Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Sneak Peek

Well it has been a long time coming. It was well over a year ago when I first sat down in a little meeting room with our exhibits team and members of the education department to begin planning our next big 'in house' exhibit and now we are just two days away from opening it to the public. And although the boards are still up

I am going to give you a sneak preview of what we have been toiling away at for so long.
The title of the exhibit is Nature's Architects and, as the name suggests, it showcases all the incredible structures that creatures create. It explains the techniques, the materials used and why the structures are created. It has been a long, and at times painful process but now the opening is upon us we are feeling quite happy with how things have turned out.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a huge termite mound (a little homage to my favorite place in the world!)

which towers 15 feet high. The signage explains all the amazing features of these structures (if you want to know more you will have to come and see the exhibit!)

I think the exhibits team did an amazing job of creating such a realistic representation, it was fun seeing it slowly growing out on the loading dock of the museum. There is even a little area that allows you to see inside.

You can explore a Prairie Dog town and learn what all the different tunnels and chambers are used for.

And visit with that most industrious of North American species, the beaver and learn how he builds things just to his liking.

We have a working beehive. They are currently being fed in the hive but when the weather finally warms up, that little pipe at the back of the hive gives them direct access to the outside world so that they can go and gather nectar from our surrounding prairie areas.

While you are with the bees you can learn the dance steps that they use to communicate to each other.

We have incorporated some of our extensive collections to highlight the plethora of different birds nest designs and materials

I just can't resist the hummingbird nests, they are too perfect.

And as for new charges that will come under my care. We couldn't really do an exhibit about builders and not include spiders could we?

So we have got trapdoor spiders and the beautiful orb weavers too

Although we are still working on a better way to light their display so that you can see the webs better.

Ants also just had to be included

And the mysterious caddisflies

But by far the noisiest new animals I have got are the Monk Parakeets

They are an exotic species that have established themselves very successfully in and around Chicago in recent years. They build massive communal nests usually on power lines so we tried to recreate their Chicago environment in the exhibit.

Another little personal homage was the inclusion of a section about weaver birds. The footage of the industrious males constructing their masterpiece nests made me feel quite winsome for the colony who used to build over our lagoon every year.
And if you fancy your chances as a weaver bird you can even try your nest building skills but you can only use a beak and a foot (hand puppet)! Don't worry, abject failure is perfectly acceptable. It just makes what these little birds create even more spectacular.

Other tests of skill include trying to move as much soil as an aardvark does when it digs (are you noticing another African link here? Well lets face it, all the coolest animals live in Africa!!!)
Have I left anything out? Probably, but I have been working on this project for so long now I am starting to see nests and webs and burrows in my sleep!

The press gets 'let in' tomorrow and then on Friday we finally take down the boards and open to the public. Phew! It has been a long journey but we've almost made it.

Photo Credits - CJT

Friday, March 11, 2011


I have a real soft spot for cactii and succulents. One of the advantages of our apartment is that it faces south so all through the summer it provides ideal conditions for growing these spiny characters. I have also noticed that certain species will only flower after they have gotten really cold during the winter.

My stone plants flower frequently and the flowers follow the direction of the sun.

But this little guy has sat quietly in the corner of my window for years now. Then a couple of weeks ago I noticed some little yellow dots on one of the limbs and after another week they burst forth into bright blooms.

In case you are overwhelmed by the magnificence of this floriferousness I have put a dime on one of the branches of this cactus to give you an idea of scale!

Good things come in (very) small packages :)

Photo Credits - CJT