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  • The Chicago Conservation Corps Club Summit


    Tags: chicago conservation club, C3, conservation, c3 summit

    Created: 12/15/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Last month, the Nature Museum hosted 24 Conservation Clubs from all over Chicago for the C3 Club Summit. The Chicago Conservation Corps (C3) clubs are organized by teachers who have gone through C3 Club training here at the museum and are now organizing afterschool programs on environmental conservation issues in their schools with support from C3! 

    At the Club Summit, the clubs got to meet, share, explore, and get pumped up about their club’s Green Vision for the year!

    C3 Student Club Projects

    During the Summit, Clubs shared their Green Vision for the school year:

    Students brainstormed action items for the environmental issue they wanted to undertake this year in their classroom, school, or community. They made posters and recorded a short video that detailed their goal, audience, and steps to complete achieve their Green Vision!

    Students presenting their Green Vision
    Bronzeville students share their Green Vision through posters and a video component.
    Hendricks students brainstorming
    Students from Hendricks brainstorm and plan together.

    Clubs also made PLARN (plastic yarn)-for local initiative “New Life for Old Bags”:

    Students repurposed plastic grocery bags by cutting them into strips and looping them together to create PLARN. The PLARN is later crocheted into sleeping mats for the homeless—an initiative started by “New Life for Old Bags”.

    Plarn sleeping mat
    A completed sleeping mat made from Plarn!
    Students helping to make plarn sleeping mats
    Students cutting and tying plastic yarn.

    Clubs attended a "Maker Party":

    A number of partner organizations engaged Clubs in production-centered activities focused on sustainability, environmental conservation and youth voice, providing Clubs with inspiration and tools for their own sustainability projects, events, and awareness-raising campaigns in their schools and broader community. The Anti-Cruelty Society’s “PUPcycle & rePURRpose” station had students make upcycled pet toys out of reclaimed cardboard, old t-shirts, and corks. The National Veterans Art Museum showed students how to make animated GIFs. Free Spirit Media & Mikva Challenge provided a model for an awareness-raising social media campaign with their #IDreamAnEarth station.  Other partners who facilitated stations at the Maker Party included The Art Institute of Chicago, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Friends of the Forest Preserves, The Sweet Water Foundation, Scientists For Tomorrow, and CodeCreate.

    Students meeting with the National Veterans Art Museum
    National Veterans Art Museum
    Students meeting with The Anti-Cruelty Society
    The Anti-Cruelty Society

    Clubs made connections with critters:

    Students interacted with the museum’s living collection which includes several Eastern Box Turtles and Corn Snakes!

    Students ask about Illinois native turtle habitats.
    Students ask about Illinois native turtle habitats.

    Clubs discovered Citizen Science programs:

    Students honed their squirrel identification skills by observing real specimens of fox and gray squirrels. They were very excited to download the Project Squirrel app to contribute their data! 

    Students observe the variation between the Grey and Fox squirrels.
    Students observe the variation between the Grey and Fox squirrels.

    In all, 375 Conservation Club Members got to take part in these events, and enjoy exclusive access to the Nature Museum's exhibits.

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  • Native vs Non-Native: Cataloging Plant Species on the Nature Museum Grounds


    Tags: plants, plant names, native plants

    Created: 12/10/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    During the growing season, I was charged with the fun and interesting task of compiling a list of all plant species growing in the Museum’s “habitat vignettes”. For those unfamiliar with this term, we sometimes use it to refer to areas of the museum grounds where we’ve worked to recreate plant communities that were typical of our area before European settlement. Frequent visitors know these areas well: the Black Oak Savanna, Burr Oak Savanna, Elizabeth Plotnick Tallgrass Prairie, the rooftop garden, (the section visible from the Bird Walk) and our portion of the North Pond edge.

    In creating the plant list, I counted species intentionally planted by us as part of our restoration efforts as well as those that showed up here on their own. The total number of species was 350! Being in list-making mode, I divided these into categories that had more meaning in relation to what we are trying to accomplish with the habitat vignettes. To wit:

    Native Species: 229

                   Planted by us: 159

                   Spontaneous:  56

                   Unknown: 14

    Non-Native: 123

    It’s worth noting that these categories are not cut and dried distinctions. There are differing opinions on whether some species grew here before Columbus. Also, several have strains both from North America and from other continents (which can behave differently ecologically). In these cases, I tended towards the majority opinion of authors who have studied our local flora, weighted by my own opinion. Then there was the matter of how local to get while defining “native.” In this case, I considered a species native if it was known from a county at least bordering Cook.

    A final distinction I wanted to make was whether a species was invasive or not. This entered even blurrier territory as, aside from a few of the worst offenders, there is far from a standard consensus on which species are invasive locally. I used a pragmatic approach, counting any species as “invasive” if we have actively attempted to control or eradicate it. The resulting list included 63 species – 12 of them native, 51 non-native. (Yes, native species can be invasive, too. But that’s a subject for another blog post.)

    Willow Herb

    Willow Herb, Courtesy of Frank Mayfield via Wikimedia Commons/cc-by-sa-2.0


    In creating any such list, there are bound to be surprises.  For example, I found two native species of Willow Herb in the Black Oak Savanna that are more typically found in wetland habitats. I suspect that seeds or seedlings of these plants arrived in the soil of native plant plugs. (We happened to see Willow Herb growing in abundance at a local nursery). I was also surprised that one of the species we’ve attempted to reintroduce over the years – Marram Grass – seems to have died out completely.  It almost certainly grew here centuries ago when lakefront dunes made up portions of the museum grounds, but now its failure here is a good example of the challenges posed by “restoring” nature in heavily modified environment.  

    Marram Grass

    Marram Grass, Courtesy of UIC

    Historical Perspective

    It is impossible to know the exact species list that would have emerged if I had compiled it a few centuries ago. Historically, this land was sand dune, marsh, oak savanna and probably some prairie. The lakefront was originally much closer to the museum. The topography, hydrology, and soil here have been drastically altered over the last couple centuries, making it difficult to recreate the conditions required by some of the presumed original species. Despite this, both the museum and the North Pond Nature Sanctuary have successfully reintroduced a good number of plants that once would likely have grown here. Have any of these original species survived on the property on their own throughout all of these changes? The answer, sadly, is probably not. However, some native plants were likely in the general area the whole time and would have been able to easily re-colonize the museum grounds. These correlate to the 56-70 species that I’ve listed as spontaneous. Why did some species need to be replanted, while others came back uninvited?    


    You may know that some plant species are extremely sensitive to specific conditions (like Leadplant), while others will grow almost anywhere (Hairy Aster). There is a general spectrum between these two extremes. The species we intentionally replanted tend towards the more conservative, “specialist” side, while those that found their own way here are on the other, “weedier” side. Another way to describe this equation ecologically is that climax species are on one end, and pioneer species are on the other. Pioneer species do well in disturbed areas where bare soil is exposed. This situation always existed in nature but is far more common today, as a result of human land use patterns. As a result, the seeds of these species are practically everywhere. But unlike these weedier species, when more conservative, climax species have been absent for a long while, their seeds are no longer in the soil (or in nearby areas), and thus they generally will not return on their own. 


    This list might be considered a “snapshot” of what was here in 2014. While I was positively surprised by the ratio of native to non-native species growing here, it should be noted that the species list doesn’t reflect how many individual plants of each species are present, which is what we hope to alter most as the years go by. The quantity of individual, reintroduced native plants will hopefully increase with time. The number of weedy native and non-natives will probably also change, as we extirpate some, and new ones arrive. Now that we have a list, we will be able to compare it to lists of future years, hopefully showing progress as we strive towards recreating lost native habitats.

    Want to check out the list for yourself? You can view and download a PDF of it by clicking here.

    Nate Fremont
    Assistant Horticulturist

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  • Looking Back on the "Background for Tomorrow"


    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, film

    Created: 12/4/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Chicago has been a part of the film industry since it began. At the turn of the century, a few of the largest, most popular film studios called Chicago home. Unfortunately, after the West Coast was established as the center of the industry and the studio system was established in the early 1920s, many of these Windy City-based organizations moved west or went out of business. One company that didn’t, however, was the Atlas Educational Film Company. Based out of Oak Park, the company was formed in 1913 with the focus of making educational and industrial films. Many of their films were done in association with the Farm Bureau Federation, but one in particular featured many of Chicago’s museums, including The Chicago Academy of Sciences.

    Atlas Educational Film Company headquarters

    Atlas Educational Film Company headquarters circa 1920

    Sponsored by the Chicago Association of Commerce, the film was called “Background for Tomorrow” and it was produced in 1942. Written by John Gould Curtis and directed by Bertram Bates, the film was sold as a feature-length talkie that focused on telling the story of the exhibits, as well as the behind the scenes activities of several notable Chicago museums. The Chicago Academy of Sciences, The Field Museum, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society, and The Museum of Science and Industry were the featured institutions, with schools, churches, parent teacher associations and similar organizations as the target audience.     

    Atlas crew shooting in CAS main exhibit hall

    Atlas crew shooting in CAS main exhibit hall

    Filming began at the Academy on May 1, 1942. As detailed in the Chicago Naturalist Volume 5, Number 1, the Atlas team shot exteriors of the building, a visit to the Director’s office, and several scenes in the main exhibit hall. The behind the scenes footage included a look into how habitat groups were constructed, in addition to the process of preparing celluloid leaves and installing them in an exhibit.

    By the end of the year, the Atlas team had completed filming and production, and the film was released. The Educational Screen reviewed it for its January 1943 issue, and praised it for its ability to present museums as “live educational centers teeming with activity and wielding a powerful influence on the minds and thoughts of millions that come within visual range of their intellectual treasures.” It also highlighted the film’s efforts to “show how events and developments from the remotest past to the present day furnish the experiential basis for still richer future for the human race. Those who still incline to think of museums as merely mortuaries for dead facts of the past should see this picture. It is a revelation of what museums really are and what they can mean to children and adults alike.”

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  • Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest


    Tags: exhibits, rainforest, wildlife, alaska

    Created: 12/1/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    This week's blog post was contributed by photographer and author Amy Gulick. Her exhibit "Salmon in the Trees" is currently on display at the Nature Museum, just outside the "Rainforest Adventure" exhibit. You can learn more about her and her work by visiting her website.

    As a nature photographer and writer, I am always on the lookout for interesting stories. One day, I read an article that talked about a remarkable connection between the salmon and forests of Southeast Alaska. It was such a bizarre concept that I knew I had to go to our nation’s largest state and tell this story. That was seven years ago, and I’m still telling this incredible story – through my book “Salmon in the Trees,” a traveling exhibit, two permanent exhibits in Alaska, a website, a YouTube video, and a Facebook page.

    Man in Alaskan forest Dead salmon

    People think the title of my book is a metaphor, but when I explain that there really are salmon in the trees I get a lot of quizzical looks. It goes something like this: salmon are born in freshwater streams and rivers, head out to the oceans to mature, and then return to their birth streams as adults to spawn the next generation. In Alaska’s Tongass National Forest there are close to 5,000 spawning streams, and every summer and fall millions of wild salmon provide a bounty of food for some of the world’s highest densities of both brown (grizzly) and black bears. The bears carry a lot of salmon away from the streams and into the forest. Over time, the nutrients from the bodies of the salmon decompose and the trees absorb them through their roots. Scientists have actually been able to trace a marine nitrogen – Nitrogen 15 – in trees near salmon streams that links directly back to the fish. It’s an unexpected and yet perfectly natural connection.

    Once you understand this remarkable connection, you quickly see how everything is connected in the Tongass – the salmon, trees, bears, eagles, sea lions, killer whales, and people. It’s a glorious cycle of life that is still intact, and I want people to know how special it is. 

    Amy Gulick

    Amy Gulick
    Photographer and Author

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  • Who is Matthew Laflin?


    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, history, founders, matthew laflin, laflin building

    Created: 11/24/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Before the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building was built, the Chicago Academy of Sciences made its home in the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building.

    Matthew Laflin portrait

    211 years ago, on December 16, 1803,  Matthew Laflin was born. Though he was born on the East Coast, he will always be recognized as a Chicago pioneer. His father was in the gunpowder business and Laflin followed in his footsteps. In fact, it was gunpowder that first brought him to Chicago. When construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal began in 1837, Laflin came west, eager to supply the Canal’s construction company with gunpowder. It was his first visit to the young city, but he recognized the potential it had. In the following two years, he established a western presence for the Saugerties Powder Works and took charge of all its western sales, establishing plants in and around the Chicago area.

    After selling his stock and severing ties with the gunpowder industry, Laflin turned his attention to real estate. He began purchasing land in and around the city. With the $900 he made by selling his gunpowder stock, he purchased nine acres of land, later selling it for $4,000. While he purchased land for hundreds of dollars, and sold it for thousands, he lived to see it worth millions.

    In addition to being a real estate tycoon, he helped establish the city’s first stockyards, aided in founding the Chicago Board of Trade, held a controlling interest in the city water works, and helped refinance the Elgin Watch Company.

    Matthew Laflin portrait

    While he was a pioneering influence in the city as a whole, we remember him for the generosity he showed the Chicago Academy of Sciences at a time when it was in need of some major financial help. In October of 1871, the Academy was dealt a crushing blow when its building and holdings were decimated in the Great Fire. The Academy worked to regroup, finally moving into the lakefront Interstate Exposition Building in 1885 (this building was later destroyed to make way for the Art Institute of Chicago). While this gave the Academy a public face, it was only a temporary solution, so the Academy’s Board of Trustees turned its attention to rebuilding.

    In October of 1892, Laflin gave the Academy the help it was looking for. Through his son George, Laflin offered to give the Academy $75,000 towards the construction of a new museum, on the condition that an agreement could be reached for the Lincoln Park Commissioners to provide the land and $25,000 to be used for completion. An agreement was made, and the new building’s keystone was laid in October of 1893. Upon its opening on October 31, 1894, the building was dedicated to Laflin.

    Matthew Laflin Memorial Building

    Although the Academy’s collections are no longer housed in the Laflin Memorial Building, the building remains an important part of our legacy, and symbolizes an important turning point in our history.

    For more information, check out the Magazine of Western History, Volume 14.

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  • December Happenings at the Chicago Herpetological Society and CJHS


    Tags: chicago herpetological society, herps, junior herp society, turtles, frogs, snakes, herps

    Created: 11/24/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    The first full weekend of every month, the Nature Museum becomes a herpetologist haven! That's when the Chicago Herpetological Society sets up tables in the Nature Walk for some reptile fun with the public and the Junior Herp Society holds their monthly meetings!

    Junior Herp Society logo

    Join us for the herp enclosure workshop!

    The Chicago Junior Herpetological Society is about sharing the love of amphibians and reptiles with the younger generation, and fostering an appreciation of wildlife and nature through educational speakers and hands-on interaction.

    We had lots of fun at the November meeting. Patrick Carroll joined us with many of his awesome lizards for a discussion in Colleen’s Critter Corner, and Yvette Mendez joined us for a discussion of reptile reproduction.

    The regular monthly meetings of the Chicago Junior Herpetological Society take place at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, on the Sunday of the first full weekend every month, from noon till about 1:30. Meetings are free to members of the CHS and visitors to the museum. The next meeting will be on Sunday, December 7th. We will have a herp enclosure workshop, discussing different enclosures, substrates, heating methods, lighting and keeping them clean. This will be a fun and informative meeting!

    You can learn more about the CJHS here.

    Chicago Herpetological Society logo

    The Chicago Herpetological Society is a non-profit all volunteer organization dedicated to the conservation of all wildlife, especially reptiles and amphibians, the cooperation of amateur and professional herpetologists toward a more complete understanding of herpetofauna, and the education of the general public about these often misunderstood but fascinating animals.​

    When considering getting a new pet for the family, a great option to consider is adoption. There are many awesome animals out there in need of a loving home. The CHS has an adoption program available to members. There are currently some ball pythons, box turtles and other great critters being fostered and ready for a new forever home. Contact Colleen Schwarz or Linda Malawy of the CHS adoption program.

    Child holding box turtle

    You can learn more about CHS adoptions here.

    If you like anacondas, jaguars and hyacinth macaws, come see Dr. Steve Barten’s talk on the Wildlife of the Pantanal, Brazil, at the November 26 CHS general meeting. He promises a ton of animal photos. The Pantanal of central-western Brazil is the world's largest wetland ecosystem, covering an area 15 times the size of the Everglades (it's also bigger than 29 of the states in the U.S.). It has the densest population of crocodilians--Yacare Caimans--found anywhere in the world, and is a great place to find yellow anacondas. It also is one of the best places in the world to see wild jaguars, giant river otters, giant anteaters, tapirs, howler and capuchin monkeys, coatis, and capybaras, as well as the critically endangered hyacinth macaw and over 650 other species of birds. Steve Barten toured the Pantanal by bus, truck, boat, and foot, which allowed him close approach and photography of the wildlife. The highlight was witnessing a jaguar catch a 6-foot caiman.

    General meetings of the Chicago Herpetological Society are held on the last Wednesday every month at 7:30pm at the Notebaert, with the exception of Christmas Eve this year. That meeting has been changed to Tuesday, Dec. 30th. Meetings are free to attend. We are also gearing up for next year’s ReptileFest, the nation’s largest educational herpetological event. ReptileFest 2015 will be on April 11 and 12, from 10am to 5pm in the University of Illinois Phys Ed building. Mark your calendars, this will be the 22nd year of this wonderful show.

    You can learn more about the Chicago Herpetological Society here and Reptilefest here.

    Hope to see you there!

    Rich Lamszus


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  • Meet the "Rainforest Adventure" Critters


    Tags: rainforest, animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, rainforest adventure

    Created: 11/17/2014      Updated: 8/24/2015

    One of the most exciting parts of our newest exhibit Rainforest Adventure, is the added element of having live animals as an intricate part of the experience. Just what are these animals? Read on to find out! 

    Blue-Throated Macaw

    blue-throated macaw

    Upon entering Rainforest Adventure, the first beautiful bird you’ll encounter is Iggy, our Blue-Throated Macaw. This species of macaw is critically endangered. Population estimates vary, but it’s believed that there are between 50 to 400 individuals living in the wild. Blue-Throated Macaws are also far more threatened than their Blue and Yellow Macaw cousins. While the two look very similar, Blue and Yellow Macaws actually have green feathers on the crown of their heads (instead of blue) and black feathers on their throats (instead of blue). Though their habitats are threatened, they’re typically found in Northern Bolivia and can live 30 to 35 years in captivity.

    Macaw kindly loaned by Jason J. Crean, American Federation of Aviculture.

    Violaceous Turaco

    violaceous turaco

    Also known as the Violet Turaco or the Violet Plantain-Eater, Violaceous Turacos are typically found in West Africa. Their feathers are a distinctive, glossy violet color, which appears in stark contrast in addition to their red, white and yellow heads and bright orange bills. If you visit Rainforest Adventure, you’ll probably notice that our Turaco is quite active and has a distinctive call.

    Turaco kindly loaned by Jason J. Crean, American Federation of Aviculture.

    Spectacled Caiman

    spectacled caiman

    These small to mid-size crocodilians are typically found in Central and South America, and is actually the most common crocodilian due, in part, to its ability to tolerate both fresh and salt water. Their name comes from the bony ridge that is present between their eyes and gives the appearances of glasses. Our Caiman isn't alone, though. Stop by and you'll probably see the Caiman and an African Mud Turtle soaking side by side.

    Caiman kindly loaned by the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest.

    Powder Blue Poison Dart Frogs

    poison dart frog

    Poison Dart Frogs, in general, typically measure from half-an-inch to two-and-a-half inches in length. Although their skin produces toxins that can be dangerous when ingested, they don’t synthesize the poison themselves. Instead, they obtain it from what they eat, like ants and centipedes, meaning that the frogs that are raised in captivity don't have these toxins present in their systems. Powder Blue Poison Dart Frogs tend to be larger than most other species of Poison Dart Frogs. Typically, their bodies are primarily black, with an irregular pattern of yellow or white stripes running along their back, flanks, chest, head, and belly. Their legs range from pale blue, sky blue or blue-gray to royal blue, cobalt blue, navy blue, or royal purple and are typically spotted with small black dots. 

    Frogs kindly loaned by Tundra Exotics and the Chicago Herpetological Society.

    Green Tree Python

    green tree python

    Green Tree Pythons are typically found in Southeast Asia and Australia. They are often seen in a position known as saddling, as our beautiful python illustrates in the photo above. In saddling, the snake coils its body and lays it over the branch in a saddle position, with tits head placed in the middle. Although it’s visually similar, it shouldn’t be confused with the Emerald Tree Boa which is typically found in South America. They are actually only very distantly related.

    Python kindly loaned by the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest. 

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  • Cataloging the Zoology of Illinois with Robert Kennicott


    Tags: founders, Chicago Academy of Sciences, robert kennicott, kennicott

    Created: 11/7/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

    One hundred seventy-nine years ago today, one of the most important figures in the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum was born -- Robert Kennicott. His work lives on through the Nature Museum, but did you know that even before the birth of the Academy, his work helped naturalists and biologists better understand the zoology of Illinois as a whole?  

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    Robert was born to Dr. John and Mary Kennicott in New Orleans on November 13, 1835. The family moved to Illinois while Robert was still an infant, and settled in an area that would later become Glenview. Dr. Kennicott dubbed their home "The Grove," landscaping the property with walks, shrubbery and flowers. His father's love of horticulture and the outdoors undoubtedly had a profound impact on Robert. So much so that in the winter of 1852, Robert traveled to Cleveland to study under Dr. J.P. Kirtland, a naturalist and co-founder of what would become the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 

    Label for a specimen collected by Robert Kennicott
    Specimen collected by Robert Kennicott in 1855 in Union Co., Illinois

    In 1853, Robert returned home and began building and categorizing his collections, including fishes and reptiles native to northern Illinois. In the summer of 1855, at the age of 19, the opportunity arose to catalog the wildlife of Illinois on an even larger scale. The Illinois Central Railroad had just completed a track that ran from Chicago south to Cairo. In order to help publicize the wealth of the plant and animal life that ran along this new route, Illinois Central approached the State Agricultural Society in hopes of creating a preliminary survey of the state's natural resources. Participants in the study would be able to collect along the route, disembarking and embarking on any train they wanted. The Agricultural Society would just have to train the would-be researchers in the ways of natural history collecting. Robert's father, John, was the Society's secretary and recommended Robert for the job.

    He left for Southern Illinois on May 30, 1855 and worked on the project, hopping from train to train, for three months. Robert had hoped to make a compete catalog of the state's zoology, and viewed this assignment as just first step towards that goal. Kennicott's efforts did have a lasting impact. In late 1855, the Illinois State Agricultural Society published his findings as the first "Catalogue of Animals Observed in Cook County, Illinois" (even though the animals had primarily been observed in the southern part of the state). You can find his original study, and read it, here.


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  • "Rainforest Adventure" Brings the Rainforest to the Windy City


    Tags: rainforest adventure, Nature's Struggle, gorilla, macaw, caiman, tropical, birds, conservation

    Created: 11/7/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

    The average Chicagoan doesn't get the chance to experience the rainforest, but thanks to our new exhibit, Rainforest Adventure, families will get the chance to do just that. This temporary exhibit introduces visitors to rainforests around the world, highlights the challenges they face, and suggests ways that people can help positively impact these threatened habitats.

    Rainforest Adventure's kapok tree
    Kids will love the fact that they can explore a gorilla nest, climb a 9-foot kapok tree, play the role of a conservationist research assistant, and explore through a variety of different interactive exhibit features. In addition to these interactive features, though, the Nature Museum has brought a personal touch to the exhibit with the help of some live animals and specimens from our collection.
    Spectacled Caiman
    Six types of live animals can be found in the exhibit's main hut, including a Blue-throated Macaw named Iggy, a Violaceous Turaco, Powder Blue Poison Dart Frogs, a Green Tree Python, a Spectacled Caiman, and an African Mud Turtle. In addition to the live animals, preserved specimens of a Peach-faced Lovebird, Salmon-Crested Cockatoo, and a variety of colorful beetles are also on display. 
    Iggy and the other rainforest critters are the stars of the exhibit, particularly when the Museum biologists interact with them in their enclosures and teach visitors about their way of life.
    Visitors looking at Chicago Academy of Sciences bird specimens on display
    The Rainforest Adventure exhibit isn't the only tropical environment in the Museum, though. You can visit the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven just down the hall to get a closer look at 75 species of insect life and birds in a tropical region. 

    Although Chicago and the closest rainforest are thousands of miles away, we're actually connected to them in a variety of ways. The purchasing habits of people in North America are one of the chief drivers of rainforest destruction. These purchasing habits are often directly related to unsustainable agricultural, ranching, mining, and logging practices in these delicate ecosystems. Unfortunately, these practices and habits have resulted in a drastic reduction of rainforest animals. It's estimated that the number of animals in a rainforest has decreased by about 40% because of these practices alone.

    So, what steps you and your family can take to help conserve and protect the rainforest? Get some inspiration from Nature's Struggle featured conservationist Madison Vorva here, and be sure to visit the Rainforest Adventure exhibit in person.

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  • What You Need to Know About Feeding Wildlife in Your Backyard


    Tags: feedings, animals, wildlife, birds, squirrels

    Created: 10/31/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    I have recently received many questions about feeding animals so I thought a general discussion about backyard feeding of animals like birds and squirrels would be useful. Feeding animals can be fun and it provides an opportunity to watch the animals closely. On the other hand, feeding can concentrate diseases dangerous to the animals and sometimes to you, and can attract pests and predators.  

    Birds on birdfeeder

    To deal with the disease problem keep your feeders, baths, and the area you feed in clean and sunny. Also keep an eye on frequently used perches and loafing areas. Remove food debris daily, hose down everything with water, use soap when appropriate (I like Dawn best—skip anti-bacterial varieties) and use a mild bleach solution to regularly clean bird baths, feeders and other appliances. Rinse and dry well. UV light is your friend -- it kills most disease causing organisms pretty quickly but it doesn’t penetrate shade or underneath objects. 

    You might also consider moving your feeding site around. It’s difficult to remove every last bit of chaff, crumbs, and poop, but ants, earthworm, millipedes and many other garden organisms will do the final cleanup for you. While these invertebrates are beneficial components of our neighborhoods, rats and mice are pests that will also move in to clean up debris from your feeding stations. The reason rats and mice are a problem is because they can cause substantial economic damage through their gnawing and foraging activities. More importantly, they can carry diseases that can be readily contracted by humans. Many municipalities have banned bird feeders simply because they quickly become rodent feeders and thus a public health concern. By keeping a scrupulously clean feeding station, you greatly minimize the chance of making your yard a vector of human or wildlife disease.

    Squirrel eating

    Although you may have certain species in mind when you put out a feeder, many species will be influenced by the additional food you have introduced to the environment. To maximize the chances of seeing your target species, make sure you are providing the most appropriate food. If you want to see goldfinch, you must supply thistle seeds. If you supply hazelnuts you might see squirrels and woodpeckers, but sparrows will ignore you. Cracked corn is, in general, just a filler that does little to attract the species most people want to see. If it is present in your seed mix, there’s a good chance it will be tossed out of the feeder in favor of more palatable food like millet only to later attract rodents. Regardless of what you put out though, you will also attract non-target species. Sugary hummingbird feeders will also give you a chance to watch a variety of bee species. Seed feeders will often bring squirrels to your yard, but the songbirds they attract will also bring raptors. These birds of prey can’t feed their young on seeds, they must have meat. Don’t feel badly if you find feathers and other sign of a predation even hear your feeder. This is simply an indication that nature is at work in your neighborhood maintaining the strength of your avian friends and increasing biodiversity.

    If you want to minimize predation you can feed infrequently or move your feeder around regularly. While this will keep the predators guessing, it will also keep your target species guessing so you might not see the large and regular concentrations of birds that you would with a more regular feeding time and place. Of course, if you are unlucky enough to live in a place where cats roam at will, nothing you do will be enough to prevent predation and you will have less diversity at your feeders.

    Finally, when choosing a place to put your feeder, make sure you don’t become the predator — via your house. Windows can kill a lot of birds. During the day, birds usually hit windows because of a mirror effect where the window looks like open sky or a sheltering bush. At night, lights lure birds too close. There are many online resources to help you determine how to prevent your house from becoming a deathtrap. Making the windows visible is important. It’s hard to avoid putting feeders in places where there is some danger from windows though, since a primary reason for feeding animals is to see them better. So, in general, feeders should be sited close to the windows. This not only improves viewing but it also limits the danger of windows for birds because, if they are frightened when at the feeder and take off in the direction of the window, they aren’t flying very fast when they hit it. If the feeder is further, the bird gathers enough speed to cause a concussion when it hits.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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