Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Behind the Scenes - The Insect Collection

We have a secret. What you see when you come here to the Bean Life Science Museum is only a fraction of what we actually have stored here. On display we have a few hundred animals for you to see. Behind the scenes, we over a million plants and animals! Want to see what is behind those closed doors?

The insect collection houses over 2 million insects! That’s a lot of creepy crawlies. The insect collection is just one of eight scientific collections here at the Bean Life Science Museum.
Why do we have so many insects? When Dr. Shawn Clark (the entomology collection manager) is asked this question, he reminds people that when you are talking about insects, you are dealing with a lot species. In fact, when you count all named species across all living things, there about the same number of insect species as everything else combined! We need a lot of insects just to get an accurate representation of what is out there.

This insect collection is used primarily for research.  Most of that research is on systematics which is the study of understanding how living things are related to each other.

How do we keep these specimens safe? Insects are collected and stored a variety of ways. Typically an insect is collected with nets or different kinds of traps.

Most insects are stored on pins. This works really well for insects since they have an external skeleton. The external skeleton won’t shrivel up when it’s dried. This means that a dried insect specimen on a pin looks just like the insect did when it was alive! It is, however, extremely fragile so they are never touched directly. If they are not stored on pins, insects can also be preserved in ethanol, envelopes, or microscope slides.

You can start your own insect collection easily at home. It’s fun and interesting to see the variety of insects all around us! Visit our museum store for supplies.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nature Experienceship - Birding with Merrill Webb

7:30 on a Saturday morning is quite early for most to be out and about. But that does not stop us at the Bean Life Science Museum! We had bird specialist, Merrill Webb, leading us on an expedition to search for our national symbol, the Bald Eagle. They come from all over to winter in Utah, primarily to feed on migrating waterfowl as well as carp around Utah and the Great Salt Lake. Close to 15 people came together that morning and off we went to Lake Shore, a little farming community on the south eatern shore of Utah lake. As the sun rose over the Wasatch mountains we searched for eagles. They roost in trees during the night and they leave early in the morning. We wanted to find them before they took off. After winding through the farm roads in the distance there was a cluster of cottonwood trees, and in those trees Mr. Webb spots a lone eagle. This was one of the five eagles that has been spotted in the area. It had a brilliant white head and tail with a dark brown, almost black body. People quietly slipped out of the vehicles trying to contain their excitement. Spotting scopes were put up and binoculars were hanging around necks. It was a chilly morning but it didn't seem to bother anyone as we watched this beautiful creature. The eagle stayed in the tree for some time. People took pictures through the scope with their smart phones and eventually the eagle took off, displaying that large 7 foot wingspan and flew away. After the main attraction we went about utah county to Salem and back to Provo. During that time we saw red tail hawks, ring neck pheasents, american kestrels, canada geese, mallards, golden eyes, wood ducks, lesser scaups, gadawalls, magpies, grackels and another rare bird, the lewis' woodpecker. 

All enjoyed the enthusiasm of Mr. Webb and his vast knowledge  of the avian world. Those there were excited to see what was out there. None left feeling that their early morning was a waste. 

Colton, Museum 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Behind the Scenes - Stanley L Welsh Herbarium

We have a secret. What you see when you come here to the Bean Life Science Museum is only a fraction of what we actually have stored here. On display we have a few hundred animals visible to the public, but behind the scenes, we over a million plants and animals! Want to see what is behind those closed doors?

The Stanley L. Welsh Herbarium holds over 600,000 vascular plant specimens. What do they look like, you say? Here’s a picture of one of the plants stored in the herbarium. 

The process of storing plants long term is pretty simple. When they are collected, plants are pressed, usually using a press like the one you see here. 

They are sometimes dried for a few days in a dryer. After that they are glued onto special acid free paper designed specifically for herbariums. This makes it so the plant can be stored safely for a long time. The glue they just use regular ol’ Elmer’s glue.

Weights are sometimes used to hold the plants down on the paper to dry.   

Each plant has been assigned a number. These numbers are carefully catalogued and maintained in a digital database. The plants are then stored in cabinets and are arranged taxonomically, by order, family, genus and species after which they are sorted by the location the plant was collected. 

Why do they do all this? Why do we have so many plants? Leigh Johnson, curator at the herbarium says that herbarium specimens document that the organism occurred at that specific place and time. What’s important is we know where and when the specimen is taken. We can figure out what it is later. These collections provide a snapshot into time. Let’s say 30 years ago someone collected plants up Provo Canyon. Because of the herbarium we can look at these plants from 30 years ago and today and ask questions like, “Are all these plants still there?” “Are we finding new plants?” “Are some plants disappearing?” Dr. Johnson says that some of the most interesting specimens the herbarium has are from the late 1800s! With the plants being stored in herbariums across the world, we are creating some amazing snap shots in history!

Additionally, herbariums often loan or exchange specimens with other herbariums across the world. Let’s say you are interested in group of plant called pincushion plants. You can now compare your plant with other plants from other herbariums. Perhaps what you have collected is different from what the other herbariums have. You may have a new species! Dr. Johnson is doing just that and is currently describing new species of Navarretia or spiny pincushion plants.

You can actually explore some of what the Stanley L. Welsh Herbarium has to offer from your own home! Many of the specimens have been photographed and those photographs are available through the Harold B. Lee Library at this link:

Please visit our website for more information about the herbarium.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Not So Creepy Crawlies with Dr. Clark

On a chilly October morning before the sun rose above the mountains we piled into a van and drove off to Hobble Creek Canyon. As we drove many questions were asked by students and Dr. Clark would always be able to respond with a factual answer. After arriving at Kelly's Grove, a park next to the canyon's golf course Dr. Clark gathered the students and instructed them about what they would get the opportunity to do.

 Dr. Clark had Colton, Michelle and Mary who are educators from the Monte L. Bean Museum, hand out viles and forceps for the students to collect insects.  Dr. Clark had two students brave the cold hobble creek fitted with boots and nets to capture aquatic insects. One student would kick at the stream-bed and stir things up and the other would hold the net downstream and collect debris. Then this would be brought back to the riverbank and the students would pick through river debris and find various insects as well as other arthropods. Insects like caddisflies, stone flies as well as annelids or worms like earthworms and leeches were found. One of the students found North America's largest stone fly, Pteronarcys Californicus or the Giant Salmon fly.

As the sun climbed higher over the canyon walls the air began to feel warmer and it was time to get out the sweeping and aerial nets to capture terrestrial insects. Once again Dr. Clark demonstrated the proper netting techniques and students went off in every direction capturing insects from wasps to crickets and arachnids like daddy long legs were caught. Did you know that some things we call daddy long legs are not actually spiders and are not venomous!? If you see a spider like creature crawling around that had an unsegmented body, it is not actually a spider but a Harvestman for the common folk but in the scientific community they are called Opiliones, which are cousins to spiders.

Dr.Clark was able to show all the importance of insects for all ways of life, from the food we eat to the decomposition of materials and even medicine. Insects are the most abundant and diverse group of organisms on the planet. For some increased understanding about the insects that surround us helps to make them not so creepy anymore. We may have a hard time living with them but we certainly would not be able to live without them.  

 post by: Colton

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nature Experienceship - Wild Edibles with Tom Smith

Have you ever had a chocolate chip cookie made with Acorn Flour? Well neither did we until last Saturday when we had the Nature Experienship on “Wild Edibles” with Tom Smith. There were a lot of things that we learned over the course of the class. First we had a chance to learn about some great sources for discovering what plants we can eat. Dr. Smith told us about some of his experiences looking for wild edibles in various parts of the country and how to get fresh maple syrup out of the maple trees that are found in Utah. By the way, did you realize that the Box Elder tree is a type of maple? We explored the wilds of BYU campus which provided a lot of great opportunities to see what native plants we could sample in Utah. We even stopped for a few minutes under one of BYU’s many oak trees to gather acorns. After our exploration of campus we got to sample some of the many foods that can be made with Utah’s wild plants. We had Oregon Grape Jelly, Real Maple Syrup, and we even made chocolate chip cookies using four made from acorns and for the nuts we used pine nuts. In the end we had a great time exploring all of the possibilities that Utah’s wild plants can provide for a great meal.

Brendon, museum educator

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nature Experienceship - Birding @ Antelope Island with Merrill Webb

As the sun was getting up an enthusiastic group of middle school and high school students were already awake and ready to learn this past Saturday. Boys and girls of different ages and from different schools all gathered together with one common interest, to go bird watching. The group traveled up to The Great Salt Lake to catch a glimpse at some of the amazing birds that make the lake their home (or at least a stop in their migratory travels). The trip began like any other, van doors were opened, binoculars pulled out of snug cases, and common birds such as Avocets and California Seagulls were spotted. It was not until we had been on Antelope Island (an island on the Great Salt Lake) a bit longer that we began to see some uncommon and exciting wildlife. One of the early stops we made was by a large sand expanse along the lake. Someone just happened to spot a peregrine falcon off on a distant bank. Everyone was pretty excited about this uncommon sighting but it got even better. The falcon began flying over to an area where a group of avocets were eating. We then had the exciting opportunity to watch the falcon, who was then joined by another falcon, hunt. In this area we also were able to see several long billed curlews that were scuttling along the sandy expanse.

As we continued driving, one of our educators spotted some burrowing owls along the side of the road. Driving along the island we spotted several mammals as well. We drove by herds of buffalo, several coyotes and a prong horn that was crossing the road. At the conclusion of the trip we stopped at a ranch to eat some snacks. At the ranch we found two great horned owls snoozing in trees. That wasn’t the only animal that was snoozing in the tree tops. A big porcupine had found a nice place in the trees as well. His afternoon siesta inspired some of the attendees to take a nap of their own on our way back to the museum.

We saw the following birds: Northern Shoveler, chuckar, eared grebe, turkey vulture, peregrin falcon, prarie falcon, killdeer, black necked stilt, American Avoset, long billed curlew, wilsons phalarope, red necked phalarope, Frasnklin gull, Bonapartes gull, ring billed gull, California Gull, mourning dove, great horned owl, burrowing owl, northern flicker, black billed magpie, american crow, common raven, barn swallow, cedar waxwing, yellow rumped warbler, white crowned sparrow, red winged black bird, western meadow lark. 

Rachel, museum educator

The following photos were taken by Easton Parkhurst, a 9th grader from Lake Ridge Junior High