Created: 9/30/2013 Updated: 8/9/2016
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
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.
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.View Comments
Created: 9/12/2013 Updated: 8/9/2016
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.
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!
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.
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.View Comments
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Created: 9/5/2013 Updated: 2/16/2017
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!
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 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 naturemuseum.org (click the date on the online calendar for the registration link) or call 773-755-5122.
We hope that you can join us!
Heather GranceView Comments
Manager of Public Programs
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.
- 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.
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.
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 www.naturemuseum.org/c3View Comments
Created: 8/13/2013 Updated: 5/27/2015
Run for Science without actually running!
Like any dedicated Nature Museum supporter, you probably already know that our annual Run for Science 5K is coming up on September 21st. But if you’re anything like me, you get winded just thinking about running five thousand kilometers.
I have good news for you. You don’t actually have to run in the Run for Science to show your support! While the runners get all the glory, there are lots of folks behind the scenes who make this race possible. They’re volunteers.
Volunteers station themselves along the race route, cheering on runners and handing out much-needed cups of water. They keep runners’ bags safe at the gear check station. They make sure everyone is properly checked in and ready to run. And they do all this because they support the Nature Museum and our science education programs.
These volunteers know that working behind the scenes is equally important as the actual running of the race. Each year volunteers and runners come together to raise funds for the Nature Museum’s science education programs, and they have a blast doing it.
If you’d like to be part of the volunteer team, let me know in the comments section. We’d love to have you!
Jill DoubView Comments
Manager of Volunteers and Interns
Created: 8/13/2013 Updated: 8/9/2016
As predicted, Harper’s Horticultural Bottom Ten is well on its way to becoming an important, nay, essential treatise within the vast and tangled gallimaufry of gardening discourse. I am sorry for the delay in bringing you the next installment, gentle reader, but as you may well imagine, I have been wholly occupied accepting international awards, juggling requests for public appearances, and turning down marriage proposals. However, today I shall set aside these distractions, for the task at hand remains vital, and my expertise indispensable to its execution. So welcome, everyone, to the Bottom Ten Part Two: Unspeakable Lovecraftian Nightmare Edition!
For those of you who don’t know what awesome is, H. P. Lovecraft was one of the 20th century’s most brilliant horror writers. If you’re unacquainted with his oeuvre, go read “The Thing at the Doorstep.” I’ll wait. Done? Cool. Good luck sleeping tonight. Lovecraft specializes in nurturing a crawling sense that someone or something within a story is…off. Unnatural. Distorted. Perverse. Then, in the final pages, when you’re good and creeped out, you finally encounter it: the Thing That Should Not Be.
I am certainly no Lovecraft. But I can recognize a hideous, forsaken monstrosity when I see it. I can tell when plant breeding has run disturbingly amok. Yes, gentle reader, I know them. I know the Plants That Should Not Be.
Example 1: Here is a normal coneflower…
…here is a ‘Greenline’ coneflower…
Eyeballs on stalks. Watching you. Forever.
…and a ‘Green Wizard’ coneflower
Kill it. With fire.
Why? Just why? What disturbed compulsion forced otherwise well-intentioned plantsmen and women to create these botanical perversities? Are they pretty? Are they an improvement on the standard form? The answer to both questions is a clear and resounding “no”. Yet there they are. Living. Growing.
Example 2: Here is your standard daylily…
…and here is the cultivar ‘Sanford Double Doozy’.
Who did this? Who saw a daylily flower and thought it would look better disguised as a mutated, scum-crawling, deep-sea nudibranch? There is only one explanation. This must be the work of some ancient, cosmic horror lurking beyond the veil, pulling the strings on an unwitting, puppet horticulturist.
Example 3: A typical daffodil…
…and a cultivar called ‘Delnashaugh’.
On quiet mornings, you can just make out the sound of its constant, pitiful weeping.
Clearly, this daffodil is the product of a diseased mind. How else can one explain its nauseating jumble of contorted, flesh-colored protuberances? No one of sound faculties could ever conceive of creating something so unspeakable from a beloved harbinger of spring. Speaking of which…
Example 4: Here is a tulip called ‘Rococo’.
No. No, no, no. That is not a flower. That is an incubus spawned from the unholy union of a cabbage and a stygian cacodemon. Without doubt, its insatiable roots twist downward, downward, ever downward, though the inky, sulfurous miasmas of Tartarus, into the very gates of Gahenna, past the Well of Souls, finally plunging into the black, putrid soil of the Abyss. Any second now, its blood-caked petals will yawn open, revealing a hideous maw of toothy destruction. And it will scream.
My god, it will scream.
Oh no. I think it saw me! I’ve got to get…blog…must finish…must warn…….
Created: 8/6/2013 Updated: 8/9/2016
A few years ago, before I was employed in the Public Programs department, I was a volunteer here at the Nature Museum. I remember my orientation day with a group of five other new volunteers. We were introduced to various staff members and given a tour of the Museum. When the group was led to the Butterfly Haven, someone asked, “Will we see the Button Quails?”, and I thought to myself, “What is a button quail?” We went inside and I soon laid eyes on the adorable little birds. They looked and walked like little chickens and they vocalized with a hearty “Woo, hoo, hoo”. I was smitten! I wanted to know everything about them, especially- why are there Button Quails in Butterfly Haven?
Button Quails are small birds- about 5” in size. The males are usually dark grey with a white bib under their chin; females are usually light brown with black ticking. They are ground dwellers that can fly slightly – they take off and fly in a straight line for a very short distance- so they are not a threat to the butterfly population. They do eat small insects, such as aphids, making them quite the help for our plant life. The last two points would answer my original question in short, but over the years, I have found more value to those little creatures than I ever would have thought.
First, let’s think about the fact that the Button Quails are at the eye level of many of our visitors. Running around the plant beds, the little birds are often the first thing that our young visitors spot in Butterfly Haven. Many interpretive opportunities have arisen as a result. Discussions about eggs, social species of animals and life cycle are all regular parts of public programming days when we are around the quails. We have written a few programs centered around our feathered friends such as “Bird Talk”, “Father of the Year”, and “Who’s Hiding in the Haven” to name a few. The Button Quails are a great resource for public programs.
The next time you are visiting Butterfly Haven, keep an eye out for our covey of Button Quails. I hope they delight you, as much as they have me.
Laura SalettaView Comments
Public Programs Educator
Created: 7/27/2013 Updated: 9/1/2015
The Academy’s museum collection and archives includes 1,371 motion films that were created between the early 1920s and the 1970s. These original films document local ecosystems and plants and animals in their natural habitats.
Motion film is highly susceptible to deterioration caused by temperature and humidity. With help from the Chicago Film Archives, these films are being described and catalogued, having simple repairs made, and rehoused with archival storage containers for long-term preservation. Thank you to the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust, and to individual donors for their support of this stage of the project!
After the films are catalogued and stabilized, we will embark on the next phase: to increase the accessibility of the collection. Utilizing the original films would damage or even destroy them. Creating a digital copy of the films will allow the footage to be used and the original film to be protected.
Here are some shots of the transformation of our film collection:
Many of the films were stored in metal canisters.
Original metal reels caused breakage to the films and were susceptible to rust, resulting in chemical deterioration of the films. Some films had adhesive labels stuck to the sides, and the adhesive residue transferred to the films causing them to stick together.
Stacks of small cardboard boxes with original 100’ rolls of film. Materials like this cause damage to films through acid migration.
agfa 35mm films
Leather bound film container used for storage and mailing.
Some of the films suffer from vinegar syndrome, deterioration caused by humidity. The film exhibits warping and gives off a “vinegary” smell.
Each film is wound onto an archival core, outfitted with a new leader, and then given an archival canister.
Here are films that have been completely catalogued and rehoused. The new archival containers provide an inert micro-environment that helps stabilize the films and protect them from further deterioration.
Dawn RobertsSubscribe to our RSS feed and never miss a blog posting! View Comments
Created: 7/27/2013 Updated: 8/9/2016
Bird watching is a popular activity and one where there are few barriers to participation. Both young and old can participate and from any geographic location; you can watch birds in your backyard through kitchen windows or venture out to more wild areas. With this ready access to living birds, what role do bird collections play?
One of the greatest advantages is that specimens allow for up close inspection, for as long as desired. This can be particularly helpful when you want to study a species that is difficult to find in its habitat, when you’re just learning how to identify a species, or when you want to compare features from different individuals.
An Eastern bluebird study skin, Sialia sialis, collected from Diamond Lake, Illinois in 1904.
Bird collections are used for all sorts of research. For instance, museum oology collections were used to identify the effects of DDT on bird egg shells, which lead to banning the use of this hazardous substance. Specimens are used to track changes in a species’ range – check out the range maps the next time you open an identification book; data from museum collections are often used in the creation of these maps.
Here is a nest and egg set of a Northern Shoveller, Anas clypeata.
Specimens that are taxidermied in a behavioral posture are utilized frequently for exhibits. These specimens help illustrate behavior and bring them to visitors who may not have the opportunity to see them first hand in the wild. In order to successfully convey the true nature of an animal, taxidermists need an understanding of how musculature works, but also have an understanding of the animal. Extensive observation of living animals aides in the understanding of a particular species’ behavior, how an animal moves and balances as its walks, and how it interacts with other animals.
Gambel’s quail, Callipepla gambelii, mounted specimen.
The next time you visit the Nature Museum, take a little extra time to study the specimens on display. Note their particular features – the shape of their beaks, the differences in the shape of their feet, the coloration of their feathers. What can you impart from these features about their diet or their activities? Through this observation, you may gain a more thorough understanding of the animals living in this urban nature environment and even spot them more easily in their natural habitat.
Dawn RobertsView Comments
Created: 7/26/2013 Updated: 9/2/2015
Although he was a lawyer by training and practice, Tappan Gregory was also a nature photographer and supporter of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. He served as the Honorary Curator of Mammals from 1930 to 1944 and contributed articles to Academy publications as well. We are fortunate to have the negatives of some of his photography, particularly those highlighting his use of wildlife “self-portrait” photography. While to us this kind of imaging seems a normal part of scientific exploration, while Gregory was working this kind of photography was very new and standardized equipment had not been developed yet. Below is a small sampling of the images housed in the Museum’s collection.
Juvenile Porcupine walking along ridge of boat, ca. 1907, Huron Mountain Club, Marquette, MI
Diagram of camera set-up for wildlife “self-portrait” photographs.
Skunk responding to bait. October 18, 1928, Huron Mountain Club, Marquette, MI
Franklin’s Ground Squirrel, Waucaunda, Ill July 27, 1941
Two Red Fox kits or pups caught on film. May 13, 1941, Huron Mountain Club, Marquette, MI
Amber KingView Comments
Assistant Collections Manager