Created: 5/4/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to describing an object in a museum collection, a picture can provide essential information. An image of a specimen or artifact adds clarification for distinguishing similar items and provides a visual record for tracking preservation issues and treatments. Images of museum objects can be utilized for exhibition development, initial scientific research, or as an educational resource.
With the help of some amazing volunteers, our Collections staff are digitally photographing specimens and artifacts in the Academy’s collections. Our photography workstation is one we devised and consists of a wire shelving unit with adjustable shelves, so the work area can be changed when desired. We selected acid-free grey paper for a backdrop and created many of our reflectors and stands from materials we had on hand. Some of our best reflectors are simply sheets of hard white foam and the reflective interior of a coffee can!
Digital photography of our scientific collection began with the imaging of our type specimens. A “type” specimen is the specimen originally used to describe a species and displays the majority of characteristics used to identify that species. It’s because of type specimens that we are able to distinguish one animal from another. Here is the type specimen for the subspecies of the Southern Appalachian Rock Vole, Microtus chrotorrhinus carolinensis (Komarek). This specimen was collected in 1931 from North Carolina.
We’ve since expanded this project and are now systematically photographing catalogued specimens in the Academy's collections. We’ve photographed bird eggs and nests in the oology collection and mammal study skins and skulls in the mammalogy collection. Images from the oology collection were included in a bird identification DVD series released by Thayer Birding Software (www.ThayerBirding.com) released in 2012. Check them out!
Created: 5/3/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
You may already know that the Nature Museum is a regular meeting place for the Chicago Herpetological Society and the Chicago Ornithological Society. Both of these groups focus on animals (reptiles, amphibians and birds, respectively) but as our Horticulturist Seth Harper might say, what about plants? Don’t worry Seth, there is a new group to add to the list- Chicago Botanical Artists.
Chicago Botanical Artists is open to all botanical artists, beginners through advanced, who want to sketch together, share works in progress and develop a supportive community that exhibits and educates. The group will sketch native plants in and around the Nature Museum’s gardens, working outdoors when weather permits, or indoors with specimens. Since its inaugural meeting in February, Chicago Botanical Artists has enjoyed steady growth and looks forward to welcoming more new members.
Illustration Courtesy of Derek Norman
The group meets on the second Monday of each month, May-June from 1 to 3 p.m., July-August 3 to 5 p.m. There is no charge to participate. For questions or to RSVP, email email@example.com or call 773-755-5128.
Manager of Public ProgramsView Comments
Created: 5/3/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
Stop by North Pond for the next several days to greet our tropical visitors---warblers. There are many species of warblers, small insect eating birds, that live in the tropics during our winter, then fly through our backyards on the way to Canada to spend the summer breeding and eating things like tent caterpillars.
Today the Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum is common and easy to find. The birds you see today around the pond may have been in Panama or Cuba just a few days ago. Look for the rusty cap and a constantly twitching tail.
Created: 4/23/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
When most people think of insect migration, they quite understandably think of the Monarch butterfly. It comes as a surprise to many that some species of dragonflies also migrate. In this part of the world, many of the larger and more familiar species, like Green Darners and Black Saddlebags, are among the migrants.
Swarm of migrating Green Darner (Anax junius) dragonflies outside of the Nature Museum
Migrating swarms of dragonflies have been observed in places like the shores of Lake Michigan, the Gulf Coast of Texas, and along the east coast of Mexico in places like Veracruz. Migrating swarms are sometimes observed near migrating flocks of raptors, and there is some evidence that they provide a significant nutritional resource for migrating hawks.
A saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea sp.) in Veracruz. This is one of the species that migrates.
In contrast to the Monarch migration, there still isn't much known about the dragonfly migration. Details of the timing and the ultimate destination are still unknown. Are the individuals that head south the same ones that return north?
The Cansaburro Dunes in Veracruz. Researchers are trying to determine how the Gulf Coast of Mexico figures in dragonfly migration.
In an attempt to learn more about dragonfly migration, the US Forest Service's Wings Across the Americas program has assembled a group of dragonfly experts, nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions, and federal agencies and formed the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP). The partnership includes representatives from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Members of the partnership, including representatives from the Nature Museum, have traveled to Veracruz to observe migrating dragonflies. The partnership meets annually to discuss how best to learn more about dragonfly migration.
You can find out more about ways to help scientists learn more about dragonfly migration by visiting the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership web site.View Comments
Created: 4/21/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
Sow the radishes and pop in the pansies! It’s spring!
I don’t mind telling you folks; when your job is all plants all the time, spring is a pretty big deal. No more waiting, no more desperately ogling seed catalogs in a darkened office or checking the potted palms for watering again. Time to get moving.
I should say time to stay moving. We’ve already got the beds raked out and the veggie garden sown and the Butterfly Haven replanted and the pansies in and so on and so forth. Next week, plants arrive for the expansion of the Wickham Butterfly Garden, and before you know it we’ll be firing up the lawn tractor. Spring doesn’t slow down; it only accelerates, until the heat of July finally forces it to sit down in the shade with a glass of lemonade. April is the time when a gardener must shake himself free from the grey slumber of winter, grab a rake, and start rebuilding the atrophied muscles and calluses he will need to keep pace.
It might sound to you like I’m complaining, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am so ready to be surrounded by green, growing things, even if half of them are weeds I need to pull. It’s not that I hate winter. Every season has its charms. But there’s something about spring. Something beyond the warmth and beauty. Something about the resilience of life, the renewing power of change, the hopefulness of a world made young...Sorry, I seem to be waxing spiritual. Hard to avoid at this time of year.
I feel fortunate to live in Chicago, where spring is a full season long, unlike father east or south, where it often seems like little more than a two-week argument between Old Man Winter and the May Queen. Back east, everything would be brown one day and green the next, leaving precious little time to savor the yearly miracles of bursting buds and stretching stalks. But here, day after day brings new developments that can be watched, reported on, and discussed with fellow springtime aficionados. Elms are blooming. Tulips are up early this year. Saw my first violet today. To a gardener, this is a rewarding conversation.
My favorite moment every spring comes early on, often in March. It’s the moment when I spot my first crocus flower of the season. Be it yellow or purple, that speck of color is nothing less than shocking to an eye lulled to complacency by winter’s stark palette. For a moment, that shock seems to resonate, excite, and compel like the very spark of life itself. It’s as if that little crocus has a message for me: Change has come. Wake up. Get moving. Be a part of it all.
Thanks little guy. I’m on it.
Created: 4/19/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
About three years ago, I began a project of trying to take a bunch of butterfly photos. I had an old lecture with images in 35 mm slide format that I wanted to convert to a digital presentation. In the process, I discovered how much more I enjoyed taking digital photos of butterflies than using the old film format. My project quickly changed from getting images for a talk to starting a virtual butterfly collection.
Buckeye (Junonia coenia),
Willow Springs, IL July 18, 2010
This was one of the first specimens in my virtual collection.
I've collected butterflies most of my life. Early on my collecting was simply a hobby. As I began collecting for a variety of professional purposes, I stopped collecting for fun. Among other things, I couldn't justify taking the butterflies simply for my own amusement. Digital photography has changed all of that.
Caption: California Sister (Adelpha californica)
Madera Canyon, Arizona. July 31, 2012
I've been surprised at how similar digital photography is to collecting specimens. Both involve similar pleasures of the pursuit in the field and both require knowledge of habitats and host plants. Both result in a sense of elation at the moment of capture. Both involve work with the specimen once you get it home. In the case of the physical specimen this work involves relaxing, pinning mounting and labeling. In the case of the photograph, it involves cropping and correcting exposure. For me, one of the enjoyable parts of virtual collecting has been keeping records of date and location of capture that are just as rigorous as those that I would maintain for a pinned specimen.
Olympia Marble (Euchloe olympia).
Illinois Beach State Park May 11, 2011
Ethical and conservation concerns aside, there are additional advantages to virtual butterfly collecting over traditional specimen collecting. Want to collect an endangered species or collect in a National Park? Not so fast- you need a slew of permits and a really good reason to do so. But with a camera, you can take as many images as you would like. Are you traveling abroad and want to collect butterflies? Many countries now prohibit the export of species, and many more require a permit. In contrast, the images on your camera will go right through customs, no problem.
Karner Blue (Lyciades melissa samuelis)
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, May 30, 2009
A double whammy: This endangered species was virtually collected in a National Park.
One of the things that I always enjoyed with my specimen collection was looking at my specimens much later and remembering where I was, who I was with, and how much I was enjoying myself. I now get a very similar kind of enjoyment from my virtual collection-- and the specimens in it don't fade or break or get eaten by dermestid beetles. I'll continue collecting actual butterflies for the Nature Museum as the specifics of my work require it. But I also expect to be collecting virtually with my camera for my own enjoyment for the rest of my life.
Fatima Peacock (Anartia Fatima)
Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Jalisco, Mexico, February 15, 2012
I had no trouble getting this virtual specimen of a Fatima Peacock through customs when I returned home from Mexico.View Comments
Created: 4/19/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
Several years ago the Chicago Academy of Sciences became involved in the conservation and restoration of the State endangered Blanding’s Turtle. For those of you who visit the museum regularly, you can’t fail to have noticed our beautiful display tank, which houses two sub-adults and some hatchlings.
The hatchlings are headstarted for two years in a controlled environment, which allows us to protect them from predation at their most vulnerable stage. We then release them out into a suitable habitat equipped with a tiny radio transmitter.
After hopefully surviving their first winter hibernating deep down in the mud we begin to track them as soon as the weather begins to warm up in the spring.
Each transmitter has a unique frequency so we know exactly which turtle we are tracking and as we collect data we are able to develop a picture of survival rates and habitat usage. Blanding’s Turtles live to between 60 and 70 years and do not become reproductively viable until their mid teens so, as an organization we have committed to this study for a long time.
Would you like to become involved in this project? Well you can! We have developed a program called ‘Become a Blanding’s Turtle Tracker.’ For $75 per year or $130 for two years you can donate directly to the cost of the radio transmitters and in exchange get regular Enews updates about the research program as well as a brochure and certificate.
What better way to get involved in a current conservation project without leaving the comfort of your own back yard? To become a Blanding’s Turtle Tracker simply click on this link and sign up today. The Blanding’s Turtles will really appreciate your help.
Created: 4/16/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
Every day is Earth Day at the Nature Museum, but during Earth Week, Nature Museum staff and volunteers call attention to the little things we can all easily do to be a little greener. For the members of the Sustainable Initiatives Team at the Nature Museum (SIT), it is yearly tradition to schedule daily, sustainably-minded challenges for all the staff and volunteers to focus on, culminating in a photo each day of all who could participate. This year, staff will be focusing on the following earth-friendly actions during Earth Week:
Waste free day! (Bring your own mug)
Monday, April 22, 2013, Earth Day!:
Green Transit Day
- Use a more sustainable means of transit to work! Bike, walk, use public transit, carpool!
Tuesday, April 23, 2013:
Waste Free Day
- Bring your own mug/bottle and a zero waste lunch (reusable containers welcome!)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013:
Green Cleaning Day
- Make your own green cleaners! Staff and volunteers can learn how to make and use effective sustainable cleaners at the office and at home.
Thursday, April 25, 2013:
- Let’s have an old fashioned Swap Meet! Staff can bring unused or unwanted, gently used clothing from home to trade.
Friday, April 26, 2013:
- Take a few minutes and give and back!
Earth Day is a chance to take a moment and think about the impact we have on our world.
You can follow our daily challenges or create your own! We hope you'll join us in these easy ways to be green, both on the designated days for each practice during Earth Week and whenever you can!
Green Transit Day
For more information on the history and formation of Earth Day please visit: http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement.
Amber KingView Comments
Assistant Collections Manager
Created: 4/15/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
I recently posted this butterfly photo on line:
It's a Ciliate Blue from Malaysia. A friend was prompted to comment, "I like the orange and black "eye" on the edge of the wing. Is it part of a disguise camouflage?"
My friend was very astute in noticing that the spot resembles an eye and surmising that it has something to do with defense against predators. This species is a good example of what is often referred to as the false head hypothesis. The hypothesis notes that the markings on one outer edge of the hind wings resemble heads in some species of butterflies. These markings can be quite elaborate in some cases and may include tails that resemble antennae and a narrow shape that enhances the appearance of a head. Some species carry this even one step further and rub their hind wings together. This draws attention to the tails, which appear like twitching antennae.
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
The false head hypothesis suggests the possibility that these head-like markings confer a survival advantage by deflecting predator attacks towards the hind wing (which butterflies can usually live without) and away from the vulnerable head. Many butterflies, especially species in the Metalmark and Gossamer-Winged Butterfly families show these markings.
Martials's Scrub Hairstreak (Strymon martialis)
In 1980, scientists from the Smithsonian attempted to demonstrate that predators could be fooled into attacking the wrong end of the butterfly. They collected hundreds of butterflies in Panama and Colombia, and divided them into groups based on the number of head-like features were present in their wing patterns. Consistent with the false head hypothesis, the greater the number of head-like features, the more likely wing damage due to predator attacks was to be directed to that part of the wings.
Eastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas)
The false head hypothesis remains a hypothesis. Further support of the hypothesis would require a much more difficult experimental design - one that demonstrates that butterflies with the false head designs survive better than those without them.View Comments
Created: 4/15/2013 Updated: 8/10/2016
One Sunday, the PIP volunteers were doing a program called Meet the Bugs. We brought out a praying mantis, darkling beetles, a wolf spider, and a desert millipede to give visitors a close-up look. The inclusion of the spider and millipede meant “Meet the Invertebrates” would be a more accurate description of the program, but Meet the Bugs is catchier and easier to say.
We also brought out superworms, the legged larvae of darkling beetles (superworms is a misnomer), to provide a before-and-after illustration of insect metamorphosis. The superworms would become beetles, we explained, if they were not eaten by one of the Museum’s turtles first.
Several visitors asked how superworms turned into beetles because they look nothing alike. I compared it to caterpillars turning into butterflies. I hope that was helpful to them, but decided I needed to learn more to provide a better-informed answer next time.
So I googled “darkling beetle metamorphosis” when I got home. There were many results illustrating the pupa stage the beetles go through, comparable to the chrysalis stage for butterflies and the cocoon stage for moths. From viewing the scientific drawings, I realized that I had frequently seen mealworm beetle pupa in the oatmeal-filled drawer where the mealworms are kept without recognizing what they were.
I also found several videos on YouTube of the metamorphosis of darkling beetles. The most interesting was an almost 8-minute video that showed in close-up the larva, pupa, and adult stages of the beetle’s life. My favorite part was watching the legs kicking free of the pupa casing as the adult emerged. The video was a 4th grade class project, part of their habitats unit in science. What a great idea. It gave me a much clearer picture of the process that should help me explain it better to others. Check out the video and see for yourself.View Comments