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 overtime who come to appreciate the same 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.
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 40 participants.
Registration opens in the Winter.
Paint, Prattle & Pinot
Saturday, March 23 | 6 p.m.
Literature and art lovers, join us for this fun and relaxing evening among old and new friends as we discuss Last Garden in England. We’ll take it up a notch by creating a garden-themed painting led by Jess Myers, scientist and artist. Art supplies, a light snack, and one glass of wine are included, additional beverages available for purchase. Pre-registration required by March 19, 2024. Ages 21+ only. Maximum 25 participants.
$40/DelMNS members, $55/non-members
Canvas, Conversations & Chamomile
Wednesday, April 24 | 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.
New bird species discovered through scientific collections
Natural history collections are full of surprises, with scientists updating what is known about different species and uncovering new ones.
Dr. Matthew Halley, Assistant Curator of Birds, is the lead author of a recently-published paper that splits the Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus fuscater) into seven different species and four subspecies — including a newly-described species from eastern Panamá: the Darién Nightingale-thrush (Catharus arcanus).
Photo of Matthew Halley by Jenna McCullough
These genetically distinct populations live in secluded mountain rainforests in Central and South America and began to diverge from each other nearly three million years ago.
The species look very similar to an untrained eye. To document their differences, Dr. Halley and his team sequenced DNA from multiple populations, studied physical features like plumage color, iris color and bill color, and analyzed differences in their vocalizations.
This figure shows the geographic distribution of the C. [fuscater]complex in Central and South America. Lines point to type localities. The variation in shapes denote sampling locations for different molecular data. Shape size is correlated with the number of samples (1–3).
The C. fuscater complex (Turdidae) is composed of several disjunct populations that inhabit cloudy mountain rainforests, ranging from Costa Rica to Bolivia. These birds are diabolically shy and more often heard than seen. Their song is a series of sweet, musical whistles.
The research identified 10 genetically distinct populations that have been evolving independently for multiple glacial cycles. Molecular clock suggests most lineages diverged in early Pleistocene / late Pliocene— ancient lineages with independent evolutionary trajectories.
This figure shows taxonomic variation in the structure of ‘punctuation calls’, visualized in RavenPro 1.5 (Cornell University), recognizing three groups based on shared acoustic structure: (Type 1) pulsed/rippling: C. [f.] hellmayri, Undescribed 1 (now C. arcanus), C. [f.] mirabilis; (Type 2) long/sinuous: C. [f.] sanctaemartae, C. [f.] fuscater, C. [f.] berplepschi; (Type 3) short/simple: Undescribed 2 (now C. o. tenebris), C. [f.] opertaneus, Undescribed 3 (now C. b. nebulus), C. [f.] mentalis.
Populations were divergent in the acoustic structure of three different call types, which are presumed to be innately acquired (i.e., not learned), and there were subtle differences among populations in song structure, which is presumably learned.
This image is a side view of polychromatic adult plumages in C. [f.] mentalis (from left to right): 1, FMNH 433742, a ‘grey’ male with enlarged testes; 2, FMNH 433738, a ‘brown’ male with enlarged testes; 3, FMNH 364458, a ‘brown’ male with testes not enlarged; 4, FMNH 433740, an adult female with an enlarged ovary. Adults of both colour types (FMNH 433742, 433738) were collected at the same site in November 2001.
Halley traveled to the American Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Natural History to study their C. fuscater specimens, and borrowed specimens from the Field Museum, LSU Museum of Natural Science, and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, bringing them to the museum to look at sexual and age-related differences in plumage color.
This image shows ventral and dorsal views of the adult male plumages in C. b. berlepschi, C. b. caniceps, C. o. tenebris ssp. nov., C. b. nebulus ssp. nov., and C. mentalis.
With a large sample of study skins assembled under one light source (flat panel LED), subtle differences between populations, difficult to appreciate in the field, became easier to notice — Halley scored this variation by comparing the specimens to published color standards.
The taxonomic revision splits the C. [fuscater] complex into seven species, of which one is newly described, and four subspecies, of which two are newly described (C. opertaneus tenebris, C. berlepschi nebulus). New English names were proposed for each species. The seven species are:
Talamanca Nightingale-thrush (Catharus hellmayri) – monotypic – Northern mountains of Costa Rica (Rincón de la Vieja, Miravalles, Tenorio) to west-central Panama (Parque Nacional Santa Fé, Veraguas). (Photo: alchetron.com)
Darién Nightingale-thrush (Catharus arcanus, sp. nov.) – monotypic – E Panama, endemic to Serranía de Majé and Serranía del Darién, from Cerro Azul in the west, to Cerro Tacarcuna in the east
Pirre Nightingale-thrush (Catharus mirabilis) – monotypic – Endemic to Cerro Pirre, Darién province, E Panama. (Photo: ML 242929041)
Cordilleran Nightingale-thrush (Catharus fuscater) – polytypic – (1) C. f. sanctaemartae, endemic to Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, NE Colombia; (2) C. f. fuscater, Sierra de Perijá of Venezuela, N and E Andes of Colombia and Venezuela. (Photo: ML 206115721)
Trans-Andean Nightingale-thrush (Catharus berlepschi) – polytypic – (1) C. b. berlepschi, W Andes in Ecuador; (2) C. b. caniceps, W Andes in Ecuador, S to NW Peru; (3) C. b. nebulus, ssp. nov., E Peruvian Andes. (Photo: ML 38468741)
Antioquia Nightingale-thrush (Catharus opertaneus) – polytypic – (1) C. o. opertaneus, NW and Central Andes in Colombia, S to Napo, Ecuador; (2) C. o. tenebris, ssp. nov., Río Chinchipe watershed of N Peru and SE Ecuador
Cochabamba Nightingale-thrush (Catharus mentalis) – monotypic – S Peru, east of the Río Apurímac, E to Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Note: Monotypic species are not divided into subspecies. Polytypic species can be divided into at least two subspecies.
Halley, M. R., Catanach, T. A., Klicka, J., and J. D. Weckstein. 2023. Integrative taxonomy reveals hidden diversity in the Catharus fuscater (Passeriformes: Turdidae) complex in Central and South America. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society zlad031. LINK
Learn more about Dr. Halley’s research projects and publications on his website.
The du Pont Trophy
On exhibit in the Community Room: the du Pont Trophy original paintings by artist Lauren J. Sweeney
For more than 50 years, the museum has presented the du Pont Trophy Award to the “overall outstanding exhibit” entered at shell shows around the country. The award honors exceptional citizen scientists having a passion for shells, shell collecting, and the natural history of mollusks.
For the majority of its history, the du Pont Trophy was a simple engraved plaque. As part of the Museum’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2012, Director of Collections and Curator of Mollusks, Liz Shea, Ph.D. re-imagined the award to celebrate the variety in the museum’s vast collection of more than two million mollusks. She turned to long-time museum supporter and local artist, Lauren J. Sweeney, Ph.D. to make this vision a reality. The result is an original watercolor highlighting a different shell from the collection each year. A framed limited-edition, signed print of this commission is presented to the du Pont Trophy winners.
Lauren Sweeney’s paintings are informed by a lifetime of scientific observation. Originally a biologist who focused her talents on research, teaching, and scientific illustrations, Lauren is now a full-time artist. Her attention to detail brings the shape, color, texture, and pattern of her subjects into sharp focus. Lauren has exhibited her work in the greater Philadelphia area, including the Sketch Club, Gallery Twenty Two, and the Main Line Art Center.
The original paintings, currently on exhibit, are for sale for $600 to benefit the museum’s collections.
2023 duPont Trophy
The 2023 du Pont Trophy features the changing morphology of Lambis lambis. These dramatically different stages are symbolic of the major metamorphosis the museum experienced over the past few years. The Delaware Museum of Nature and Science reopened to the public in May 2022 with completely renovated exhibit spaces.
2022 duPont Trophy
This painting depicts the marine snail Melongena corona as positioned on Curator of Mollusks Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.’s kitchen table. The specimen (and setting) was chosen in recognition of the chaotic year ushered in by COVID.
2020 du Pont Trophy
This painting features the internal shell of Spirula spirula, a deep sea cephalopod commonly referred to as ram’s horn squid. They are more often collected as shells than as live organisms. S. spirula was selected for the painting in recognition of research projects conducted by Widener University students.
2019 du Pont Trophy
This specimen of Tellina radiata, a bivalve mollusk commonly known as the Sunrise Tellin, is from the Alison Bradford collection, bequeathed to the museum by Alison Bradford, a longtime volunteer and member of the Board of Trustees. Bradford had been at the museum for over 30 years. She passed away in the summer of 2018 and transferred her collection of more than 1,000 shells to the museum, most collected in Gasparilla Island, Florida, where she owned a home.
2018 du Pont Trophy
Haliotis fulgens Philippi
The pearlescent marine sea snail abalone is the inspiration for the 2018 du Pont Trophy, featuring two specimens of the green abalone Haliotis fulgens Philippi, 1845 (DMNH 10958). These specimens have a beautiful nacreous layer and were selected by the museum’s first Mollusk Curator, R. Tucker Abbott, for illustration in the second edition of American Seashells. Published in 1974, the book is an essential resource for shell lovers and an important part of the museum’s history.
2017 du Pont Trophy
Liguus crenatus variation
The 2017 du Pont trophy was based on shells owned by renowned Delaware illustrator Frank Schoonover, a gift from one of his most well-known clients, Irénée du Pont, owner of Granogue in Delaware and the fabled Xanadu mansion in Cuba, where the shells were collected. The shells were donated to the museum in December 2015 by Schoonover’s grandson John Schoonover.
2016 du Pont Trophy
Anodonta imbecilis from Florida
This year’s shell is a group of freshwater bivalves, commonly known as Paper Pondshells, collected in Lake Talquin, Florida in 1954. Freshwater bivalves are the focus of a recent National Science Foundation grant that will help the museum share its collections on the web.
2015 du Pont Trophy
The museum’s mollusk collection contains over 250,000 boxes (or “lots”) of shells, making it one of the largest collections in North America. The Map Cowries in this painting highlight the depth of the museum’s holdings and the variation found within a single species.
2014 du Pont Trophy
Spondylus with data label
New collections come into the museum from many sources, often accompanied by old data labels. This specimen of Thorny Oyster is a beautiful and ornate U.S. species, complete with an interesting original data card.
2013 du Pont Trophy
Scaphella junonia on sand
Finding a Junonia on the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast is cause for celebration. This composition highlights the popular marine snail resting on a background of sand collected from Boca Grande, Florida by long-time museum trustee and volunteer Alison Bradford.
2012 du Pont Trophy
The subject of the first watercolor is Festilyria duponti, a shell named by Clifton Stokes Weaver in honor of Delaware Museum of Natural History founder, John E. du Pont. The background is a representation of a technical book on shells, co-authored by du Pont and Weaver.
Sound is a distinct part of an ecosystem. The soundscapes in the galleries are designed to add another level to the immersive experience – they aren’t just background noise! Many of the species that can be viewed in the exhibits have a corresponding sound in the gallery’s soundscape.
In an ecosystem, sounds are part of an animal’s habitat, offering clues about the surrounding environment as well as being a tool to communicate with others. For example, when a hawk flies by and screams, mice and other rodents nearby will scurry away.
Some of the sounds used in the soundscapes came from the Macaulay Library at Cornell University, which features the largest archive of animal sounds in the world, with new material constantly uploaded. For example, the Pileated Woodpecker sound, heard as part of the Regional Journey’s Temperate Forest soundscape, was initially recorded locally and uploaded to the Macaulay Library by Dr. Matthew Halley, the museum’s Assistant Curator of Birds. These resources help power Cornell’s Merlin app, which can be used by bird watchers in the field to identify birds by photo and sound.
Listen to Dr. Matthew Halley, the museum’s Assistant Curator of Birds, talk about the soundscapes in the Regional Journey Gallery and what we can learn from the sounds we hear.
Transcript: Regional Journey Soundscapes
Hi. Welcome to the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science Regional Journey Gallery. My name is Matthew Halley, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the soundscapes that we hear today in our gallery.
We’ve got multiple habitats that are found in the mid-Atlantic region, a deciduous forest, temperate forest habitat. We have the Delaware Bay and salt marshes and the cypress swamp, and each of these habitats has a different soundscape.
We hear different animals and different crashing waves or the rustling of the leaves. There’s all sorts of sounds that are happening in nature.
When we go into these habitats and the animals are calling out for different reasons that scientists like to argue about, about whether they’re saying, here I am, here I am, or they’re staking a claim to a certain area and resources, or maybe they’re trying to attract a mate or attract some companions.
But regardless of the reason, these animals have to live in a in a soundscape and they listen to all these different sounds and they react to the sounds in their life, which helps them to survive. And when the hawk flies over and gives its scream, you can be sure that the mice that are under the hawk are scurrying into a safe corner.
So, birds make different kinds of sounds and scientists call them calls or songs. But we don’t have any clear-cut definitions for those words. Some sounds are shorter and less complex, such as when a Blue Jay goes “jay…jay.”
Other songs are a lot more complicated. When the robin is singing, it’s warbling song going on and on. It seems like it doesn’t repeat itself very often.
And then we have the mockingbird, which, you know, can go on for an hour, and we don’t hear anything from the same. You know, it’s constantly coming up with new syllables in its song so that we might think of that as kind of a gradient of complexity in bird vocalizations. And one of the things that some that scientists have figured out is that some vocalizations are learned and other vocalizations seem not to be learned.
So, the Phoebe that makes it’s Phoebe, Phoebe call that will develop normally in a baby Phoebe, without hearing an adult. If it grows up in an acoustic isolation chamber, that little Phoebe is still going to say “Phoebe, Phoebe.”
And it’s going to be indistinguishable from a baby Phoebe that grew up in a forest full of Phoebes.
But some other songs: here we’ve got the wood thrush singing in the soundscape, the wood thrush, that flute section in the middle of its song. When you raise a wood thrush in isolation that’s middle, part of the song gets kind of flat and unmusical. And so, it seems that the wood thrush needs to grow up around other wood thrushes to have a tutor to learn how to sing its song correctly.
And when I say correctly, I mean just to sing to produce a normal song that will achieve the functions of the song, whatever they may be, whether it’s territorial defense or attracting a mate. The more your song deviates from the normal, that might have an effect on whether you’re successful surviving or reproducing.
Four rotating soundscapes in the Regional Journey feature many of the birds seen in the exhibits. Listen closely: there’s also a frog, squirrel, and a fishing reel!
In the Alison K. Bradford Global Journey Gallery, soundscapes including a variety of birds, mammals, and insects rotating through the land-based ecosystems.
New species discovered using museum’s online collection data
Introducing Bourciera ovata
In the summer of 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — a team of European scientists began compiling a checklist of known terrestrial and fresh water mollusks of mainland Ecuador. The effort included occurrences recorded in past scientific reports or literature, museum datasets available online, and verified observations from citizen science projects like iNaturalist.
In reviewing our records, one of the scientists, Marijn Roosen of the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam, noticed some unusual records of a unique land snail in the Andes Mountains. Marijn requested more information about the snails and photographs to confirm their identifications. It turned out that some of the specimens from Puyo, Ecuador represented species previously unknown to researchers, including the newly-named Bourciera ovata.
With high resolution photographs of different aspects of the snail’s shell, Marijn was able to describe it as a new species, demonstrating a greater diversity of Ecuadorian land snails and the importance of having museum collection data accessible, as surely there are many more new species to be discovered. The research was published in September in the journal Folia Malacologica.
Roosen, M. and Dorado, C. Revision of the genus Bourciera Pfeiffer, 1852 (Gastropoda: Helicinidae), with the description of six new species from Ecuador and Peru. Folia Malacologica, 30(3), 155–167. https://doi.org/10.12657/folmal.030.018
Taxonomy changes reflected in new specimen organization
The introduction of Bourciera ovata is just one example of how what scientists know about species and their taxonomy continues to develop. While working from home during the pandemic in 2020, Collections Manager Alex Kittle began reorganizing the mollusk collection based on updated information and species names, and later moved the actual specimens to reflect these changes. Information about our entire mollusk collection is now publicly available on the Symbiota portal, InvertEBase. Our collection profile shows 233,603 records are available online, representing 500 families and 15,658 species; 32% are georeferenced to specific locations.
MOTUS detects Lesser Yellowlegs
A bird species that migrates through our area — a Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) — was detected by the Motus Wildlife Tracking System (MOTUS) tower on the museum’s roof, installed by University of Delaware scientists in early 2021 to track movement of Purple Martins (Progne subis).
MOTUS is an international collaborative research network dedicated to tracking the migration of small birds, made possible by radio telemetry towers, which read the transmitter tags carried by birds that fly within about 15 km of the tower. Since our tower was installed, it has logged more than 3,200 readings.
The vast majority of detections are of banded Purple Martins, with some individual birds detected many times. The tower has also detected a few American Kestrels (Falco sparverius).
The tower detected the Lesser Yellowlegs on July 13, 2022. According to Dr. Nicholas Bayly, it had been banded in late April near Cali, Colombia, by researchers associated with Audubon Colombia and Asociación Selva, a non-profit organization supporting research and conservation in the Neotropics (selva.org.co).
After it was banded, the bird flew north and was detected by three towers in Missouri, and one in Michigan, before heading to our area. Five other MOTUS towers in our region also detected the bird, including Longwood Gardens. Dr. Matthew Halley, the museum’s Interim Curator of Birds, says the detection highlights the value of projects like the MOTUS program, which enable scientists all over the world to collaborate on migratory research.
In September 2018, staff from the Delaware Museum of Natural History brought the skull of a juvenile humpback whale, as well as several other pieces of the skeleton, to the museum for exhibit and educational use. The bones were all that remained of a young humpback whale that died at sea and washed ashore in April 2017 at Port Mahon, DE. Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control moved the corpse to coastal state land near Pickering Beach, where it could decompose undisturbed.
When museum staff heard about the whale, they thought it would make an interesting addition to the reimagined museum. Bringing a piece of this size to the museum was a task with equally large challenges, which many of the staff never imagined they would undertake. Starting in mid-2017, museum staff kept an eye on the whale, secured permits, and starting in June 2018 began bringing a portion of the skeleton back to the Museum as new additions to the exhibit collection.
“We are holding the bones in trust for the public,” says Shea. “If we decide in the future not to interpret them or to not do whale programming, then we have to give them back. They go back to NOAA.”
The Logistics of Moving a Whale
Deciding to bring the whale to the museum raised a series of questions. How would the staff move a several hundred pound skull? How would they clean the bones? And how would the bones be exhibited?
Most of the whale’s vertebrae were easy for them to obtain because these bones hadn’t sunk very deep into the sand near Pickering Beach over the course of the year. However, in order to obtain the skull, the staff would need to leverage it out of the sand. How much flesh would still be attached to underside of the skull when they did so was something Shea says they couldn’t predict.
Over the course of many weeks and multiple site visits, the staff developed a plan to move the skull, including wedging pieces of wood under the skull to lift it out of the sand and onto its side. Then, they used a pressure washer powered by a generator to wash the skull’s underside before moving it to a clean location on the beach where it could finish decaying. Chris Hayden, the Museum’s Director of Maintenance and the key architect behind the plan to move the skull, set up a pump system to draw water from the Delaware Bay into a filtration system to supply the pressure washer. Once the skull was free of the sand and clean, it was carried across the beach to a wood palette where the skull sat while waiting to be finally moved to the museum.
At 8 by 11 feet, the skull was too large to fit in an ordinary pickup truck. To bring it the sixty miles to the museum, Hayden and his team moved the skull onto a flat trailer pulled by a truck. On the way north, the team stopped at the Cartanza Grain Elevator to weigh the skull: 280 lbs., not counting the jawbones.
The bones needed to be cleaned and prepared before being used for exhibits, educational programs, or storage within the collections. While museum staff had experience cleaning and treating smaller bones, none of them had worked with a whale skeleton before. “We have learned that whale bones can leak oils for many, many years,” said Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D., the museum’s Director of Collections and Curator of Mollusks. “So we need to do what we can to minimize that.”
To help make these challenges more manageable, the staff decided to only obtain a portion of the skeleton, including the skull, the right jawbone, vertebrae from three different sections of the spine, and several pieces from the flipper. Shea says they chose pieces that could be used for education and what would captivate visitors.
The jawbone and skull were too large to fit in either the freezers or the bug room and were temporarily stored in a shed built specifically to hold the bones. In March 2021, the museum brought in an expert, Dan DenDanto from Whales and Nails, who took both pieces back to his facility in Maine to clean and prepare them for exhibit. Whales and Nails articulates whale skeletons for museums and educational institutions.
Telling a Whale’s Story…and a Delaware Story
Bringing the whale to the museum involved more than just physically transporting it to its new home. Museum staff wanted to tell the whale’s story through exhibits and interpretation.
“My hope is that we can have a story to go with the whale,” says Helen Bilinski, the museum’s Director of Exhibits. The museum’s humpback whale was one of five that washed ashore in Delaware between 2016 and 2017. Understanding how it died is one place for the staff to start in uncovering the whale’s story. Shea says they’ve requested the whale’s autopsy from the Marine Education, Research, and Rehabilitation Institute (MERR), who attended to the whale when it washed ashore.
When NOAA designates an “unusual mortality event,” they organize a group of outside scientists to help NOAA’s Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events research the cause for the event. The Atlantic humpback whale study is still ongoing. Our whale is one of eight in Delaware who died during this UME.
Beyond a closer look at these deaths, Bilinski says the whale can also tell a story of “life happening off the coast of Delaware that few people know about.”
Populations of humpback whales from Maine and Canada pass offshore the entire east coast as they migrate to the West Indies to breed and give birth and back north to feed. However, in a 2002 study published in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, a group of scientists suggested that the Mid-Atlantic could also act as an additional feeding ground for humpback whales.
The museum staff hopes the whale will help them better tell the story of Delaware’s coastal waterways. “The estuary we live on—the Delaware Bay—is a really important estuary,” says Shea. “The land masses we all live on are a third of what the world has to offer. So there’s a lot out there in the oceans we need to be talking about.”
Take a look at the Oceans exhibits, featuring our juvenile humpback whale skull, in the Alison K. Bradford Global Journey Gallery. The whale exhibit is sponsored by M&T Bank.
This is an updated version of an article written by Lindsay Townsend, originally published on the Delaware Museum of Natural History website in October 2018.
How we know what we know:
In the Research Headquarters, sponsored by DuPont, explore stories about scientific research and related projects from our local area and beyond.
Scientists help us better understand the world around us. They conduct research in all kinds of environments: in the field, in the laboratory, and even in the museum’s natural history collections. They observe animals and plants in the air, on the land, and in the water. They conduct experiments and collect data to test their observations. Over time, they draw conclusions based on what they find, helping us make sense of what’s happening on the planet. What we know changes as scientists gather and share new information.
Tucked into the Regional Journey Gallery, the Research Headquarters currently includes stories about the Delaware Shorebird Project and the juvenile humpback whale collected by museum scientists in 2018. Other stories currently on view also include some of the research behind DuPont’s Kalrez® technology, citizen science project Coast Snap by Delaware Sea Grant, and exploring with carnivore ecologist Rae Wynn-Grant, courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection.
On the back end, the stories in the Research Headquarters are installed in a content management system created by digital design studio RLMG. It’s set up so new stories can be uploaded seasonally.
Stories involving museum scientists
A tale of a whale
A juvenile humpback whale died at sea and washed ashore near Port Mahon, Delaware. The whale, one of 34 humpback whales stranded on the East Coast in 2017, presented an opportunity to tell this important story at the Delaware Museum of Nature & Science. But first, museum staff had to determine how to retrieve the 280 lbs. skull from the beach.
Shorebirds on the bay
Each spring millions of horseshoe crabs migrate into Delaware Bay to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. At the same time, nearly half a million shorebirds arrive to rest and refuel on their way to breed on the Arctic Tundra. Their primary food is horseshoe crab eggs. The Delaware Shorebird Project studies the birds and the importance of the bay to their survival. Learn more about the Delaware Shorebird Project.
Stories from our partners
DuPont’s Kalrez® technology
From aerospace and chemical processing to chip manufacturing and oil and gas applications, DuPont™ Kalrez® elastomers are engineered to provide more stability, more resistance, and more effective sealing. Learn more about this technology from DuPont scientists. Learn more about Kalrez®.
Coast Snap by Delaware Sea Grant
To manage coastlines, we need to understand how they behave. Delaware Sea Grant’s CoastSnap is a citizen science program harnessing smartphones and orthophotogrammetry to help scientists learn more about the shoreline. By using CoastSnap, the community becomes an integral part of the science team. Learn more about CoastSnap.
From the IF/THEN® Collection
Carnivore ecologist Rae Wynn-Grant, courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection
Rae Wynn-Grant, Ph.D. might just have the coolest job on the planet. As a carnivore ecologist working for National Geographic, she researches how endangered species are impacted by human interaction. Her work currently focuses on grizzly bears in Montana, but has previously taken her around the world — including to Tanzania and Kenya to study lions. The If/Then Collection is a digital asset library of women STEM innovators. Learn more about the If/Then® Collection.
The Research Headquarters is sponsored by DuPont
Thank you PNC Grow Up Great
For the last decade, museum educators have partnered with PNC Grow Up Great to develop, pilot and present professional development programs for early-childhood educators. Over the last two years, through another generous grant from PNC, we redesigned the Seeing Science Everywhere: Animals and Their Habitats training program and developed and tested a new two-part teacher professional development workshop, Science Up: Earth and Sky.
In fall 2021, Continuing Education Coordinator Lois Lamond presented Science Up: Earth and Sky workshops to 241 early childhood teachers from Wilmington Head Start and Children and Families First, representing all three counties in Delaware. The training incorporated new technology in the PNC Resource Center within the Nature Nook including a short-throw projector, wall-mounted webcam, microphone, and a new surround sound speaker system. The new equipment is also used for virtual programming and meetings, as well as in-person presentations in the Nature Nook.
Part of the grant included developing Earth and Sky activity kits for the schools and Head Start centers to use in their classrooms. Twenty-six kits were created for the Wilmington Head Start and Children and Families First classrooms, with additional kits available for loan to teachers who take the training workshops in the future. Both kits include books and hands-on tools, science experiments, and activities. A highlight of the Earth kit is a collection of Delaware rocks and minerals donated by the Delaware Mineralogical Society. DMS donated 19 sets of rocks for the kits.
In recognition of PNC’s support of the Museum’s education programs and metamorphosis into the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science, the Nature Nook will be renamed the PNC Grow Up Great Nature Nook.
Up on the roof: How flying a kite is part of bird research
Though researchers have studied of bird migration in general, the ability to track the journey of small-bodied birds has remained a mystery for years. Motus Wildlife Tracking System is an international collaborative research network dedicated to tracking the migration of small birds. The tracking of the birds is made possible by radio telemetry towers which read tags from animals passing nearby. Motus is dedicated to involving numerous locations in tracking a wide variety of small animals locally, regionally, and even internationally, describing their research as “the ultimate hands-on community science project.”
The museum is participating in this community project with a radio telemetry tower installed in January 2021 on our roof with the help of graduate student Katie Bird, University of Delaware professor Jeff Buler, Ph.D., community scientist Steve Cotrell, and Ian Stewart of the Delaware Nature Society. The project is funded by the Delaware Audubon Society and Delaware Ornithological Society.
Katie is conducting research in Dr. Buler’s lab at the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology focusing on Purple Martins (Progne subis), and she worked tirelessly to get her equipment ready before the Purple Martins return in April.
Dr. Jean Woods, former curator of birds, helped Katie prepare for their return through regular visits to our roof to perform system updates on our tower. The tower consists of an antenna, a receiver which records the data, and a solar panel which powers the entire thing. The tower can record the compatible tags of any birds that pass by within a range of 10 miles. The radio tags used are solar powered and tiny (0.5 grams), so they can remain on the bird for its entire life and acquire the data without having to recapture the bird. Once the data is recorded, it is automatically made available to researchers. This data is what Katie will use to study the movements of Purple Martins in the early spring as they return to their colonies.
While she awaits the return of the Purple Martins, Katie has collected data in various ways to train the receiver’s algorithm. She previously used a drone to replicate the flight of small birds, but the drone is out of commission. Katie then came up with the idea of using a kite to simulate the flight of a tagged martin. By flying a kite on our roof, Katie collected both GPS and radio data similar to the data the LifeTags will provide to the receiver.
Kite flying, algorithms, and — most importantly — patience are the main ingredients in Katie’s recipe for successful Purple Martin migration research. We will be watching closely for the return of the Purple Martins, and the data our tower collects as they fly through Delaware.