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  • Earth Day (well really Earth Week) For Staff and Volunteers at the Museum

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    Tags: Earth Day, green, sustainability, nature museum

    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:

    Nature Museum staff holding mugs
    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:
    Reuse/Recycle Day
    - 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:
    Service Day
    - 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!

    Staff shoes and transit cards
    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 King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • False Head Hypothesis

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    Tags: butterflies, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences, camouflage

    Created: 4/15/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    I recently posted this butterfly photo on line:

    Ciliate Blue butterfly

    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 butterfly

    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 butterfly

    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 butterfly

    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.

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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  • Meet the Beetles

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    Tags: volunteer, beetles, Biology, metamorphosis, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    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.

    Superworm

    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.

    Darkling beetle

    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.

    Cindy Gray
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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  • Celebrate Earth Day

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    Tags: Earth Day, family, Gardening

    Created: 4/12/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Spring is finally here and it is a busy time at the Nature Museum!  In April we hear the return of red winged blackbirds and robins, and narrowly dodge the attacks of our favorite pair of Canada geese nesting on the rooftop cactus garden. This time of year also means Earth Day is approaching!

    This will be the third year in a row that we have celebrated Earth Day with the musical talent of Joe Reilly and activities led by our program partner Urban Habitat Chicago.

    Joe Reilly with sunflowers

    Joe Reilly’s Earth Day concert is for families looking to rock out to original nature inspired tunes. Joe’s albums Children of the Earth and Let’s Go Outside are fun, energizing and are a perfect fit for The Nature Museum. Concert attendance grows each yearand we are looking forward to seeing Joe and his groupies again! Registration required.

    Urban Habitat Chicago will help visitors plant green bean seeds. Children will learn about plant care and take their seedling home to watch it grow. We hope that this activity will inspire visitors to create edible gardens at home and in their communities.Free with Nature Museum admission.

    So join us for our annual Earth Day celebration! Families can visit the museum on Saturday, April 20th to partake in all of our festivities. Please visit www.naturemuseum.org or email familyprograms@naturemuseum.org for more information.

    Glenda Gonzalez
    Public Programs Coordinator

     

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  • Housekeeping: Collections Department Style

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    Tags: cleaning, specimens, collections, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 4/8/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    While we do not do it every day, the natural history specimens on display the Museum need regular cleaning, particularly those specimens that are not housed inside of museum display cases. Specimens, like the polar bear, accumulate dust just like other surfaces in the museum. 

    Dawn Roberts cleans the polar bear mount

    To clean them we use vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters and variable suction control, fine mesh netting, clean brushes, gloves, ladders, extension cords, and time. The netting is placed over the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner so that large particles cannot be accidentally “sucked” into the vacuum. 

    Mariann cleans a bird specimen

    The suction control is adjusted so that just enough suction is applied to pull in dirt and dust particles from the air, but not to harm the specimens. The brushes are used to gently pull dirt away from the surface of the specimen with the vacuum nozzle head held just above to collect the now loose particles of dust and dirt. This kind of cleaning is performed on a regular schedule for specimens on permanent display or as needed when additional specimens are installed in new exhibits, like the bison mount in Food: The Nature of Eating.

    Cleaning a bison mount in an exhibit

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Notebaert Beauty Parlor

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    Tags: turtles, claws, Biology, reptiles, Chicago Academy of Sciences, look-in lab, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 4/3/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    We strive to give our Box Turtles a rich and diverse diet, which provides them with good calcium sources to ensure that they develop strong shells. Of course along with strong shells this also means they grow strong nails.

    Closeup of turtle foot

    Normally a turtle would be digging and scratching around outside in dirt and rocks and naturally wear their nails down. We do give our turtles lots of time outside in the summer but at this time of the year they are kept indoors and only get to dig in soft substrate. So what to do with those long nails?

    That is where the ‘mani, pedi service’ comes in.

    Staff members filing a turtle's nails



    We used Claire for these photos, as she is by far the most calm about having her nails trimmed. We use a standard rotating nail file, which is intended for dogs’ nails.

    As with most things involving turtles, this is a two-person job. One person to catch and hold the leg and the other person to file the nails.

    Staff members filing turtle's nails

    I did mention that Claire was the most cooperative of our turtles during this process. She accepts what we are doing and just watches reproachfully.

    Pretty Girl and Kennicott show what they think of things by peeing as much as possible! Charlie and Opal will try and sneak a quick bite, if a finger should happen to come within reach. And Manny? Well Manny is like a madman! He has to have a board held between his head and our hands, which he attacks viciously. I wonder do the ladies who work in nail salons usually end up bleeding after giving their customers a manicure? At the end of the process, we clean our various scratches and bites and the turtles have nicely manicured nails.

    Closeup of nail filing

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Hawk Talk

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    Tags: Biology, Chicago Academy of Sciences, hawk, peregrine falcon, cooper's hawk, falcon, raptor, bird of prey, survival, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 4/3/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    I often get calls from people who have discovered a hawk frequenting their bird feeders. They are usually rather upset and want to know what they can do to make it go away. This can often lead to quite an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

    Hawk in tree

    Firstly, why is it OK to provide all other birds with food except hawks? As with all predators, hawks constantly walk a very fine line between survival and starvation. The Coopers Hawk, which is considered one of the most common urban hawks has been extensively studied, and results show that barely 20% of their hunting attempts are successful. Imagine if only once in every five times you decided to have a meal, you actually got one. You would soon be really hungry! The amount of energy required to take to the wing and actively hunt means that every failed attempt is extremely costly to the hawk. Also, studies have shown that the three most common prey species for urban Coopers Hawks are European Starlings, Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves. Of those, the starling is an invasive species that is rapidly out-competing and threatening less aggressive native species, the Rock Pigeon is widely despised and considered a messy pest by the vast majority of people and the Mourning Dove is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America, producing several broods each year.

    Hawk eating

    The problem, of course, comes from the fact that a lot of people do not want to see an animal killed and eaten by another animal. I used to work in Africa as a safari guide and by far and away the most frequently asked for animals were lions and leopards. Big cats will spend up to 23 hours per day lying around resting and sleeping and trust me, that does not make for very interesting game viewing! But when we happened to come upon these same large predators hunting, many people simply could not bear to watch.

    Perched hawk

    To develop a true understanding of our natural world it is important to recognize that predators have a vital part in every ecosystem whether it be a sunfish devouring a minnow, a Peregrine Falcon grabbing a pigeon on the wing or a lion pulling down an antelope, they are all an important part of a healthy and balanced environment.

    Hawk face closeup

    So next time you are fortunate enough to see a hawk in your yard, try not to be tempted to chase it away. Watch it, observe it’s behaviour in relation to its surroundings, how does it use its environment to approach its prey? Is it successful? If not, why not? Don’t think of the hawk as evil or nasty, instead consider how privileged you are to be witnessing nature right in your own back yard.

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  • Freezing a Bison Mount

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    Tags: collections, natural history, specimens, Chicago Academy of Sciences

    Created: 3/18/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    If you work with museum objects in a natural history museum, “freezing” is a necessary part of the job.  It may sound a bit odd to freeze a museum object of any sort, but it enables us to store specimens until they can be prepared and it is also an effective way of killing insect pests without the use of chemical pesticides. The use of pesticides leaves a residue on specimens each time they are used and this causes a build-up over time. By using the freeze-treatment method instead, we reduce this residual build-up and the related side effects that could possibly harm specimens over time and/or become a health hazard to the collections staff that care for them. 

    Most of the time we can “freeze-treat” our specimens in house, but for larger mounts, like a bison mount that is 6.5 feet tall by 8.5 feet long, we do not own a large enough freezer. Instead we had to seek out a facility that would not only have room to accommodate its size but was willing to tackle this project.  Midwest Freeze-Dry in Skokie was up for the job and already had experience with the process.

    Bison mount covered in plastic

    To freeze-treat a natural history specimen, it first it needs to be enclosed in a protective barrier.  In this case we used plastic sheeting because it came in a large enough size to cover the mount, but for smaller specimens plastic garbage bags or freezer grade zipper-closure bags work well. The purpose is twofold: (1) it creates a “sealed” enclosure so that insects cannot spread to other specimens and (2) it creates a moisture barrier so that any condensation that may form during the freeze-treatment forms on the exterior of the barrier and not on the specimen.

    Once the bison mount was wrapped, in what resembled a plastic cocoon upon completion, we arranged a delivery date and then booked appropriate transportation with additional people to assist with the move.  After the mount was carefully moved onto the truck and securely strapped in for the 6 mile trip north, the next step was to transfer it from our truck to the freezer truck, which was accomplished with a forklift and the help of many people. 

    Team moving bison mount

    Unlike freezing food items at home, to effectively kill insect pests, the specimen has to be exposed to at least two freeze cycles with a thaw in between. The method is pretty simple, the specimen is placed inside the freezer space and the temperature is dropped rapidly and held steady for a set time and then the temperature is gradually increased. After the space returns to room temperature, the temperature is dropped rapidly again for a second cycle and then gradually brought back up to room temperature again.  This cycle ensures that any insect pests that went into a dormant phase during the first freeze cycle are “woken up” during the thaw period and then eradicated by quickly dropping the temperature again. The amount of time needed depends on the temperature of the freezer space, the size of the freezer space, what kind of insect pest you are dealing with, and the size and composition of the specimen.

    Bison mount in truck

    When the allotted freezer time was completed, utilizing more people, two forklifts (one at each location) and a pallet jack, the Bison mount was transported to the museum for its final installation.  You can see the Bison mount as well as other specimens from the collection in the exhibit, Food: The Nature of Eating, at the museum.

    Bison mount on display

    Amber K. King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Tracking a Museum Collection

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    Tags: inventory, Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, data, cataloguing, specimens

    Created: 3/16/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    One, two, three, four...

    Chipmunk specimens



    Keeping track of items in a museum collection requires organization. A LOT of organization. Collections staff track where specimens and artifacts are stored and record any time they move, such as when they go on loan or on exhibit. We track the condition of a specimen and any procedures that we undertake to resolve preservation issues. We make notations about how much deterioration a specimen is subjected to when it is on display in an exhibit. We document information about the specimen, such as who collected it, when, and where. But to be able to do all of this, we first need to know what we have!

    Malacology specimens in vials



    How do you go about inventorying a museum collection?  In a word: methodically.  A small army of staff, interns, and volunteers went through the Academy's collection for our inventory.  It took us five years, but cabinet by cabinet, each and every item was handled, counted, and described -- bird and mammal study skins, pinned insects, fossils, pressed plants, snail shells -- over 280,000 items!  We created a new digital record in a database for each item we documented so that the inforamtion is in one place.

    Bat specimen



    What, exactly, does this mean?  It means that our Collections staff can now look up information about our collection in a database, rather than sifting through old musty ledger books and multiple, out-of-date card catalogue systems.  These searches are faster and more comprehensive.  We can provide this library of specimens and corresponding data to researchers and help answer questions about the environment.  More of the collection can be incorporated into our exhibitions and educational programs to help illustrate issues relevant to the Midwest and allow our visitors to see these treasures first hand.

    • Ascession book
    • Card system

    It means we have a much clearer picture of not only what is in our collection, but the history of it all as well.  And knowing what we have makes tracking it, and building a reservoir of information about it, much easier.  Many thanks go to the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation for their generous support of our collections inventory project.

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Out the Door, Let's Explore!

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    Tags: public programs, Biology, outdoor exhibits, summer, spring, nature on tap

    Created: 3/14/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    In the Public Programs Department we are eagerly awaiting the warmer spring weather to make use of our biggest exhibit- the outdoors! After a frosty winter, it's a relief to hear Red Winged Blackbirds and see sunning Painted Turtles. Program ideas start flowing!

    While winter presents its own unique programming opportunities, it's hard not to get excited about the signs of spring and summer. Instead of; “The turtles are hibernating”, or “The monarch butterflies are in Mexico,” we can say, “See all of those turtles on that log,” or “How many monarchs can you find in the prairie?” or “Out the door, let’s explore!”.

    • Kids observing North Pond
    • Blanding's hatchling emerging from egg
    • A flower in the prairie

    This spring and summer there will be so much for visitors to discover in our outdoor exhibits. Outdoor nature walks will touch on themes such as "Nature Noises", "Cloud Gazing" and "Ordinary or Extraordinary?". Other programs like Numbers Through Nature, Spanish Through Nature and Polish through Nature will be taking children outside as well. You can even join us this summer for an outdoor film screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, to celebrate our new exhibit The Birth of Chocolate, or have a drink outside during our program for adults, Nature on Tap.

    So take off that winter parka and join me outside this spring and summer to discover bugs, listen to birds and to smell the flowers. Doesn’t that sound delightful?

    Laura Saletta
    Public Programs Educator

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