Monday, October 14, 2019

Wild Edibles with Tom Smith

The Wild Edibles Nature Experienceship was a huge success! Tom Smith delivered his plethora of knowledge about the plants of Utah throughout the class and there was a lot to take in. We began the day in the JFSB in a classroom made specifically for the teaching and learning of culinary skills. Tom began by explaining some native Utah gems that he personally used throughout the year. The biggest hit and most versatile was acorn flour. The group got to taste homemade acorn flour cookies with chocolate chips and pine nuts, which were incredible! He also talked about some essential oils that he makes from sagebrush and pine trees by distilling them and creating a paste for easy application.

Afterward we hit the grounds of BYU to discover some edible plants on campus! We explored around the Thomas L. Martin Building, Carl F. Eyring Science Center and the Life Sciences Building. It was very exciting and tasty, we tried all kinds of needles, berries, flowers and leaves! It was the perfect atmosphere to absorb all of Tom’s interesting facts and ask as many questions as you would like.

After our excursion, and with the little space left in our bellies, we arrived back in the kitchen to cook some of the very plants we saw on campus! We feasted upon elderberry nectar on ice cream and cheesecake and a yummy purslane root casserole (something you could use to replace green beans at Thanksgiving!). Tom also introduced us to a little bit of his background in the Alaskan fishing industry and dished out some salmon cream cheese dip and cooked salmon seasoned with juniper! Lastly we got creative and munched on acorn crackers, raw cacao nibs, mint jelly and sumac tea (a personal favorite).

Everyone had pen and paper ready throughout the whole event, Tom was full of knowledge for these hungry, passionate, nature enthusiasts. Our group ranged from elementary aged to adults and there was something for everyone. The best part was everyone was surrounded by others who had a strong interest in the culinary and medicinal use of plants, so there were lots of ideas shared around the room. With Tom’s approachable nature and dry humor, the atmosphere was the perfect place to embark on your desire to become more in touch with the world around you or to propel you forward with new ideas and tips to apply to your established practice. We could not have done it without Tom and we had a great time with all of those that participated!

Lexi Chamberlain, museum educator

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Insects with Shawn Clark

This past Saturday, a group of excited insect lovers gathered at the museum to learn from insect expert and Bean Museum collections manager, Shawn Clark. All week there had been thunderstorms predicted for that morning but luckily, we ended up with no rain, and instead had some cooler weather and a beautifully cloudy sky. 

After spending a little time getting to know each other and discussing why insects are important to ecosystems and the biodiversity of our planet, we all loaded into a van and headed down to Hobble Creek. Once we arrived, Dr. Clark brought out all his insect collecting equipment and taught us how to use various methods to collect insects both on land and in the water.

After the quick demonstration, participants were able to pick whichever method they preferred and went off to see what they could find! Luckily, Dr. Clark was always nearby to help identify species and provide various information about what we were collecting.

After a while, Dr. Clark gave us another demonstration on how to collect water insects. We even caught a fish! Although, unlike the insects we collected, we quickly photographed the fish and then put it back in the water.

Overall, we had a pretty successful day of collecting. Our group of primarily high school students and their parents were most excited to find a couple praying mantises and some dragonfly larvae.

Participants of this Nature Experienceship also had the unique opportunity to preserve the insects they found so that they can later be added to our research collections. These specimens gathered by our participants on this trip will be used by many scientists from around the country for years to come.

After we had all had our fill of collecting, we loaded back into the vans and made our way to the museum so that we could take a tour of the entomology collection of the museum that these specimens would be added to! Participants could ask to see any kind of insect they wanted and Dr. Clark immediately knew where to find it (even among the thousands of specimens housed in our collection). We looked at various beetles, horseflies, and tarantulas (even though tarantulas are arachnids and not insects). One of our high school participants even happened to be one of Dr. Clark’s volunteers who works in the collections, and she showed the rest of us her favorite butterflies in the collection.

Overall, we had a great day and want to thank Shawn Clark for taking the time to teach us all about insects and how they are collected and used for research!

Jennica Baldridge, museum educator

Monday, September 23, 2019

Birding with Merrill Webb at Antelope Island

Our group of eager birdwatchers arrived at the Bean Museum bright and early Saturday morning, many with binoculars in hand! Birding expert Merrill Webb helped us test our spotting scope with an excellent view of the morning’s harvest moon before we piled into vans and headed to Antelope Island.

The morning was a bit chilly, but that didn’t stop us from getting out to look for birds as soon as we arrived at the park entrance. We sighted several species including House Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, and flying in the distance, a small flock of White-faced Ibises.

The Antelope Island Causeway offered some excellent spots where we could pull off and view waterfowl and shorebirds, and on the drier side of the causeway, we spotted one of the group favorites—a Peregrine Falcon perched on a rock. When we turned our attention back to the water, Mr. Webb taught us to identify American Avocets in their black-and-white non-breeding plumage, and showed how to distinguish them from the similarly colored Black-necked Stilt.

As we observed a large flock of avocets and stilts, all the birds suddenly took to the sky! To our surprise, they weren’t startled by the falcon we’d spotted earlier, but by this strange “bird”:

Once the paragliders came through, the birds cleared out pretty quickly. It was beautiful to watch the shorebirds flying off along the surface of the water, but we had to move farther down to find them again! 

As we drove along the causeway, we spotted more unique species, including Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, and at least two species of seagull. Mr. Webb showed us how to recognize a small shorebird called a phalarope by its characteristic feeding behavior of spinning in circles as it swims (this video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an excellent example: We also watched this spotted sandpiper bobbing his tail as he foraged along the rocks.

Inland on Antelope Island, we were ecstatic to find three Burrowing Owls! We had a fantastic view through our spotting scope—we could see every detail of their bright yellow eyes as they watched us right back. 

We found another owl species roosting in a hay barn, recognizable by the familiar ear-like tufts that give them the name Great Horned Owl. 

And with that, we wrapped up the trip having sighted at least 30 unique species of birds as a group! Many thanks to Merrill Webb for leading us on our birding adventure! 


Our species sighted list:
Canada Goose Northern Shoveler Eared Grebe American White Pelican White-faced Ibis American Kestrel Peregrine Falcon Semipalmated Plover Killdeer Black-necked Stilt American Avocet Willet Spotted Sandpiper Wilson’s Phalarope Northern Phalarope Franklin’s Gull Ring-billed Gull California Gull Rock Pigeon Mourning Dove Eurasian Collared Dove Great Horned Owl Burrowing Owl Say’s Phoebe Black-billed Magpie American Crow Common Raven Cliff Swallow Barn Swallow European Starling Lesser Goldfinch House Sparrow

Brie Hardy, museum educator

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Biology Bootcamp 2019

This July we held a Biology Bootcamp at the museum for 2nd-5th graders! The camp was a week long and we did it for 3 different weeks with 3 groups of kids. The kids were able to participate in lots of activities and have many hands-on experiences to learn all about different kinds of animals and plants! Each day had a different focus and we wrapped up our week with a trip to the zoo. We had a great time!!

The first day of Biology Bootcamp was a blast! Our focus on Monday was reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Our day started with some getting to know you activities, followed by a run down of the day, and the week.

We brought out a live frog and a lizard, and discussed as groups and as a class some of their similarities and differences, to help us establish what makes a reptile a reptile, and what makes an amphibian an amphibian. After this, we played games to test our knowledge, and then spent time focusing on turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, and salamanders. We played games with M&Ms to learn about sea turtles, talked about salamander regeneration with a mad lib, looked at some frogs with amazing ability to camouflage, and even put a little bit of elmers glue on our hands to mimic a snake shedding its skin! On top of all that, we even got to see a live turtle, lizard, snake, frog, and even a salamander. We visited the museum’s wet collection, where we have a variety of reptiles and amphibians stored for research and study. 

After lunch, we began our discussion of birds! We talked about different characteristics birds share, and talked about different types of birds and what makes them so unique. We practiced bird watching with some our museums own exotic mounts, and had the students sketch pictures. We got a tour of the museum’s bird collection, where we store a wide variety of birds for research. Both the wet collection and bird collection require special permission to see and can't be seen by regular museum guests, so our kids got a behind the stage pass to be there! It was awesome. We made recycled birdhouses, and then the day was over.

It was such a fun day! The students got to know each other, laughed and learned about different animals, and even discussed ways we can help conserve some really amazing parts of nature.

On the second day of Biology Bootcamp we started the day by learning about mammals! We talked about what makes a mammal a mammal and played a matching game to learn about the different habitats mammals can live in. We then did a pelt activity where we felt and studied different mammal pelts and tried to guess which mammal each one belonged to. After that, we learned about some interesting features certain mammals have, such as marine mammals using blubber to keep warm. To demonstrate this we put our hands in “blubber bags” that were lined with shortening and then put our hands in ice water, one with the blubber bag and one without. The hand in the blubber bag stayed a lot warmer! We learned about echolocation next, which is what bats use to hunt. They emit soundwaves and can tell the location of an object based on how those soundwaves are reflected. We went outside and played a type of tag game to better understand how it works! Two blindfolded kids would make the sound their teams had decided on and would listen for their teammates to echo it back so they could find them. To wrap up our mammal section we did a scavenger hunt throughout the museum that gave us clues to help us guess what mammal we were supposed to find. We found the smallest mammal in the museum (the Preble’s shrew), the only flying mammal (the bat), a mammal with an excellent sense of smell that hibernates (the grizzly bear), and many more!

We then had the awesome opportunity to tour another one of the museum’s collections, the mammal collection. We saw some skulls, pelts, and many cabinets full of mammals that the public doesn’t usually get to see!  

That afternoon we switched topics and learned about fish. We talked about what makes a fish a fish and learned about the different body shapes fish can have. We did a fishing booth activity where the kids caught paper fish with their yardstick fishing pole and had to figure out which body shape it had and put it in the correct group. We also learned about the different fins a fish has and their functions by playing “pin the fin on the fish”! To cement everything we learned about fish body parts and shapes, each group was then given the task to create their own fish. Every member of the group was given a part of the fish to build which they would then put together. We saw some very creative and clever fish! To finish off day 2, we did some stations to learn about how different fish eat. Fish with superior mouths eat food off the surface of the water. To imitate this we ate donuts dangling from strings without using our hands! Fish with inferior mouths eat things along the ocean floor, and for this we put vaseline on our noses and raced to see who could get the most cotton balls from one bowl to another! We used straws to see how many M&Ms we could get into a cup to demonstrate how jawless fish eat, and finally, we held spoons in our mouths to scoop up objects and raced to transfer them from one table to another to see how fish with elongated mouths eat. It was a fun day! 

On our third day of Biology Bootcamp we learned about plants! We started off by talking about what makes plants different from everything else and the different parts they have. Each kid received their own plant, and were able to dissect it and put each part in the correct box on their paper. Next we learned about leaf types. First we discussed the different shapes, margins, and venation that leaves have, and then played Leaf Type Bingo to help bring together all the information they learned. Each child had a bingo sheet, and ran around outside, and once they found the right leaf, they made a leaf rubbing on their bingo paper. After leaves, we talked about flowers. The kids learned about the different flower parts and functions by dissecting a lily. Once they understood the parts of a flower, we discussed pollination. They learned that pollination occurs when the pollen from one flower gets stuck to the pistil of a different flower usually by an animal. After talking about pollination, we played a matching game where we matched the animal to the correct flower it pollinates. The last part of plant reproduction we talked about was fruit. The kids learned that fruits come from flowers. We looked at several pictures of fruit and then the flower that it came from. We showed pictures of grapes and raspberries, and had the kids draw what they thought the flowers looked like while they snacked on grapes and raspberries. When the kids finished eating their fruit, we went for a walk around campus to try and identify trees using a Dichotomous Key. We looked at the leaves of the tree, and by using the knowledge they learned earlier in the morning, the kids were able to identify the trees. After looking at five trees, we headed back to the museum for lunch.


On Thursday, we studied the differences between insects and other invertebrates. Using microscopes, models, and a live tarantula and cockroach, we examined the characteristics of these invertebrates. We then focused on ants, learning about how they communicate through smell instead of sound, playing a fun silent relay race Easter egg hunt to demonstrate. Next we studied bees and other pollinators, and each student decorated their own bee hotel to bring home. There will be a lot of happy bees in months to come. Finally, after visiting the Bean Museum's collection of almost 2 million insects and other invertebrate specimens, we went on a field trip to Bicentennial Park to catch our very own insects that we sketched, labeled, and released. The day was finished with a popsicle and a short play on the playground.

The final day of Biology Bootcamp was spent at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City! The kids had a great time seeing all the animals, including many they had learned about throughout the week. We even got to see an incredible bird show. All in all Biology Bootcamp was a great success! We learned a lot about the living things on our amazing planet and we had a lot of fun in the process!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Junior Naturalist Summer Camp

This past June, thirteen kids were able to join us for our first and only week of Junior Naturalists camp. These budding scientists had a great time learning a little about wildlife biology and how our museum works behind the scenes.

The first day was spent collecting specimens. Our campers learned techniques for catching and collecting plants and insects. They were instructed to look for five different insect species and four different plant species at each of the sites we visited, including Aspen Grove, Lower Hobble Creek, and the Provo Airport runoff zone. The campers took to this with great enthusiasm, and most exceeded this requirement. They caught a wide range of invertebrate specimens, such as butterflies, moths, bees, earwigs, spiders, millipedes, beetles, and flies. They certainly proved that there are many interesting and unique plants and animals that live under our very noses, and all we have to do to enjoy them is look.

The second day was spent back at the museum. This was certainly welcome as it meant we didn’t have to brave the harsh summer sun again, but it also meant that we got to explore the little-seen collections of our museum, experiencing tens of thousands of vertebrates, hundreds of thousands of plants, and the insect collection exceeding a million specimens that we house here. Campers also learned how to process and display their own specimens, pinning their insects with labels, and pressing their plants to be artfully displayed.

Finally, the last day here at the museum was after a one-day hiatus during which campers did some research on the specimens they had collected. After preparing some wonderful tri-fold displays with lots of color and information, they got to try their hand at teaching museum guests about the cool organisms that they had gathered and displayed. You could really see the pride and excitement many of them felt about sharing their collections, and certainly some of these kids have a bright future in teaching or public speaking.

All in all, Junior Naturalists camp left us feeling sad that we only were able to spend one week with these amazing kids. We were able to learn so much in such a short amount of time, and we were able to get some experiences here at the museum that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. We are looking forward to next year!