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Founder's Week Celebration 2015


Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founder's week, museum collection, specimens

Created: 1/14/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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We are having a party this week!  The Chicago Academy of Sciences was founded on January 13, 1857 and was the first science museum in Chicago.  Our collections served as the nucleus for the organization of our institution and preserve our natural heritage.  These specimens, artifacts, and associated documents are used as primary source material for environmental studies and historical research.  To celebrate our birthday, we’ve brought out specimens from the museum collections that aren’t typically on display.

One question we are often asked is, “What is the oldest specimen in our collection?” The oldest specimen in our museum collection, in terms of when it was collected, are two Merlins collected in the Rocky Mountains in 1834 by J.R. Townsend. That's right -- bird specimens that are 182 years old!  One of these is on display.

Merlin specimen
Merlin specimenMerlin specimen label

Merlin   ♀
Falco columbarius richardsonii
Rocky Mts.
Collected by J.R. Townsend, July 9, 1834
CAS ORN 1848 (old 11426)

Fossils, though, have the award for oldest in terms of when they were created!  This "Tully Monster" fossil is from the Mazon Creek area, right here in Illinois, and is approximately 307 million years old.

Tully Monster fossil

Tully Monster
Tullimonstrom gregarium
Mazon Creek Area, Will Co., Illinois
Francis Creek Shale (Carboniferous, 307 MYA)
Donated by Earth Science Club of Illinois, 2013
CAS 2013.3.1

The Academy’s museum collection includes spectacular geology specimens from the Midwest and locations across North America. These specimens help illustrate how rocks and minerals are used in our society.

Quartz Geode


Quartz Geode
Geology collection
No other data

Natural Asphalt

Gilsonite (“natural Asphalt”)
Uintahite variety Asphaltum
Frisco County, Utah
Collected c1890
Received from George H. Laflin
CAS GEO 1493

Gold and Silver Ore

Gold and Silver Ore
Leadville, Lake Co., Colorado
Geology collection
No other data


From geysers at Yellowstone Park, Wyoming
Collected c1860
Received from Mrs. E.E. Atwater, c1872

Aluminum Thimble

Aluminum Thimble
Received from Frank C. Baker, c1920

Rivers in Illinois have changed considerably over the last 200 years and pollution has severely impacted many native species of clams, mussels, and snails. Introduced species, such as Quagga and Zebra mussels, are making an appearance in our waters as well. 

Elktoe mussel

Elktoe mussel
Alasmidonta marginata
Glenwood Park, Fox River, Illinois
Collected by Academy, Sept. 7, 1908
CAS MAL 22356

Pistolgrip mussel

Pistolgrip mussel
Quadrula verrucosa
Illinois River
Collected by W.W. Calkins, c1890
CAS MAL 1803

Zebra mussel

Zebra mussel
Dreissena polymorpha
London Docks, England
Exchange, c1872
CAS MAL 12780


Quagga mussel

Quagga mussel
Dreissena bugensis
Fullerton Beach, Chicago, Cook Co., Illinois
Collected by Academy, July 9, 2013
CAS 2013.5.1-10

This plant specimen from our botanic collection was collected by Floyd Swink, a prominent botanist who co-authored "Plants of the Chicago Region."  In 2013, Gerould Wilhelm, Swink's coauthor, visited our collections facility to review some of our plant specimens and annotated several, including this one.  These “conversations” left by researchers who utilize our collection adds to the scientific knowledge of those specimens.

Parlin’s Pussytoes

Parlin’s Pussytoes
Antennaria parlinii parlinii
Palos Park, Cook Co., Illinois
Collected by Floyd A. Swink, May 17, 1952
Annotated by Gerould Wilhelm in 2013
CAS BOT 3775.1

Other specimens from our ornithology collection are also on display.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay   ♂
Cyanocitta cristata
Mount Forest, Cook Co., Illinois
Collected by B.T. Gault, January 9, 1890
CAS ORN 15859


Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon   ♂
Falco peregrines tundrius
Collinson Point, Alaska
Collected by Chas. D. Brower, July 1934
CAS ORN 7862


Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon   ♂
Falco peregrines
Ornithology collection
No other data

Steve Sullivan, our Curator of Urban Ecology, studies squirrels and manages Project Squirrel. Locally in the Chicago area, we primarily have Grey and Fox squirrels.  This species is found in the Southwest.

Abert’s Squirrel

Abert’s Squirrel   ♂
Sciurus aberti
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Collected by a Park Ranger, June 1965
CAS MAM 4519

It is important to document species even if they’re not flashy or colorful. This one drawer of moths from our entomology collection contains species in the same subfamily, Catocalinae, that were found from across North America and span almost 80 years!


Catocalinae subfamily
Collected from: AZ, CA, FL, IA, IL, IN,
Collected between 1898 to 1976
Entomology collection

Our herpetology collection, which includes amphibians and reptiles, is largely preserved in an ethyl alcohol solution.  These salamanders were collected in Indiana.

Preserved Northern Slimy Salamander in jar

Northern Slimy Salamander
Plethodon glutinosus
Turkey Run, Parke Co., Indiana
Collected by W.L. Necker, May 30, 1932
CAS HERP 1472-1479

Our display is located in the Beecher Lab in Wilderness Walk hall.  Come visit the Nature Museum, see these marvelous specimens in person, and help us celebrate our natural heritage!

Dawn Roberts
Collections Manager

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