, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Project Exploration, Forall Badges, and After School Matters. It is truly an exciting time for Hive Chicago and Connected Learning.

    As I write this blog post, I’m sitting at the airport getting ready to board an eight hour flight to the Mozilla Festival (MozFest) in London. The Mozilla Foundation runs Hive Networks in Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh and is working to extend Hive globally.  I was lucky enough to be selected by Mozilla to serve as one of five Hive Ambassadors representing Hive Chicago at MozFest. Joining me on the trip are four other Hive Ambassadors from Chicago which include representatives from Shedd Aquarium, LevelUP, Yollocalli Arts Reach, and Game Changer Chicago.

    I’m not quite sure what to expect, but I’m super excited to learn from and share with people from across the globe to bring back innovative ideas and strategies to help us continue to improve the learning landscape in Chicago through connected learning principles. Keep an eye out for blog and twitter updates from me during #MozFest.


    David Bild
    Museum Educator

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  • Paleontology Underfoot – Celebrating National Fossil Day


    Tags: fossil, paleontology, Mazon Creek, Illinois

    Created: 10/16/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    How often do you think about the ground under your feet? About what it is composed of or how old the rocks are? Did you know that under your feet, there are not just rocks and soils, but fossils? Most of Illinois’ exposed rock layers, and the fossils found in them, were formed during the Carboniferous, approximately 355 to 290 million years ago. Check out the Paleontology Portal’s website about Illinois’ paleontology and geology,


    The Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (CAS/PNNM) has over 22,000 fossils in its collection, most of which were collected from sites in the Midwest. To celebrate National Fossil Day, here are some specimens from CAS/PNNM’s paleontology collection.

    Macroneuropteris macrophylla fossil

    Macroneuropteris macrophylla, a Neuropteris-like group seed fern from the Braidwood flora of the Mazon Creek area, IL. Carboniferous, Francis Creek Shale.

    Spirorbis sp. fossil 

    Spirorbis sp. (on Stigmaria sp.), worms on root structure, from the Essex fauna and flora of the Mazon Creek area, IL. Carboniferous, Francis Creek Shale.

     Lobatopteris lamuriana fossil

    Lobatopteris lamuriana, a true fern from the Braidwood flora of the Mazon Creek area, IL. Carboniferous, Francis Creek Shale.

     Hystriciola delicatala fossil

    Hystriciola delicatala, an annelid worm from the Essex fauna of the Mazon Creek area, IL. Carboniferous, Francis Creek Shale.

     Annularia sp. fossils

     Annularia sp. specimens collected by Jonathan H. Britts from Henry County, MO.

     Pecopteris vestita fossil

     Pecopteris vestita, a fern leaf collected by Jonathan H. Britts from Henry County, MO.

     Pentremites obesus fossil

    Pentremites obesus, a blastoid from Anna, IL. Mississippian, Chester Limestone.

     Platystrophia acutilirata fossil

     Platystrophia acutilirata, brachiopods collected from Cincinnati, OH. Ordovician, Cincinnati Limestone.

     Conularia crawfordsvillensis fossil

    Conularia crawfordsvillensis, (animal) collected from Crawfordsville, IN. Mississippian, Keokuk Group.

      Phillipsia bufo fossil

    Phillipsia bufo, a trilobite collected from Crawfordsville, IN. Mississippian, Keokuk Group.


    Stop in at the Nature Museum for a visit to see fossils up close. Here are a few of the fossils you can find on display:

    Mammut giganteus, mastodon mandible and tooth from Macon County, IL

    Receptaculites oweni, fossilized coral collected from Galena, IL

    Tremanotus chicagoensis, gastropod (snail) specimen from Bridgeport, IL

    Lepidodentron aculeatum, fossilized bark collected in Orange County, IN

    Calymene niagarensis, trilobite specimens collected from section 6 of the drainage canal, Chicago, IL

    Want to learn more about the fossils under your feet?

    Gugilotta, Guy. “The World’s Largest Fossil Wilderness.” Smithsonian Magazine, July 2009. [,]

    “How Do We Know? – Fossils” webpage on MuseumLink Illinois site. Illinois State Museum, 2000. [] Information about how fossil pollen is used to study past environments.

    Wittry, Jack. Mazon Creek Fossil Fauna. Illinois: ESCONI and Northeastern Illinois University, 2012.  * Includes photographs of specimens from the CAS/PNNM collection!


    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Supper with the Snakes


    Tags: family, snakes, halloween, family fun, october

    Created: 10/11/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    A few years ago we began a special halloween event for children called Supper with the Snakes. It is a wonderful opportunity for families to don their Halloween costumes for an extra evening and immerse themselves in all things snake related. We will be hosting our sixth Supper with the Snakes event on Saturday, October 26th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. You can register online here.

    Visitors touching a snake held by a Museum volunteer

    I sometimes wonder, who finds who more intriguing, the children looking at our beautiful snakes, or the snakes looking at all the children in their Halloween costumes!

    Visitors interacting with a snake

    As well as having al of our snakes on show we offer a whole range of snake related acitivites, including "create a snake" crafts, using all kinds of recycled materials.

    Supper with the Snakes craft table

    Fabulous Face Painting

    Visitor getting their face painted

    and a few other surprises that we like to keep under our hat until the night of the event.

    Dad and son at Supper with the Snakes

    After a delicious pizza dinner we announce the costume prizewinners of the night and present them with their prizes.

    Costume contest winner

    This year we have the added bonus of access to our brand new temporary exhibit "Animal Secrets." Then when all the snakes have been petted, all the activities completed, all the exhibits checked out, and all the pizza has been consumed, a snake related goodie is our parting gift as all the participants leave.

    Gift bags

    SSSSSSSee you on the 26th for Ssssssupper with the Ssssssnakes! Ssssssign up now!

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Donald T. Ries Photography Collection: A Museum Intern's Perspective


    Tags: Archives, photography, 35mm slides, Donald T. Ries, flowers, botany

    Created: 10/8/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Donald T. Ries passed away in 1967. For the past four months I have been the Collections-Photography Intern for the Collections Department, cataloguing Ries’ work that is housed in the Archive. When I applied for the position, I thought I was going to be working more with cameras or scanners, and while that may still be in store for Ries' collection my job so far entails cataloguing, researching, and identifying the subjects of his photographs.

    In 1969, Ries' sisters donated over 10,000 of his nature photography images, in the form of 35 mm slides and black and white negatives to the Academy. Ries’ collection was accessioned into the collection all those years ago but methods for cataloguing have since become more rigorous. Luckily for me, the museum has not had the resources to allocate towards addressing those changes, so Amber and Dawn brought me in to start attending to those needs. Throughout the process I have gained hands-on experience with contemporary cataloguing techniques and object handling. I have also seen just how time consuming and arduous managing and maintaining a museum collection can be; a great lesson for a museum studies graduate student like me.

    Drawers from the storage cabinet received with the Donald T. Ries photography donation

    Drawers from the storage cabinet received with the Donald T. Ries photography donation

    I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Donald T. Ries. From my personal research, I found that Ries was a biology professor at Illinois State University and he belonged to an amateur photography club, from which he won several awards. He spent his summers pursuing and working on his passion for nature photography by researching and recording different natural environments and their inhabitants. Ries then spent the time to label most of his images with the appropriate scientific name or taxonomy.

    Chimaphila umbellata, Pipissewa or Prince’s Pine

    Image of Chimaphila umbellata, Pipissewa or Prince’s Pine

    Part of cataloguing Ries’ images involves using the USDA Plants database to verify and confirm the information on Ries’ labels. The database also maps the natural habitats for the flora I am investigating, highlighting the states where they grow naturally. Those maps and the dates on Ries’ slides allow me to “play detective,” inferring in what regions of the country Ries was when he took certain images. My favorite part of the internship has been mentally mapping Ries' travels. I imagine him preferring a trip to southern Canada in July where the Lady Slipper Orchid might be in bloom over a vacation at a beach resort in some tropical climate.

    Cypripedium arietinum, Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper

    Image of Cypripedium arietinum, Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper

    Another rewarding aspect entails researching the unidentified slides, trying to find and attribute the correct taxonomy to the species in each image. With little more than a descriptive vocabulary and a growing understanding of the botanical language, I pore over hundreds of images from the Internet trying to discover the species of plant at which I am looking. I cannot describe the satisfaction I receive every time I scour through countless images, and find a flower similar to the slide I am studying; I found the clues necessary to unlock the riddle.

    Oxalis montana, Mountain Woodsorrel

    Image of Oxalis montana, Mountain Woodsorrel

    This experience provided a glimpse at how a Collections Department operates and increased my desire to work in museums. I also gained a greater appreciation for flowers as well as the work of avid nature photographers, even becoming adept at identifying previously unknown species of flowers in my friends’ backyards. Finally, I got to know this fellow photographer, developing a connection to him that could never have otherwise been made. I plan on continuing with the Donald T. Ries project as a volunteer and I am excited to continue working with and learning from the Collections staff at the Academy.

    Leonard M. Cicero
    Collections Department Intern/Volunteer

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  • The Emerald Ash Borer Reaches the Nature Museum


    Tags: emerald ash borer, invasive species, ash trees, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, horticulture

    Created: 9/30/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    In the early 1900s, North America lost nearly every American Chestnut to the chestnut blight. My grandparents have likely never seen a mature one, though they are estimated to have numbered 3 billion.  Most people of my generation have rarely if ever seen an American Elm, once an extremely widely-planted shade tree which was almost killed off by Dutch Elm Disease from the 1920s to 1970s (and beyond). Now it seems that my grandchildren may be lucky to see an ash tree on this continent, as the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) threatens to wipe out the entire genus, Fraxinus.

    The Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) was first discovered in North America in 2002, and since then has caused the death of around 40 million ash trees. While it seems to slightly prefer some ashes to others, it will attack any member of the genus. The beetle causes destruction in its larval phase, when it lives just under the outer bark and chews winding trails or “galleries” through the layer of tissue called phloem, which moves sugars from the leaves to the roots. Since the beetle lives under the bark, infestations can go unnoticed until the tree is visibly distressed.

    Tree with sprouts occurring at the base of the trunk

    Sprouts from the base are a common symptom

    I saw this recently on the museum grounds. In an ash tree, sprouts from the base are a common symptom of EAB infestation. The phloem is so damaged the roots have all but stopped getting nutrition from the leaves, and the tree sends new shoots from below the damaged area. Clearly, these few sprouts won’t suffice, and by the time such sprouts appear it is usually too late to save the tree. 

    D-shaped hole in tree bark

    D-shaped hole of emerging beetle

    A second sign presented itself with a closer look: the characteristic D-shaped hole where the adult beetle emerged. I saw around ten such holes on this tree. By prying some loose bark back with my knife I was able to catch a glimpse of the galleries left by the larvae.

    Trails of larvae in tree bark

    Gallery or trails of larvae

    The adults left to lay eggs on other nearby ash trees, of which there are plenty. 19% of the City of Chicago's trees are ashes, and there are an estimated half-million privately owned in the city.

    So far, the only effective treatment has been systemic insecticides. They must be applied before an infestation occurs, must be re-applied every few years, save only the treated tree, and kill all the other insects which feed on ash trees. Because of the expense and complications involved, only certain "high-value" trees are being treated, and most agencies prepare for the EAB’s arrival by replacing ashes with other trees. The EAB has a limited range and moves slowly, so it may be possible to impede its spread by treating and/or removing trees in areas not yet affected, in a strategy similar to a fire-break.

    Even if you don’t own or manage ash trees, you can still help. Always use locally-sourced firewood, so if any EAB larvae or adults are in the wood they stay in an already-infested area instead of being driven somewhere that had yet to be affected. It is likely that the original U.S. infestation was a small number of individual insects that arrived in wooden packing crates from Asia, where the insect is a minor pest. The cost of removing or replacing or treating trees could well run into the billions of dollars-- largely taxpayer dollars as governments manage large ash populations and dead trees cause hazards in populated areas-- so it is best for everyone if we leave wood where we find it and do what we can to limit the spread of this invasive species.

    Trust me, I wish I could end on a hopeful note, or even just give a spoonful of sugar with this bitter pill, but the destruction caused by invasive species far exceeds the limited resources of time, money, and personnel available to combat them. With luck, the EAB won’t kill all 2 billion ash trees and we’ll still have some for our grandchildren to appreciate, but now would probably be a good time for you to get to know the ashes in your area, whether the EAB is already present, and who to call if you spot damage in unaffected areas.

    Andrew Wunschel
    Assistant Horticulturist

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  • Nature's Theatre


    Tags: steppenwolf, the wheel, butterfly, butterflies, education, inspiration

    Created: 9/30/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Throughout the ages, butterflies have been symbolically important to many cultures, representing everything from the souls of the dead, to resurrection, to steadfast love. Their true stories of survival in the natural world are no less meaningful, but often go largely unnoticed. So I was grateful and excited when the cast of Steppenwolf Theater’s current production of “The Wheel” wanted to ask about the real butterflies behind the imagery and references in this play. 

    Here is a sampling of questions I was more than happy to answer:

    What is the source of butterflies’ color?

     - Mostly light refracting off the scales of their wings.

    How long does the entire life cycle take to complete?

     - Frequently as long as a year, though some adult stages may only last for two weeks.    

    How do butterflies make it through the winter in Illinois?

     - Depending on the species, they may overwinter as adults, larvae, eggs, or chrysalises.  A well-known exception is the Monarch, which flies away to warmer climates.  

    Do butterfly species have “personalities”?

     - They have field behaviors that are unique and help with their identification, such as flight patterns (flap, flap, glide for the monarch), or territorial dog fighting amongst male skippers.

    We observed a sample of the stunning tropical species on display in our Haven (such as the Swallowtail Ulysses butterfly or Blue Mountain Butterfly, Papilio ulysses from Australia, one of my favorites) and talked about some of the unique plant/habitat/insect interactions that occur around the world. What became clear as we discussed the physical progression from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to adult is just how perilous a journey it is – not unlike the journey that occurs in the play itself. Much of the cast was unaware of just how much trouble certain butterfly species are in around the country.

    Blue Emperor Swallowtail butterfly specimen

    Blue Emperor Swallowtail

    We discussed the tiny but elegant Swamp Metalmark Calephelis muticum that used to fly (and as of this summer’s work, may again establish) in Illinois. It is startling in its small size– a stark size contrast to the giant Ulysses but still an incredible beauty. The story of its loss is one of human imposed challenges.

    Swamp metalmark butterfly next to a penny for scale

    Swamp Metalmark

    Butterflies have endured the ever-revolving cycles of life and abundance for thousands of years, but are now facing new, manmade challenges. How butterflies and other species might respond to these changes was a topic of discussion and inspiration for the cast members.  

    It was a great afternoon, and I was left feeling grateful that although we have come far in our understanding of the processes behind it all, our love of the magic of nature still inspires artists and scientists alike. Watching the drama of nature play out is never boring, with plot twists and surprises to keep you at the edge of your seat. And the best thing is, we all have a role to play.

    Karen Kramer Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist

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  • Blanding's Turtle Identification

    Created: 9/12/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Our Blanding’s project deals with several hundred turtles in numerous different locations and if we are not careful, the individual identities of the turtles can quickly get mixed up. So how do we stop that happening? Those of you who are dog owners are probably already familiar with ID chips. We use a very similar thing for our turtles.

    Chip for tracking

    These are the tools we use. The ID chip is about the size of a grain of rice, the syringe has a hollow tip to hold the chip and the tweezers hold the skin of the turtle as the chip is inserted. The turtles’ skin is quite loose just in front of the hind leg so this is the location of choice for inserting the chip. As with anything slightly invasive that has to be done to a turtle you get one chance only! One chance to grab the leg before it is pulled firmly into the shell and one chance to get hold of the skin before the turtle clenches up and that loose skin miraculously disappears!

    Placing a chip in a turtle

    Luckily for us it appears the turtle doesn’t bear a grudge for long so if we miss at the first attempt, we put the turtle back into the water, go on to the next one and then come back to the original turtle to insert the chip. Once the chip is inserted we scan the turtle and read off the ID number. This is a multi digit and letter sequence that will immediately let us know which turtle we are working with.

    Inserting an ID chip into a turtle

    Some of our turtles go directly from the museum out into the wild but we can’t afford to put radio transmitters on all of them so this is a great way of knowing which turtle is which should we come across them a few years later. This is such a precious species, we want to be able to use as much data as possible when we find an individual so being able to identify them, of course, is vital.

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Green Cleaning 101


    Tags: public programs, green cleaning, natural ingredients

    Created: 9/5/2013      Updated: 2/16/2017

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    Wondering how to green-up your clean-up? Join us on Wednesday, September 11th from 6-7pm for Green Cleaning 101! In this one hour workshop, you’ll learn the basics of green cleaning for your home and make a starter kit so that you can get cleaning right away- no excuses!

    Conventional cleaners
    Conventional Cleaners

    Green Cleaning 101 has been held at the Nature Museum since 2010. Over the past three years, many people have taken the class, including some of our Nature Museum volunteers. Walt Mellens has been a Nature Museum volunteer for three and a half years, and took the class with his wife. Here’s what Walt has to say about his experience with the class:

    “We took the Green Cleaning 101 Class at the Museum and what a difference it made! Previously we were purchasing 'green' cleaning products at a premium price, and unhappy with the efficacy of them.  Now we make our own cleaning products for pennies, and we are constantly impressed with the results!  We have a clean home, a green home, and no chemicals in the air we breathe! Thank you!”

    Green cleaning ingredients (lemons, vinegar, baking soda etc.)

    Green Cleaning 101 ingredients

    Ready to get started? The class is only $10/members, $15/non-members and includes all materials, even a bucket to lug everything home! Register online at (click the date on the online calendar for the registration link) or call 773-755-5122.

    We hope that you can join us!

    Heather Grance
    Manager of Public Programs

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  • Who are these C3 leaders anyway?


    Tags: C3, chicago conservation corps

    Created: 8/28/2013      Updated: 2/16/2017

    What do each of the following activities have in common?

    • A broken toy drive, followed by a workshop where said toys were repaired and prepared for redistribution to youth.

    Box of broken toys

    • The GrowShare program which connects local community gardeners so they can barter with their excess produce.
    • A cozy brunch where all of the food scraps were vermicomposted and each attendee received their own free worm bin.
    • A new Green Team at Truman College, making efforts to reduce the institution’s carbon footprint.
    • A training for Avondale residents to learn about stormwater management through rain barrels and native plants.
    • A hands-on introduction to Chicago’s new bike share system (Divvy) and the City’s planned active transportation routes.
    People learning about Divvy bikes

    The answer: Each of the activities listed above were coordinated by one of our Spring 2013 Chicago Conservation Corps (C3) Leaders.

    When you think of the Nature Museum, your mind might turn to our collections and exhibits or to our research and restoration efforts. However, the Museum also hosts the Chicago Conservation Corps (C3), a network of more than 500 adult Chicagoans with great passion for sustainability. Each of these “C3 Leaders” has been through at least 20 hours of training with us and led at least one community-based environmental service project like those listed above.

    Adults in classroom

    C3 Leaders learn about sustainability and conservation issues in Chicago directly from experts in the field. They also participate in community organizing and project planning training so they can take what they’ve learned and put it into action. C3 supports this action with up to $400 worth of materials per project.

    We are constantly impressed by the variety and impact of our Leaders’ projects and look forward to being inspired by the next batch of Leader projects this fall.  Our next C3 Environmental Leadership training will take place on Saturdays from September 14 – October 12. If you’d like to join us or learn more, check us out on the website at

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