Created: 7/12/2016 Updated: 7/29/2016
The plants in our prairie and Woody Wickham Butterfly Garden are in full bloom. If you have a garden of your own, you’ve probably noticed it, too. You’ve probably also noticed lots insect buzzing around, including bees. Although the fear of bees is one of the most common fears, you shouldn’t be startled or scared to see bees buzzing around your garden.
Bees are vital pollinators. They are responsible for as much as $5.2 billion of agriculture production in the US alone, and 75% of all the food we eat benefits from pollination. Seeing them in your garden means that they recognize your plants as a food source, and it means that you’re doing your part to help pollinators. That said, there are some other flying insects that are easily mistaken for bees. While most are pollinators, some are more effective than others. Here’s a quick guide to help you identify who has been buzzing around your flowers.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera)
- Honey bees are wonderful pollinators of a wide variety of flowers in the garden.
- They are usually not aggressive. Bees that are out foraging among flowers for nectar and pollen usually sting only if stepped on or swatted. They are more aggressive if you approach their nest as stinging is primarily a defense to protect their brood. If they’re in your garden, you should be okay as they are happy minding their own business. If a swarm gathers, contact the Chicago Honey Co-Op for removal.
- Workers can only sting once, and they are reluctant to do so.
Bumble bees (Bombus spp.)
- Some flowers, such as snapdragons, are much better pollinated by bumble bees because they can do buzz pollination where they forcefully vibrate and shake the pollen off of the anthers.
- They are usually not aggressive. They nest underground, and may sting in defense if directly handled or if nest is threatened.
- They can sting more than once so be mindful of nests. Try to accommodate them as much as possible, if they've chosen your garden or yard as their nesting point.
Paper wasps (HYMENOPTERA: Vespidae)
- While they will visit flowers to drink nectar and can be responsible for some pollination, paper wasps are primarily carnivores. They can help take care of garden pests and do eat other insects, such as caterpillars.
- Paper wasps such as yellow jackets can be aggressive if threatened or if you approach their nest. They can be aggravated by swatting.
- Can sting multiple times and more painful than that of a honey bee.
Sweat bees (HYMENOPTERA: Halictidae)
- There are many native species that fall under the name "sweat bee". All species are important pollen feeders and pollinators of native, wild plants.
- They can be attracted to perspiration, hence their name.
- They are a smaller species and are mostly solitary.
- Likely only sting if disturbed, not very painful feels like a slight prick.
Hover flies (DIPTERA: Syrphidae)
- While not a bee or wasp at all these mimics can be important pollinators of plants that benefit most from fly pollination. The maggots are also voracious predators known as aphid lions and are excellent at controlling garden pests like aphids.
- Can be seen hovering around flowers and sometimes will land on your skin.
- Cannot sting as they do not possess stingers.
Leaf-cutter bees (HYMENOPTERA: Megachilidae)
- Leaf-cutter bees are another important native pollinator. Larger than sweat bees, but smaller than honey bees, these bees collect pollen on their bellies and will cut circular sections from leaves to build their nests from.
- A solitary species.
- Can sting more than once but are not aggressive and unlikely to sting.
Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus)
- While these incredibly large wasps will visit flowers and feed on nectar they are not very active pollinators. Adult cicada killers will hunt down and paralyze cicadas, then bring them back to their underground nest and feed their young.
- Although they can be intimidating, cicada killers are not aggressive and will very rarely sting only when handled or stepped on.
- Even if stung, it’s been described to feel no worse than a pinprick.
Mud daubers (HYMENOPTERA: Sphecidae or Crabronidae)
- Like paper wasps, are primarily carnivorous but adults also drink nectar and engage in some pollination.
- Create nests out of mud, can often be found on the sides of buildings. Mud daubers will fill their nests with spiders to feed their young.
- Non aggressive and will rarely sting if aggravated.
Although they all contribute to the ecology of a garden, some species of pollinators can occasionally cause a problem when they choose to nest in a poor location. If you spot a nest or hive that you feel may directly impact your safety, please contact a professional pest removal service.
Thanks to Rose Pest Solutions for sponsoring this post.
Interested in learning more about honeybees? Join us on Saturday, July 23 as Dr. Lucy King, Elephants and Bees Project Leader, joins us to talk about the multiple uses of beehive fences as a natural deterrent to reduce damaging crop-raiding by elephants. Click here for more information.View Comments
Created: 7/7/2016 Updated: 7/29/2016
If you’ve wandered through our Nature Trails or the Woody Wickham Butterfly Garden lately, you’ve probably seen a variety of pollinators and other insects. In addition to the bees that call our rooftop beehives home, you’ve probably seen a number of butterflies fluttering around. If you have your own pollinator garden, you’ve probably seen some of them there, too. But what are they? Here are six common species of butterflies you’re likely to find around the Nature Museum and in your neck of the woods.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Red admiral butterflies are very common and very easy to spot, thanks to their striking black forewings which featured red bars and white spots. Red Admirals are often seen in residential neighborhoods of large cities like Chicago and Milwaukee. They are frequent visitors to parks and gardens, but just as much at home in a prairie preserve. The range of the Red Admiral extends from Guatemala up into Northern Canada. While they fly year-round in Guatemala and Mexico, in the northern areas of their range they hibernate or overwinter as chrysalides. Red Admiral caterpillars eat plants of the Nettle family (Urticacea) such as Pellitory. Red Admirals can be found in most sunny places including moist fields, prairies or marshes. In urban areas, look for them in parks or along tree lined residential streets.
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
Viceroy butterflies closely resemble Monarchs, but their behavior is very different. Viceroys prefer wet habitats and are territorial – they will chase away other butterflies that come too close. Viceroys also fly by flapping their wings quickly, while Monarchs usually glide between wing strokes. You can also tell the difference between the two by examining their wings. A black line crosses through the veins in the Viceroy’s postmedian hindwing, but Monarch wings do not have this line. Viceroys range from the mountain states east to the Atlantic and from Texas north into the Canadian plains. They over-winter in the larva stage. Viceroy caterpillars feed on Willows, Aspens and Cottonwoods. Viceroys are usually found in wetlands and prairies with willows. They are also found in human-disturbed wet areas, like suburban lake edges.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
One of the most familiar North American butterflies, the Monarch is distinctive for its striking colors and as a study in butterfly biology. The caterpillars accumulate toxins from the steady milkweed diet which makes this animal poisonous to predators especially birds. Birds apparently learn to avoid eating monarchs and other butterflies, like Viceroys, that look like Monarchs. Monarchs range across North America – coast to coast – and up into southern Canada during the summer. Every autumn, millions of Monarchs migrate south and west to central California and central Mexico. Monarchs are also found year-round in Central America. Monarch Caterpillars eat Milkweed it is therefore referred to as the Monarch's Host Plant. Monarchs will inhabit almost any sunny place with flowers, including parks, gardens or prairies.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Painted Ladies are found year-round in the deserts of the southwest. They migrate into the Midwest and northeastern states each spring and return to the southwest before winter. In some years – 1992 was one example – they may multiply rapidly across the entire continent in a population explosion. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. In North America, they live year-round in Mexico, but migrate north each year across the continent, all the way to the Arctic Circle. Painted Lady Caterpillars eat Thistle, Mallow, Hollyhock and related plants. These plants are referred to as the Painted Lady’s Host Plants. Painted Ladies are found just about anywhere that thistles grow
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
Cabbage Whites are imports from Europe. They first appeared in Canada in 1860 and have since spread as far as south Texas. They can be seen just about anywhere from March to November. Several generations are produced each year. The Cabbage White ranges from central Canada as far as Texas and northwest Mexico. Individuals over-winter in the chrysalis stage. Cabbage White caterpillars eat Cabbage, Radish, Mustard, Peppergrass, and related plants. The caterpillar is often considered an agricultural pest. Cabbage Whites are found in weedy habitats like vacant lots, power line right of ways and roadsides as well as in marches and gardens where its food plants grow.
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
In the Chicago area, these large swallowtails are first seen in April and early May. A second generation begins emerging from chrysalides in mid-June and a third generation may emerge in August or September. Black Swallowtails are attracted to butterfly gardens with fennel or dill plants. Their range extends from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They are found in Arizona, New Mexico, and the eastern half of the United States. Black Swallowtails over-winter in the chrysalis stage. Black Swallowtail Caterpillars eat Parsnips, Wild Carrots, Celery, Parsley and Dill. Black Swallowtails like sunny places with weeds and flowers, and can be found in gardens, vacant lots, old fields, pastures and marshes. They thrive in cities and suburbs due to the abundance of Queen Anne's Lace.
Thanks to Rose Pest Solutions for sponsoring this post.View Comments
Created: 6/3/2016 Updated: 7/29/2016
This week's post was contributed by Michèle Noach. She is a London-based printmaker. Since 2004, she has been visiting the Arctic on research expeditions, tracking retreating glaciers. Her work Through The Ice, Darkly can currently be seen at the Nature Museum as part of Weather to Climate: Our Changing World (open through October 23). In this post, Noach describes her inspiration and process. You can learn more about Noach by visiting her website.
My first venture to the High Arctic was on an expedition in 2004 to Svalbard, midway between the northern-most tip of Norway and the North Pole. It is fair to say it was, visually, like being in a washing machine: I emerged with a recalibrated sense of what constituted beauty, the colour palette, the natural world, and the planet. Having mostly worked from a bubble-gum colour wheel before, in my capacity as an artoonist, it was a scouring experience and I returned with a new interest in ice, the sea and the spectrum of white as a storehouse for all colours.
Ice became an increasing obsession over the years with subsequent trips back to the Arctic, and it was impossible to ignore the ravaged glaciers, the great majority of Arctic ones being in monumental retreat. In their wake, they left gaping dark valleys of broken rock and ancient geological debris. They also took with them the unmistakable romance of the colossal inching rivers of bright ice that had descended from interior land to the sea.
I had by this time started collecting Victorian-era postcards of Northern Norway, photographs taken from 1880’s to the 1910’s, often featuring intrepid tourists in their extravagant garments, walking around the imposing fronts of these glaciers, clearly in awe of their might and beauty. Some of these images were exquisite, taken with very good camera lenses. The differing textures and shades of the ice were mesmerising, determined by age and temperature. Libraries of past climate.
It occurred to me that I could go back to these exact places, so clearly marked, named and dated on many of the negatives still visible on these early postcards, and rephotograph the location. So I spent the next few years on this project and revisited numerous sites, standing as near as I could to the original postcard photographer and recording the shocking diminution or absence of every one of the glaciers I had chosen.
Speaking to locals, there were many changes they experienced with the loss of their glaciers, including the now-impossible traditional methods of travel between villages which involved crossing the snow and ice, reduction of fresh water supplies and disappearing hunting practices.
But for all the practical tragedies and changes logged, it was the altered visual experience that was most striking. A magical, myth-laden Arctic Circle dreamscape was transforming slowly into what looked like quarries or disgarded open mines. The reflected light, colour and strangeness (for example, the inexplicable sounds emitted from inside the glaciers) all gone and only dark, cracked-rock gouges left.
I transported some of the wandering characters from the old postcards into the rephotographed glacial valleys, to bear some kind of witness to the change. Their century-old eyes might be searching for the ice, wondering how it can have disappeared so dramatically, and why. Their voices might be ours too.
The series Through The Ice, Darkly currently on show at the Peggy Notebaert Museum as part of the Weather To Climate exhibition is specifically about the subjective change in the landscape, the shift of mood apparent to an artist’s eyes, a lost ice world.
Original postcard of Kjendalsbræ
Cropped area of original postcard
Final cropped image from postcard, turned into a lenticular 3D print
Final lenticular image of current glacier with a character from old postcard, placed in approximately the same spot as 100 years before
Michèle NoachView Comments
Created: 5/20/2016 Updated: 5/23/2016
Have you ever wondered what goes into making a museum-quality taxidermy mount or study skin? Nature Museum volunteer Annamarie Fadorsen gives you a glimpse into the detailed work that goes into it in this video.
Created: 5/18/2016 Updated: 5/18/2016
Ever wish you could get an insider's look at our Collections facility? In honor of International Museum Day, we're giving you that chance! Check out the facility, and a few of the hundreds of thousands of specimens it holds, in this video! Featuring Dawn Roberts, Director of Collections, and Erica Krimmel, Assistant Collections Manager.
Created: 5/12/2016 Updated: 7/29/2016
If you've walked around North Pond recently, you may have noticed this goose. It's suffering from a condition known as Angel Wing Syndrome.
Angel Wing is a condition that affects mostly waterfowl, caused by a nutritional deficiency in vitamins and minerals combined with a high level of carbohydrates and sugars. While a number of factors are involved, human-fed bread is one of the probable causes. It causes the carpal joint (or wrist) on the wing to grow awkwardly, leaving the wing unable to sit flush at the bird’s side. This affects their ability to fly and the growth of their primary flight feathers -- making them look more like sticks than feathers.
Damage in fully mature birds is irreversible and likely fatal, due to the inability to fly to food sources and rejection from their flocks. If the bird is young and the diet changes dramatically, however, the damage could be reversed.
Although there are more nutritional foods that humans can provide (like non-moldy cracked corn, wheat, barley or standard birdseed), geese and ducks are grazers and have no trouble finding food on their own. In fact, feeding them can create an unnatural and unhealthy dependence on us as their food providers, and can lead to other problems, like overcrowding and water pollution.
Help keep our waterfowl happy and healthy by spreading the word about the dangers of feeding them bread and crackers. You can download the image below and share it on your own social media channels to help educate your friends, family and neighbors.
Created: 4/25/2016 Updated: 7/29/2016
The world-famous PNNMPFPGS (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Plants for Pollinators Garden Sale) is in full swing! Plants are selling like hotcakes in the magical world of cyberspace at www.naturemuseum.org/gardensale. You’re understandably excited, and probably opening a new browser tab as we speak. But don’t get distressed if you notice some ‘sold out’ messages. There’ll still be plenty of plants available for purchase IRL on May 8th here at the museum.
To help you keep that excitement percolating until sale day, let me drop some details about five of the pollinator favorites we will be offering.
Lesser Calamint (Calamintha nepeta)
Not to be confused with catmint (Nepeta spp.) Or catnip (Nepeta cataria.) Or Catwoman (Julie Newmar.) Calamint is more well-behaved than any of those, though it may spread a bit by seed. Growing only a foot or two tall, it produces a seemingly endless supply of small, white flowers on neat panicles from June to September. The foliage stays tidy and offers a pleasant, minty aroma. Spent flower heads look pretty cool in the winter, so you won’t want to cut them back until spring. Best of all, though, bees of many kinds go absolutely bugnuts (get it?) over calamint. A calamint without bees would be like…indoors, I guess? I don’t know how else that would be possible.
Alyssum is a delicate, precious plant – so sweet and dainty, with wiry little leaves and tiny, honey-scented flowers. Why, just look at it! One can hardly believe such a thing exists on the same planet as botflies, Ebola, and trial lawyers. But then, alyssum doesn’t just exist. It thrives. And frankly, it doesn’t appreciate your twee condescension. It blooms continuously throughout the spring (into summer if it’s not too hot) and again in fall if you chop it back a bit during the dog days. And those pleasant little flowers are potent pollinator attractors, bringing in all sorts of small bees and nectar-loving flies.
‘October Skies ‘ Aromatic Aster
Three things I love about this plant:
- Rabbits hate it.
- Butterflies love it.
- It stays low, neat, and dense, and unlike some other asters, never needs staking.
One thing I hate – that some botanist in search of something to do decided to change the genus name from the simple, evocative, and universally understood “aster” to the pedantic and thoroughly unspellable “symphyotrichum.”
This plant has a reputation, and not in a good way. People say it’s picky. Short-lived. Wants to be coddled with extra watering. Bupkis! With a little afternoon shade, it needs no more watering than your average perennial. Short-lived? No more so than coreopsis or columbine, and nobody complains about them. Seriously, give it a try – that striking, pure red color is a rare treat in the perennial garden. And hummingbirds love it!
I know what you’re thinking: either I’ve gone off my rocker or I have no idea what I’m talking about. Because everybody knows impatiens don’t attract pollinators. Before you write an angry, embarrassingly misguided letter to your congressman, hear me out. Let’s face it: butterflies like sunshine. They don’t spend much time in the shade, and few shade plants have formed mutually beneficial relationships with them. But people do like shade. And in a big city with lots of big, spiky buildings like Chicago, shade is all many of you have in your yards and on your patios. So I chose impatiens for the garden sale, as they will bloom quite reliably in shade. Are you likely to see a bunch of butterflies busily nectaring on impatiens? No. But they are the ONLY full-shade annual I am aware of that can and does feed the occasional wandering butterfly. So step aside, and let sunlight-impaired butterfly gardeners take a shot. (A long shot, admittedly.)
Thanks to Rose Pest Solutions for sponsoring this post.
Created: 4/12/2016 Updated: 7/7/2016
Do you realize what is happening RIGHT NOW at www.naturemuseum.org/gardensale? Well, if you were gifted with even the vaguest ability to make discernments from contextual clues, I don’t need to tell you. But for the rest of you (bless your hearts), let me spell it out. We are having a Garden Sale! The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Plants for Pollinators Garden Sale (or PNNMPFPGS, for the simplicity’s sake) has begun, with pre-sale online ordering (at a discount!) Why should you be excited about the PNNMPFPGS? Because of the PFP part, naturally!
PFP (Plants for Pollinators) is a thing people are into these days, and for good reason. Planting a garden that can attract and feed pollinating species of insects and birds is like putting ice cream on a brownie. Sure, brownies are great, but when you add ice cream, you get a treat truly worthy of the inevitable, ensuing weight gain. Growing a garden is also great. But a garden that’s alive with bugs and birds – now that’s a real, brownie-and-ice-cream level experience!
Besides, pollinators do so much for us (over thirty percent of our food crop production relies on them) and we don’t always treat them well in return. Habitat loss and improper pesticide use have negatively impacted many populations of pollinators. Providing them with extra food in the form of beautiful garden flowers can really make a difference!
So check out the pre-sale, but if you’re the type that prefers to buy in person, come down to the museum on May 8th from 10am-4pm to pick out your plants. We’ll have everything you need: annuals, perennials, and knowledgeable horticulturists (who are handsome but in an approachable kind of way) to answer your questions. As if all this wasn’t enough, watch this space for more info on pollinator gardening as the season progresses.
Here’s just a small sampling of the plants we are offering:
Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’ – Dwarf Joe Pye Weed
Not much is better at drawing in butterflies than Joe Pye Weed. But your typical version of this plant gets really tall and can require staking. Not this “dwarfish” variety. It still tops out at a rather impressive 3’-4’, but it stays manageable and doesn’t flop as much as other varieties.
Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ – Claire Grace Wild Bergamot
Bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds find this long-blooming native irresistible. This variety is less prone to foliar diseases than your standard, run-of-the-mill Wild Bergamot.
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ – ‘October Skies Aromatic Aster
Asters provide nectar late into the fall, which is crucial for bees as they store up honey for the winter. Monarchs also appreciate snacking on Asters as they migrate southward.
Good stuff, right? And that was just a taste! But maybe you’re new to gardening, and feeling a little intimidated. Take a deep breath. If you need some basic know-how, look no further than your taxpayer-funded, University of Illinois’ Cooperative Extension Service. They’ve got knowledge galore, like so:
See? Couldn’t be easier. So are you stoked about pollinator gardening now? Good, cause we’re super-stoked about helping you make it happen!
Thanks to Rose Pest Solutions for sponsoring this post.View Comments
Created: 3/21/2016 Updated: 3/28/2016
At the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, we pride ourselves on producing self-created exhibits on timely issues that will resonate with our family audience. As we celebrate the rich history of our institution during its 160th anniversary, we are busy putting the finishing touches on our most ambitious exhibit yet, one that puts one of the most consequential issues of our time into perspective for families in a fun environment.
On April 2nd, the Nature Museum will open Weather to Climate: Our Changing World. The exhibit will present in an accessible way the fundamentals of weather and climate, the science behind climate change, and what actions people can take to reduce our own impact. The exhibit will run through October 23, 2016 and drive a community-wide conversation about climate change.
For the last two years — thanks in large part to a diverse collaboration of subject matter experts including Molly Woloszyn at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center and Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel — we have immersed ourselves in this important issue. By creating Weather to Climate from the ground up, we were able to put a truly personal touch on the exhibit. Throughout this process, we worked hand-in-hand with our education department to make sure the interactive content is presented in a way that is easy to understand. In addition, the exhibit will facilitate ways for visitors to continue discussing climate change after they have left the Nature Museum.
This exhibit also represents our biggest foray into multi-media. The exhibit will feature interactive displays, video games, weather simulations, climate labs and more, including an immersive entry experience where guests can experience the sensations of different types of weather. From a design standpoint, it has been fascinating to see ideas initially scratched out on paper be transformed into active, dynamic content.
In addition to the interactive, multi-media elements, the exhibit will also include a selection of animals from our living collections. The animals featured will represent some of the animals that are likely to experience an increase or decrease in population as a result of climate change.
The Nature Museum is dedicated to creating a positive relationship between people and nature through collaborations, education, research and exhibitions such as Weather to Climate. As Chicago’s urban gateway to nature and science we could not be more proud to bring this global conversation to our own community. Join us on April 2nd as we open Weather to Climate and begin that dialogue.
Alvaro RamosView Comments
Vice President and Curator of Museum Experience
Created: 2/10/2016 Updated: 7/29/2016
Later this month we will host the Chicago Volunteer Expo, now in its fourth year. We are proud to be the home of this city-wide event that showcases hundreds of volunteer opportunities at over 85 nonprofit and community organizations. Join us on Sunday, February 28, from 10am to 4pm, to find the opportunity that’s right for you.
Need a little motivation? Here’s why we think you should be there:
- It’s free. There’s not a lot more to be said here. Who doesn’t love a Sunday outing that costs nothing?
- It takes place at the Nature Museum. Instead of a giant, boring convention center, we hold the Chicago Volunteer Expo right here at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Not only will you get to learn about hundreds of volunteer opportunities all over the city, you’ll also have the chance to explore our exhibits. You can meet live critters, check out our historic collections, and get acquainted with urban nature. And I challenge you to find a more pleasant place to be on a February afternoon than our Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, which we keep at 80 degrees.
- You’ll have real conversations, with real people representing great causes. Sure, you could go online and search for volunteer opportunities, but an in-person conversation just can’t be beat when it comes to decisions like where to volunteer your time. Sometimes the most interesting opportunities are at tiny organizations that are not posted online and don’t show up in Google searches. Even if you do find a good opportunity listed, too often you fill out an inquiry and simply never hear back from anyone. At the Chicago Volunteer Expo, you can personally meet with more than 85 organizations and learn immediately how you can help make an impact with your valuable volunteer time.
- Instant gratification. Even while you’re still browsing the options at the Expo, you can start lending a hand on the spot. We call it speed volunteering – it’s kind of like speed dating, but less awkward. All day long, you can help turn used plastic grocery bags into beautiful and functional sleeping mats for the homeless. It only takes minutes, and you can see your impact immediately.
- School credit or brownie points at work. Most schools now require service learning of some kind, but it can be hard for teens to find volunteer work. We carefully curate the organizations that come to this event, and 59% of them offer volunteer opportunities for teens. Another common challenge is finding opportunities for groups of coworkers to volunteer together – it’s great for teambuilding, but a lot of places just can’t accommodate groups. Never fear: 61% of the organizations at the Expo will take groups.
- Volunteering might make you happier. It’s been studied! People who volunteer are happier than people who don’t, and some researchers have even found a causal effect – volunteering actually caused the increase in happiness. If you’re feeling those wintertime blues, why not lend a hand for a cause you care about? You might find that it’s mutually beneficial.
Jill DoubView Comments
Senior Director of Public Engagement