Print Logo


  • Who is Matthew Laflin?


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

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

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    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.

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    View Comments

  • 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

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    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.‚Äč

    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


    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    View Comments

  • 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. 

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    View Comments

  • 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.


    View Comments

  • "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.

    View Comments

Mobile navigation