Monday, July 19, 2010


The vast majority of my work day to day involves animals of numerous different species and that is just fine with me. One species I am not so keen on is Homo sapiens so I tend to avoid spending too much time with them if at all possible. In particular I find the juvenile form of this species particularly daunting but such is the nature of my job, occasionally I have to step into the spotlight and actually talk to groups of children about my work. I would far rather spend my morning working with my venomous snakes and spiders than do this but sometimes it just can't be avoided. Luckily I can usually rely on some pretty cool back-up troops to help me out on these occasions. Last week I had to go to a summer camp on the west side of Chicago to do a presentation for a couple of groups so I packed up some Hissing Cockroaches, a Hermit Crab, an American Toad, a Box Turtle, a Corn Snake and my little buddy Diesel, the Rat.

Diesel is still very much a celebrity in training and this was actually his first trip off site to see a large group of children, although truth be known he was probably far less apprehensive than I was! Anyway we traveled to the site and did our 'thing'. All the animals behaved impeccably, no one pooped or bit or did anything untoward and the kids all seemed pretty happy and so it was with a large sigh of relief that I headed back to the Museum with my mini menagerie, quite happy to have got that task behind me.
A few days later I was checking my mail box which rarely has anything in it except for bills and was astonished to find it bulging with mail. What a surprise!

Dozens and dozens of notes and pictures from all the children! I read through them all and although I would like to show them all that would just go on for ever so I just tried to select some of my favorites.
The Hissing Cockroaches

The Hermit Crab

The American Toad

And the Corn Snake

And the group pictures

But of course there is always one mega-star in any group who gets a disproportionate amount of the fan mail and that was our little rodent friend Diesel.

But just in case he gets too full of himself, in amongst all the wonderful letters that the children wrote there was one from a little girl who very sweetly explained that her favorite animal is a giraffe and that rats make her throw-up! Hmmm how come I didn't notice that happening during my presentation!!??

Photo Credits - CJT

Monday, July 12, 2010


I took a walk in the park at lunchtime to see what I could find in the way of nature, not an easy task when surrounded by concrete and steel. But I did pretty well, fish, bugs, birds, butterflies and even a sunbathing turtle.
The prairie plantings around the Museum are looking beautiful now and with so many plants in flower the butterflies are spoilt for choice. As usual though, the milkweed family always sees the most activity with the iconic Monarch Butterfly taking precedence.

When the Monarch moves off the beautiful Tiger Swallowtail gently flutters in to feed briefly before being moved on by the more dominant Monarch.

Although much smaller, the Red Admiral uses its speed and agility to grab a quick drink of nectar before being chased away too.

It beats a hasty retreat to a nearby Purple Coneflower.

Tent caterpillars are considered a pest by many but their unique structures which are believed to serve a number of purposes including thermal regulation and communication centres, are certainly eye-catching.

Moving away from the prairie and down to the edge of the pond it is spawning time for the numerous Blue Gills. They work hard to clear a little area of open ground on the pond bottom and then fiercely defend it from all comers (although the neighbours are pretty close!)

Of course a condensed food source like this does not go unnoticed!

Our little pond is usually only big enough to accommodate one or at most two, Great Blue Herons but we have Black-crowned Night Herons and Green Herons by the score.
I am not sure if a pair of Green Herons bred successfully somewhere around the pond this year or whether the juveniles just found their way here after fledging but I have noticed a number of small fluffy individuals who are clearly just getting rid of their last vestiges of downy baby feathers. (Check out the top of this ones head.)

I watched this particular individual for quite sometime

I couldn't quite work out why he kept pointing his beak straight up in the air. I know Bitterns will take a similar posture when they are amongst tall reeds in order to make themselves less conspicuous but I had not heard of herons doing it.

I finally worked out that he was actually watching the numerous dragonflies that were buzzing over his head. I watched him make a few random grabs at them but not with any degree of success.
Most other birds have fledged and grown now but there was this single Mallard chick that was obviously a late hatchling and as always they walk away with the cuteness award.

And then of course there are the Night Herons, which I can just never take enough pictures of

I don't know what it is about this particular species, I just find them so photogenic

and we certainly have no shortage of them around the pond. Maybe it is the stunning ruby red eyes

or the fancy yellow stockings.

Whatever it is I always end up with far more pictures than I could ever post!

and while we are on the topic of footwear fashions for the summer (?) Don't forget the more practical option for those rainy days!

The array of dragonfly species continues to impress although most of the really bright coloured ones refuse to land anywhere near the strange lady with the camera who keeps creeping about in the undergrowth at the waters edge!
This is the underside view of a male Widow Skimmer Libellula luctuosa

I would have loved to have got a good shot of the top side but short of wading out into the pond which I just didn't feel inclined to do (!) I had to make do with a very blurry maximum zoomed image at an angle from Terra firma.

The only other member of the Odonata order that was prepared to be photographed was this Common Whitetail Plathemis lydia which gave me about two seconds to get a shot before flying away and of course I managed to chop the edge of the image off! But you get the general idea I hope.

And finally, as promised, just to confirm that it is summer, the sunbathing turtle!

Photo Credits - CJT