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  • Aldo Leopold


    Tags: Aldo Leopold, birthday, wildlife management, wildlife, conservation

    Created: 1/11/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Today is the birthday of Aldo Leopold.

    Aldo Leopold

    If you don’t know who he is, you have at least benefitted from the fruits of his work. Leopold is considered the father of modern wildlife management. Most of the principles conservationists use today to ensure that wildlife and people can share the planet together successfully were promoted, perfected, or even developed by him. He wrote prolifically for both technical audiences and the public, but even his scientific writings are pleasurable to read. One of the few books I encourage everyone to read is “A Sand County Almanac.” In this book Leopold presents complex ideas in simple stories about his time in the outdoors. These experiences were the foundation for Leopold’s “conservation ethic.” This ethic was something he arrived at both intuitively and through meticulous data collection. Many studies have later supported his conclusions and the fact that you can see wild flowers in the spring, baby birds foraging in the summer, and deer rutting in the fall is because conservationists and state wildlife agencies have applied these principles in managing the wildlife near you.

    Today it is unseasonably warm so I hope you can celebrate Aldo Leopld’s birthday in style—take a walk in the woods. When it gets a little colder, I hope you’ll curl up with one of his books and take some time to learn about the beautiful interactions of nature in your neighborhood.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Nature and Foreign Language


    Tags: language, family, polish, public programs

    Created: 1/10/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Visit our museum any day of the week and you will hear families speaking Spanish, Polish and other languages. Language helps us develop a sense of belonging and gives us the ability to connect with others. In the same way, the Nature Museum wants every visitor to feel inspired and connected to the natural world. After some time here, the Museum and the bilingual families inspired me to develop a program where bilingual or aspiring bilingual families could acquire familiarity and comfort with nature and learn or build upon a second language. 

    Two years ago I had the pleasure to meet Carolina Legg from Multilingual Chicago. We realized that with combined efforts, we had the opportunity to reach out to bilingual families in a new capacity.  As a result we decided to combine early childhood environmental education and foreign language acquisition into a “Foreign Language Through Nature” program. These programs are presented in Spanish and Polish and are full immersion. During the program, children and caregivers learn new vocabulary while also learning about the natural world. Children are engaged through music, art and animal interactions.

    Polish through Nature Class

    Many children have been enrolled in the programs since we first started. The Nature Museum is now a familiar and comfortable place for them to learn, explore and have fun. Many families have expressed how grateful they are that their children have the opportunity to learn and or practice a second language and become comfortable with the natural environment in unique ways. One of my fondest memories was when a 4-year old enrolled in “Polish Through Nature” counted to ten for the first time in Polish while counting fish that live with our Spiny soft-shelled turtle, Pancake. We were so proud!

    Polish through Nature Class

    In 2013 families will be able to participate a “Mandarin Through Nature” series.  We are excited to share our passion for nature with more families in a culturally meaningful way.  We look forward to seeing you there!

    Glenda Gonzalez
    Public Programs Coordinator

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  • What? We're Already Out of Hot Water?


    Tags: water, conservation, holiday, friends, aerator, good gift, easy, plumbing

    Created: 1/8/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    It is said that plumbers get some of their biggest jobs between Thanksgiving and New Years. I don’t know if this is really true but it make sense because this is the time of year when homes are full of people using every sink, tub, and showerhead in the place. 

    I used water in more than a dozen homes over the holidays and saw some interesting interactions with water delivery systems. In two homes, only one or two people could shower before the hot water was gone. Then, a kid was scalded when washing his hands.  Elsewhere, when filling a pitcher with water, a woman ended up soaked when the water from the tap hit the bottom of the pitcher with such force it splashed back out. Another person, scrubbing a frying pan, almost overflowed the sink before the pan was even a little clean. 

    There were other adventures (including dish soap in the automatic dishwasher) but these problems all have their roots in the same issue:  water flow at the spigot head. High water pressure is great and we all want enough water to come out of the faucet to get the job done but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing and, instead of helping us stay clean and hydrated, we end up with messes.

    In each of these cases, the problem could have been solved by simply adding an aerator to the faucet.  An aerator is essentially just a piece of fine screen that the water passes though. The effect is to add air to the water as it leaves the faucet while and reducing the amount of water used but without reducing felt water pressure. With an aerator, more people will be able to shower on a tank of water and the temperature of the heater can be turned down to a safer level because less hot water is used in each shower. A pitcher will fill with water quickly but it won’t splash back (and, incidentally, chlorine and some other chemicals will leave the water more quickly making it taste better) and you will have plenty of water to scrub with, without overflowing the sink.

    Many older homes were built with faucets that did not have aerators. In other cases, when the aerators became clogged or broken they were simply removed. In most cases, adding or replacing an aerator is simple. Depending on the faucet, you can simply unscrew the end of the faucet and install a screen, or you may have to screw in a whole new end that includes the screen.  In showers, you can simply replace the shower head. Aerators are widely available and, especially in the shower, can provide an updated look to the faucet and a more comfortable user experience.

    Sometimes good stewardship of natural resources requires sacrifice but, when it comes to your faucet, adding an aerator makes the water easier to use and you’ll be saving money and water.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Just Another Day at the Office


    Tags: living collections, reptiles

    Created: 1/4/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    We try by all means to keep our programming animals fit and healthy at all times but of course occasionally despite our best efforts, they get an ailment that requires treatment. So how do you give a snake medicine? Well, if it is an injection it is relatively easy to insert a needle between the scales but if they actually have to swallow the medication it takes a little more than a teaspoon and the request to ‘open wide!’

    An array of tools for giving a snake medication, including a guitar pick, syringes and tubing

    These are the tools required. The best item for opening the snakes’ mouth is a guitar pick (yes really!) then a nice long tube to get the medicine down and some water to flush the medicine through the tube.

    The guitar pick is inserted into the snake's mouth

    The guitar pick is slid carefully into the snakes’ mouth. As I said, it is perfectly designed for the job. It has smooth rounded edges so it doesn’t harm the snakes’ mouth and it covers the snakes’ glottis, which is in the bottom of the mouth. This ensures that when the tube is inserted it doesn’t get accidentally pushed into the glottis, which would essentially ‘drown’ the snake.

    The tube is inserted into the snake's mouth

    The tube is then gently inserted and pushed down the snakes’ esophagus. The tube should go approximately one third of the way down into the snakes’ body before the medicine is administered.

    the syringe pushes medicineinto the tube in the snake's mouth and down its esophagus

    Of course, don’t expect any gratitude from the snake for this treatment. You will notice there is a second person involved in this process holding the body of the snake. Although they don’t have to negotiate the teeth they do sometimes get the benefit of the snakes displeasure in a far more odiferous manner when the snake deploys its’ musk glands to full effect. When the medication has been administered and flushed through the tube with a little water, the tube is carefully removed.

    Gently removing the tubing

    And there you have it – job done! And if all goes well, after a little time off, we have a healthy snake ready to resume its work entertaining our visitors.

    Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections

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  • Day in the Life of an Animal Care Volunteer


    Tags: volunteering, volunteer, animals, living collections

    Created: 1/2/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    The following post was written by Cindy Gray, one of our animal care volunteers at the Museum.

    8:15 to 8:25

    Arrive at the Museum, greet the cleaning woman who lets me in as she cleans the entry, get the key to the Look-in-Lab from security, check-in at the volunteer lounge, and put on one of the volunteer aprons. Go to the Lab, greet Celeste and Jamie and get ready to start working!

    8:25 to 8:40
    Change the swimming water for the Leopard frog and the drinking/soaking water for the American toad in Mysteries of the Marsh, and mist the American toad tank with RO water (“RO” water is “reverse osmosis” water, water filtered to remove chlorine and other elements that may bother amphibians, water bugs, fish, and some reptiles). Feed the frog and toad, trying to drop the crickets into their tanks, not on the carpet (I read that toads blink their eyes to help swallow their food, but I had trouble picturing it until I saw the toad capture and swallow one of the crickets I fed her one day).

    8:40 to 8:45
    Mist the green tree frog tank near the spotted turtles to maintain the high humidity they prefer.  Sometimes one of the frogs will start “singing” as I mist -- I like to think it's because they are happy for the fresh "rain".

    8:45 to 9:00
    Provide fresh water for the Tiger salamander, Gray tree frogs, American toad, Cricket frogs, and Fowler’s toad in the Look-in-Lab and mist their habitats. Provide Harriet the tarantula with fresh water in her bowl and crickets.

    9:00 to 9:25
    Empty the water bowls for the snakes used for critter connections and provide fresh water.  Sometimes right after I change her water, Coco the Fox snake takes a drink and then soaks in the fresh water.  Change the paper substrate of their tanks if they have pooped. Mist with water any snakes that are shedding to help with that process. If a snake sheds overnight, take the skin out of the cage. If a snake was fed the night before, look to make sure it ate the defrosted mouse or rat.

    9:20 to 10:10
    Clean up after the box turtles that are used for critter connections. For the box turtles in the front window, provide fresh water, take out yesterday’s food dishes, throwing away the leftovers and putting the dish in the dishwasher, and redistribute the coconut fiber substrate. For the box turtles in the other enclosures, provide fresh water, take out yesterday’s food dishes, and change the paper if they have made a mess, in other words, everyday. When I take them out of the tanks, I put up the “slow traffic” sign that has a picture of a turtle and give the turtles worms, trying to keep an eye on them as I clean; it is surprising how fast a turtle can wander away and wedge herself into a small hiding space.

    Pretty Girl the box turtle enjoying a superworm

    10:10 to 10:40
    Tend the nursery for the Abedus (ferocious water beetles), providing them with clean water and crickets.  The females lay dozens of eggs on the males’ backs, and we remove the males to small containers filled with water to protect the babies when they hatch. The young pass through numerous stages before they are big enough to go into the tank in the window so floating in the water are “exuvia,” the shed exoskeletons they have outgrown (a fun word I only learned after volunteering at the Museum.)

    10:40 to 10:50
    Provide hermit crabs with fresh fruit, fresh RO water, and clean salt water; clean and mist habitat.

    10:50 to 11:25
    Chat with the PIP volunteers (Public Interpretive Program volunteers) when they come in to get a snake or turtle for critter connections and to feed the frogs and toads for the public feeding. Make salad bowls for the turtles: greens, veggies, corn (their favorite if we have it), and berries or other fruit, topped with crushed egg shells for calcium, mealworms dusted with vitamin powder, and nightcrawlers.

    Fruits and veggies for the animals

    11:25 to 11:40
    Tidy up, give the rats corn on the cob, and say good bye to Celeste and Jamie. Check-out in the volunteer lounge, take off the apron, and return the key to security.

    Not every day is the same. One day, I flooded the lab by accidentally opening the valve for the water snake tank and not noticing until I heard water splashing on the floor. Everyone was very nice about it and told me everyone floods the lab at least once! (The snakes were undisturbed.) Usually, the breaks from routine are more interesting: Harriet looking spiffier after her molt, new interns, the tiny leopard frog that was a tadpole the week before, or the hatchling Red-eared sliders and Painted turtles the horticulturists found in the garden last spring.

    Cindy Gray
    Animal Care Volunteer

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  • The Challenge of Swamp Metalmarks


    Tags: conservation, butterfly, Biology

    Created: 12/27/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Of all the species that we work with in the butterfly conservation lab, by far the most challenging has been the species that is also the most seriously endangered, the Swamp Metalmark. This species has proven difficult at virtually every stage of the captive breeding process. The populations where we can obtain founder stock are small. The few females that we are able to collect don’t lay many eggs. We feel very lucky to get more than 90 or so out of a single female. Contrasts that to Regal Fritillary females that can each produce upwards of 800 eggs. Hatching, larval growth and survival to pupation are all modest at best. In northern Illinois, the species has but a single generation per year, which means that we are confronted with the challenge of successfully carrying caterpillars over the winter, a process that has proven difficult for many species. Despite these odds, we continue attempting to breed the species in the lab so that we can return the species to the fens of northeastern Illinois where it formerly flew.

    • Swamp Metalmark Chrysalis

      Swamp Metalmark Chrysalis

    • Swamp Metalmark Caterpillars

      Swamp Metalmark Caterpillars

    • Swamp Metalmark adult butterfly

      Swamp Metalmark adult butterfly

    This past August we were able to obtain 4 females from southern Indiana. True to form one of the females died after laying only a single egg. All told, we were were able to harvest about 80 metalmark eggs. Only 63 hatched. We began feeding them leaves of swamp thistle, their preferred host plant The goal is to have adult butterflies next spring that we can release onto a fen in northwest Cook County.

    Throughout September and early October we experienced the kind of gradual attrition that is typical of our experience with the species. We were faced with a dilemma: should we try moving the larvae to cages where they would spend the winter outdoors? We have never succeeded with this approach. Or should we raise them through to adulthood and try to get an additional generation with perhaps greater numbers. We have only once before succeeded in rearing the species to adulthood, but did not get any offspring. Despite the uncertainty, the latter course of action seemed less perilous, so we retained the caterpillars in the lab and continued to offer them food.

    By mid October we were down to 21 caterpillars. There the numbers stabilized as the caterpillars continued to eat and grow. With few additional losses, we obtained 19 pupae. At the time of this writing we have about 10 adults, four of which are females. We have paired them in small cages where we hope that mating will occur. After a few days we will move the females into egg laying cages and hope for the best.

    Mating Cages

    Mating Cages

    Although this species is proving difficult to work with, I believe that it is well worth the effort. Swamp metalmarks were once part of the great species diversity that was found in the fens of Illinois. It my firm hope that they will one day fly there again.

    Doug Taron, Curator of Biology

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  • Butterfly Lab on Christmas Morning


    Tags: butterfly, volunteer

    Created: 12/24/2012      Updated: 5/28/2015

    There are a handful of reasons why I love volunteering on Christmas morning:

    • My partner and I get to spend some time together away from the usual Christmas chaos,
    • Volunteering when the museum is closed feels like a super-secret-behind-the-scenes-tour, and
    • Butterflies are awesome.

    When I was a kid I loved the excitement of sitting around the tree on Christmas morning and opening presents. As an adult it’s been hard to replicate that kind of excitement. Last year, my partner and I decided to volunteer in the Butterfly Lab on Christmas morning… and it was AMAZING.

    When we walked into the lab, there was a moment of wonder and excitement as we took a peek into the case to see who had emerged overnight. The flurry of color was just so beautiful. The butterflies looked like little presents that had been opened just for us!

    Although I enjoy volunteering in the lab throughout the year, there’s something special about doing it on Christmas morning. I love turning on some Christmas carols, rolling up my sleeves, and getting to work. It’s a great new holiday tradition, and I can't wait for my shift this year!

    Jen Walsh
    Butterfly Lab Volunteer

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  • Why Should the Summer Solstice Soak Up the Entire Spotlight?


    Tags: winter solstice, public programs, green gifting, hot cider

    Created: 12/21/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Cannon the bison with holiday wreath

    The focus of the Winter Solstice is often that it is the shortest day of the year, the day with the most darkness and least sunlight. I, however, prefer to think of it as an essential day to be celebrated. Without the tilting of the earth’s axis, we would not have the four distinct seasons that give us so much joy here in Chicago.

    For thousands of years, the Winter Solstice and nature’s harvest have been celebrated by cultures all over the world.  The day signifies nature’s rhythm; it’s a time of growth and renewal as the days begin to lengthen and plants and animals begins its push through winter to ensure a bountiful spring.

    During the peak of the holiday season – when people tend to feel stressed with last-minute details – the Winter Solstice is a reminder to pause, rejuvenate and reconnect with nature.

    And where better to do that than right here at the Nature Museum, the urban gateway to nature and science.

    In recognition of the Winter Solstice today, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is celebrating its significance to nature with two days of activities. We invite everyone to join in on the fun.

    • Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Hot cider, Make Your Own Bird Feeder, Critter Connections.
    • Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Green gifting and hot cider.

    Happy Winter Solstice, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.


    Deb Lahey

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  • Reducing your Holiday Impact


    Tags: public programs, PIP, recycle, upcycle

    Created: 12/20/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    As the holidays near, it’s even more important to consider the impact that our choices have on the environment. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, an additional 1 million tons of waste is generated per week in the U.S. This waste includes things like shopping bags, ribbon, wrapping paper, and over 2 billion holiday cards[1]

    So what can the average person do to reduce their own holiday impact? The good news is that there are many ways to make a difference.

    • Don’t forget your reusable shopping bags! Keep disposables out of the landfill by bringing a cloth bag, or reusing those grocery bags you have stashed under the cabinet.
    • Use newsprint to wrap gifts. Try the funny papers- it’s a unique and often unexpected way to package gifts that will help yours stand out.
    • Make your own holiday cards by “up cycling”! Save cards you receive throughout the year- cut them, tear them, and paste the pieces together to create new, one-of-a-kind designs.
    • Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany any electronics, and consider including a battery charger as part of the gift.
    • Consider durability and recyclability of gifts before you purchase. If it isn’t expected to last for years, can it be recycled?[2]

    Challenge your family to try one (or more) of these tips this holiday season and see what a difference it makes. Children can participate by keeping track of how many bags, rolls of wrapping paper & holiday cards you’ve saved from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

    Have green gifting tips of your own? Please share in the comments.

    • Visitor crafting
    • Mosaic craft
    • Cutting out butterflies

    Want to learn more? Visit the Nature Museum throughout the holiday season for hands-on fun!

    Green Gifting

    Saturday, December 22 and Sunday, December 23
    11am to 1pm

    Join us in preparing for the holiday season by creating your own gifts for all of your friends and family at our "green gifting" craft workshop. All crafts will be environmentally friendly and nature oriented. Perfect for anyone on your list! Cost: $3/project, $5/two projects.

    Trash to Treasure
    Wednesday, December 26 through Saturday, December 29, 11am-2pm

    Bring your holiday trash (wrapping paper, boxes, cards, ribbon) to the Nature Museum to create Trash to Treasure thank you cards and create musical instruments to ring in New Year’s Day. Move, sing, and play with Lily Emerson, the Nature Museum’s Artist in Residence, in this special family workshop celebrating the sounds of the season. Cost: Free

    Heather Grance
    Manager of Public Interpretive Programs

    [1] California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery

    [2] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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  • What Do You Do On Your Day Off?


    Tags: PIP, volunteer, volunteering

    Created: 12/18/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    It’s Sunday afternoon and I have helped a group of second graders spot the queen of our leaf-cutter ant colony, held two fox snakes, acted as a perch for a bunch of newly hatched butterflies not quite ready to fly, and fed no less than three box turtles. What do you do on your day off? I am a Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer, or just PIPster for short.

    I'm also a biology student working my way through school and busier than one of our rooftop honeybees. With work, school, and taking care of my canary, Ladybird, my week can be a little hectic. Yet, I have made it a priority to volunteer for the Nature Museum every Sunday.

    Stephanie Maxwell with butterfly

    I began volunteering here last spring after meeting a few past volunteers who couldn’t say enough good things about the Museum. As a newer student to biology, I had been searching for a way to get more experience to compliment my interest in local wildlife -- something more than a laboratory internship or research assistantship. Boy, did I hit the jackpot.

    Working as a PIP volunteer truly compliments the material I am learning in the classroom, but provides more of a hands-on perspective. Instead of reading about the territorial nature of red-winged blackbirds during the breeding season, I get to witness firsthand what happens when my coworkers venture too close to a nest while exploring the prairie (think Alfred Hitchcock).

    Working for the Museum has also solidified my desire to pursue a career in the wildlife rehabilitation field. Beginning my studies as a biologist, the most important thing that fueled me was my desire to affect this planet in a positive way through some kind of conservation effort; I just wasn’t sure how I could make that a reality. Saving all of the Bengal tigers in Nepal is a bit daunting for a 20 year old in Illinois to contemplate, you know?

    When I began talking to my fellow volunteers and really dove into what the Nature Museum is about -- preserving and protecting native Illinois wildlife while giving the public an opportunity for an authentic connection to nature -- that is when I found that concentrating on a local level is much more approachable to someone like me, and probably you as well.

    That is why I volunteer for the Nature Museum every Sunday. I get to introduce people to an amphibian they never even knew existed, let alone knew was in their backyard. I get to see the absolute wonder mixed with terror on a kindergartener’s face as they feel the scales on a snake for the first time. Volunteering as a PIPster is an amazing opportunity I wouldn’t have had in any other city, because there is no city that has a nature museum quite like ours here in Chicago.

    If you come across a volunteer in a green shirt the next time you’re visiting the museum, don’t hesitate to ask us questions! We’ll be sure to have an answer. I’ll see you on Sunday!

    Stephanie Maxwell
    Public Interpretive Programs Volunteer

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