Outdoor Features Refreshed

Ever since an EF-1 tornado struck the area in August 2020, the woods behind the museum have been in rough shape. Thanks to the hard work of our facilities team and a grant from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) for new trees, interpretive signage, and seating areas, our outdoor spaces have been refreshed.

Sit in the John C. Wilson Sr. Wildlife Blind to view birds and other wildlife up close.

Director of Facilities Chris Hayden and Facilities Assistant Anthony Corradin move downed trees along the outdoor paths.

The 2020 tornado left incredible damage to the museum’s outdoor space. We are re-establishing the area by planting new trees, but it will take decades to completely fill in.

Downed trees were cut to border the trail paths.

Art Sisters: The Art of Nature, The Nature of Art

ARTsisters is an organization of visual artists who work in a variety of media and styles. They aim to empower each other and the community through art and motivate others by sharing creativity through local exhibitions and projects. In their goal to work with nonprofit organizations and give back to their community, Art Sisters now has on exhibit The Art of Nature, The Nature of Art at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science.

Embark on a journey where the influence of nature on art comes to life. Each artwork in the collection, crafted by the collective of talented women artists known as ARTsisters, explores the special connection between the two realms. These pieces showcase beautiful landscapes and intriguing abstract designs, reflecting diverse interpretations using a rich spectrum of mediums and styles

The Art of Nature, The Nature of Art is on exhibit through September. The art is available for sale through the front desk.

  1. Linnie Greenberg
    Alone in the Wood
    Photography/Mixed Media 16”x16”
  2. Nancy Freeman Tabas
    The Barn Next Store
    Oil and Encaustic on Board
  3. Marcie Ziskind
    Sticks and Stones Redux #2
    Wet felted, merino roving, silk, Hanji paper, hand embroidery and beading
  4. Karen Liebman
    Fruit Triptych #1
    Acrylic | 4”x4”
  5. Edna Santiago
    Isla Verde
    Collage | 10”x6.5”
  6. Susan Stefanski
    Oil | 10”x8” | $350
  7. Florence Weisz Biome
    For Paper Ferns
    Collage: monoprints, napkins,
    various papers | 12”x12”
  8. Linda Dubin Garfield
    Green Hills Orange Sky
    Mixed Media on Paper
  1. Florence Weisz
    Biome For Dark Leaves
    Collage: monoprints, napkins, various papers
  2. Blanche Levitt Torphy
    Tulips and Pears
    Mixed Media/Collage
  3. Fran Lightman Gibson
    Sun on Route 40
    Oil on Canvas
  4. Priscilla Bohlen
    Acrylic | 12”x12”
  5. Fran Lightman Gibson
    Life in the Desert
    Oil on Canvas | 12″x12″
  6. Barbara Rizza Mellin
    Chester Creek
    Oil | 14”x11” | $480
  7. Edna Santiago
    Bravo Beach
    Reverse Painting on Plexiglass | 5”x7”
  8. Louise M. Herring
    Little Fires
    Oil on Canvas
  1. Ellen Abraham
    Palms Up
    Alcohol Markers & Colored Pencils
  2. Sandi Neiman Lovitz
    Little Pink Landscape
    Mixed Medium
  3. Sandra Benhaim
    Oil, Oil Pigment Stick on Canvas | 12”x12”
  4. Sandi Neiman Lovitz
    Little Yellow Landscape
    Mixed Medium | 8.5″x10.5″
  5. Deb K. Simon
    Oil on Canvas | 24”x12”
  6. Priscilla Bohlen
    Acrylic | 12”x12” | $400
  7. Edna Santiago
    Playa Escambron
    Monoprint | 5”x7”
  8. Cyndi Philkill
    Beauty & the Beast
    Collage | 24″x16″ | $250
  1. Karen Liebman
    Fruit Triptych #2
    Acrylic | 4”x4” | $75
  2. Marcie Ziskind
    Sticks and Stones Redux #3
    Wet felted, merino roving, silk, Hanji paper,
    hand embroidery and beading | 31″x14″
  3. Marjie Lewis Quint
    Golden Cove
    Oil and Gold Leaf on Canvas | 2”x9”
  4. Sandi Neiman Lovitz
    Tidbits of Warmth
    Acrylic on Panel | 8″x8″
  5. Sally K Eisenberg
    It’s the Little Things
    Acrylic on Wood | 8”x8”
  6. Cyndi Philkill
    Assemblage | 6”x18”
    $150 each
  7. Nancy Freeman Tabas
    Red Barn
    Oil and Encaustic on Board
  8. Laurie Lamont Murray
    Happy Dance
    Acrylic | 14″x18″

Evolutionary Breakthrough of Hawks and Eagles (Accipitridae)

Binomial nomenclature is the primary system that scientists use to name, group, and differentiate organisms in the tree of life. Occasionally, new data is collected that causes scientists to reconsider and refine these hypotheses, and names must be changed to reflect the current state of knowledge.

Hawks, eagles, and some vultures are classified in the family Accipitridae. Many of the species in this group are charismatic and well known to the public, but there is lingering uncertainty about their evolutionary relationships. A recent paper published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, co-authored by Dr. Matthew Halley (Assistant Curator of Birds at Delaware Museum of Nature and Science) with lead author Dr. Therese Catanach (Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University) and Dr. Stacy Pirro (Iridian Genomes), sheds new light on this evolutionary puzzle. By analyzing genetic (DNA) sequences from 237 species, they propose a major revision to the taxonomy of Accipitridae, which will require several name changes.

This family tree shows the currently accepted grouping of various hawk species.

For local birders, the most intriguing finding is the non-monophyly of the cosmopolitan genus Accipiter. To resolve this issue, Catanach et al. propose to reclassify the American Goshawk (Accipiter atricapillus) and Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) in the genus Astur.

This Cooper’s Hawk skeleton on exhibit in the museum may need a new title soon.

Catanach, T. A., Halley, M. R., and S. Pirro. 2024. Enigmas no longer: using Ultraconserved Elements to place several unusual hawk taxa and address the non-monophyly of the genus Accipiter (Accipitriformes: Accipitridae). Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society, blae028. https://doi.org/10.1093/biolinnean/blae028

If you are unable to access the paper and would like a copy, please email Dr. Halley.

Learn more about Dr. Halley’s research projects and publications on his website.

Bird Department Launches “Carcass Club”

The DelMNS Bird Department has recently started a “carcass club” with wildlife ecology and environmental science student volunteers from the University of Delaware. In the group, students facilitate the preparation of new specimens for the scientific collection. Ever since its inception, the museum has salvaged “window-strikes” and other recently-deceased birds, to save their bodies for scientific use.

Once a week, the club gathers at the museum to prepare study skins (a specialized form of taxidermy) and spread wings for the collections, while also receiving training from the collections staff. Students will have the opportunity to learn other preparation types, such as skeletons, later in the year. Specimens vouchered in the museum are an important resource for monitoring the long-term health of local ecosystems, and researchers from around the world will have access to these specimens and their data.

Study skins are used for morphometrics (measuring and analyzing the shape and size of specimens), biodiversity, and genetics research in addition to identification.

It’s a messy job, but someone has to do it!

Wooden dowels provide structural support prevent specimens from flattening, and make them easier to handle.

Morphometrics including the lengths of wings, tails and beaks are measured before and after a specimen is prepared.

Still Life from Natural Life

Paintings by the Howard Pyle Studio Group, on exhibit through May 29, 2024

Between 1883 and 1911, American illustrator Howard Pyle immersed himself in painting, writing and teaching within the light-filled studios at 1305 N. Franklin Street in Wilmington, DE. The Howard Pyle Studio Group, established in 1935 as a small collective of women artists dedicated to honoring his legacy, is privileged to own, use and maintain these historic buildings.

Continuing their artistic collaboration with the museum, Studio Group members explored the Public Engagement Division’s educational collection to gather specimens for creating still lifes. Working within the museum’s classroom, the artists brought to life four distinctive still lifes inspired by the fascinating natural specimens, each using diverse mediums and styles.

All artwork is available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the museum.

To learn more about the Howard Pyle Studio Group, visit howardpylestudio.org, or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

Great Pine Swamp, 200 Years Later

In May 1811, the Scottish-born American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), collected specimens of three supposedly new wood warbler species, and one new thrush in a place called the “Great Pine Swamp.” Twenty years later, John James Audubon (1785-1851) claimed that he “followed [Wilson’s] track” in 1829 and located the swamp near Rockport, Pennsylvania.

However, in June 2023, Dr. Matthew Halley, Assistant Curator of Birds, used historical maps to retrace Wilson’s expedition and found that the “Great Pine Swamp” was actually in Monroe County, PA, 16 miles east of Rockport and on the opposite side of the Lehigh River, contrary to Audubon’s claim. This resolves the mystery surrounding the swamp’s location and offers new insights into Wilson’s and Audubon’s observations of the species there.

The “A” on this map shows the likely field site of Audubon. The “W” is the actual collecting location of Wilson’s “Great Pine Swamp,” on the opposite side of the Lehigh River, courtesy of Matthew R. Halley.

The paper is free and open access. Read here.

Learn more about Halley’s research projects and publications on his website.

Conserving the Collections

The extensive scientific collections of the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science are utilized by scientists and researchers all around the world. As catalog databases of the collections and their inventories are constantly being built and updated, they are also made more accessible. Increased use of these collections needs to be balanced with conservation efforts to ensure they exist for future generations. Unfortunately, some materials used to store specimens have become outdated and require replacement to best preserve the museum’s collections.

Rows of metal cabinets house the mollusk and bird collections at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science.

Current Conservation Methods

In the mollusks collection, specimens are preserved either as the dry animal-made shell, or as the entire body and soft parts of the animal in alcohol. The bird collection specimens are preserved as study skins (a specialized taxidermy for research), but also have preserved tissue samples in alcohol, spread wings, skeletons, and traditional taxidermy.

Currently, the collection is stored in specimen trays that are made of paste board wrapped in paper. Depending on their age, some trays may or may not be made out of archival quality material. However, new archival boxes can still endure changes in chemistry when they come into contact with wooden drawers that exist in many cabinets. These wooden drawers could release harmful acid vapors and change the chemical composition of the storage materials. When these materials touch specimens they can cause the chemicals to breakdown, recrystallize, and destroy the specimens, according to Alex Kittle, Senior Collections Manager of Mollusks.

Archival boxes are often laid with unbuffered paper to help protect specimens
Mollusks in archival boxes are stored in trays
Yellowing spots on this shell indicate Byne’s disease, a decay of calcium carbonate and acidic vapor.
Toucans and hornbills stored with unbuffered paper
Fuzzy coating on the left egg indicates decay from Byne’s disease
Fuzzy coating on the egg indicates decay from Byne’s Disease
Damage to these butterflies are indicative of pests

Plans for Improvements

Improvements needed to the collections have been addressed. The collections would benefit from plastic boxes made of a stable plastic and more archival specimen trays. There are regular updates to materials that contain specimens, but there can only be so much done each year. Changing the cabinets the specimens are currently housed in could also prevent any concern of pest damage, and make a world of difference in improving long term conservation. Fortunately, all of the study skin collections are already in new cabinets with metal drawers and archival materials.

Conservation of data is another important concern of collections management. In certain bird species with a fatty diet, oil can seep onto identification tags, remove ink, and make them impossible to read. Additionally, beetles and other pests will feed on organic materials like feathers and introduce harmful microorganisms to specimens. Having up-to-date powder-coated steel cabinetry with a total seal to keep pests from the collections is vital for conservation, according to Ashley Kempken, Collections Manager of Birds. The collections team has also implemented a freezer treatment protocol to kill potential pests on collections objects after they have been used by researchers or in exhibits.

Natural acidity and chemicals can also impact the conservation of specimens. Correct storage of specimens requires using the appropriate archival containers, as chemical reactions from storage materials can easily damage collections over time. Researchers can use methods such as a pH pen to spot check acidity in materials that hold specimens.

Full STEAM Ahead

New program for ages 10+

All aboard for scientific discovery focused on STEAM Innovation designed for around middle school age 10+. Explore how Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math are interconnected through hands-on activities, creative thinking, problem solving, and more!

Summer: Full STEAM Ahead Workshop: Science Spectacular (Ages 10+)

June 17-21, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Journey through scientific discovery as we explore various STEAM-based experiments, awe-inspiring demonstrations, and interactive activities. This workshop facilitates excitement and wonder for the spectacular world of science. This workshop is geared towards higher education learning, which may not be suitable for younger age groups.  

Pre-registration required. Full week price: $290/DelMNS members, $325/non-members. Extended care available, $7/before or after care; $12 before AND aftercare per day.

Thousands of Mollusks added to the museum’s scientific collections in 2023

Mollusk collections often stem from exploration, whether on a global or local scale. Personal collections frequently find their way to museums, especially when accompanied by available data. Our holdings have recently expanded with two significant acquisitions.

During the past summer, Kathryn Eickhoff-Smith generously donated the Read family collection, comprising approximately 10,000 marine and land snail shells from worldwide origins. This collection embodies the collecting endeavors of sisters Ella Howard Read (1845-1914) and Clara Anne Read (1850-1928) from Massachusetts.

While they didn’t gather the snails themselves, they likely acquired or traded for these shells through connections to their family’s involvement in whaling operations in New Bedford. These shells, treasured for their beauty and novelty, were showcased in exquisite custom-made cabinets, a common practice of that era. The specimens were transported back to the museum still in the cabinet drawers by Mollusk Senior Collections Manager Alex Kittle (pictured below) who drove to Naples, Florida to pick up the collection last fall.

The Read sisters’ father was associated with the Willimantic Linen Company, and many of the smaller shells were stored in boxes produced during the latter half of the nineteenth century with the company’s logo. The image below shows the label on one of these small boxes.

The second collection originates from Laura Zeller, a longstanding shell collector based in the Baltimore area. Comprising 210 lots of tiny specimens, this collection primarily features specimens from the United States, Thailand, and other distant locations.

The next step for both collections involves matching the shells with their respective data. While the Zeller collection benefits from an index and notecards, the Read family collection presents a greater challenge, potentially requiring collaboration with other museums to piece together details such as possible collection dates. 

Community Read

In 2024, we again join local libraries and community partners for the eleventh year of the Longwood Gardens’ Community Read — a program designed to encourage reading for pleasure and start a conversation. For the upcoming year, we offer a variety of programs to enjoy these amazing selections.

The Secret Garden

In the children’s book, The Secret Garden, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the characters discover a secret all their own.

The Last Garden in England

In the book, The Last Garden in England, by Julia Kelly, we follow multiple women over time who come to appreciate the same garden.

Both books are available for purchase in the museum store!

Mobile Museum Outreach Program

In the children’s book, The Secret Garden, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the characters discover a secret all their own.

As part of the Longwood Gardens Community Read Program, the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science comes to you. This program is great for organizations such as libraries, daycares, after-school groups, and classrooms.

Who doesn’t love a secret? The Secret Garden will come to you with one of our educators. Learn to love the outdoors through this interactive hour including an interactive book reading, a scene-setting 10×10 tent, and plenty of touchable specimens. Be prepared to get dirty hands!

$150 per program, maximum 25 participants.


Canvas, Conversations & Chamomile

Wednesday, May 8 | 1 p.m.

Seniors, join us as we discuss The Last Garden in England while painting your own work of art related to the book. Jess Myers, a scientist and artist, offers her painting and nature expertise. Even if you didn’t read the book, join us for lively conversation, creating a work of art, and tasty nibbles. Pre-registration required. Pre-registration required.

$30 per person

Fairy Tale Saturday

Saturday, April 27 | 10 a.m.

Dress up as your favorite fairy tale character and join Ms. Ofelia (dressed as a character herself) for storytime, followed by a variety of themed activities throughout the museum, including a floral craft, a blooming science experiment of color, a bug identification station, and more. Preregistration suggested.

$3/DelMNS members, $17/non-members (ages 3 and up), $7/non-member toddlers (ages 1-2). Price includes admission for the day.