New Exhibit: Nature’s Architects

Volunteer training for the new Nature’s Architects exhibit at the my place of volunteering took place on Wednesday. I’m really impressed by the exhibit; I could have spent a bit longer in it than we got (although, naturally, I’ll be in there a fair amount during my volunteer shifts).

My first impression is that the museum seems very much on the right track. This is the first exhibit, apart from the permanent exhibits, that the museum developed itself, and the developer who spoke to us was, justifiably, proud of it. I know also that museum visits rose last year, as did program attendance statistics, and the general attitude seems to be pretty upbeat. I don’t know—I’m a volunteer, so my role’s limited and I could easily be mistaken—but that’s the impression I get.

On to the exhibit. It’s about the various building projects that animals undertake. When I first heard about it, “termite mound” was the first thing I thought of, and it’s there—a replica of a large mound could probably be considered the exhibit’s centerpiece. But the information provided about it is pretty sophisticated (including how the social intelligence of a termite mound works and some of the lessons human architects have learned from termite building), and it also serves to divide the exhibit into three sections (why animals build, their methods, and their materials).

One corner has a large display about prairie dog towns, with special attention paid to the security measures they build in and the way that these towns help to facilitate prairie dog communications.

The exhibit also has a number of live animals, including ants, bees, monk parakeets (which aren’t native to Chicago, although they were released here, and found a supporter in former Mayor Harold Washington; the ones in the exhibit were rescued when the telephone poles where they made their home were removed), orb spiders, and caddisflies, which are weird little bugs that live underwater as larva and pupa and make armor out of stones, sand, and saliva.

Anyhow, I certainly enjoyed the exhibit, and I’m hoping that it will be fun to be doing programs there.

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