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Nature Museum Unveils the 'Secret' Lives of Animals at New Exhibit

By Paul Biasco | September 20, 2013 6:42am
 The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's upcoming exhibit "Animal Secrets," will give kids a glimpse into the lives of the animals that live in and around Chicago.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Animal Secrets
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LINCOLN PARK — An upcoming exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum aims to get kids to put down their iPods and iPads in order to discover the "hidden" world of wildlife that surrounds them.

"Animal Secrets," set to open Saturday, will feature displays with a dozen species of living animals that are native to Chicago and its surrounding area. It also will have 30 examples of preserved animals, including a North American porcupine, a short-tailed shrew and a Cooper's hawk.

The museum staff hopes children who attend the exhibit will develop a new found appreciation for nature and a curiosity about the animals that are literally living in their backyards.

"So many people have just, in a very short period of time, lost a feeling of comfort in the outdoors," said Steve Sullivan, curator of urban ecology at the museum. "All of these animals share our neighborhoods."

Some of the live animals that are part of the exhibit include spotted turtles, darter fish, a garter snake and a gray tree frog.

All of the tanks are much lower to the ground than you might find at other museums, a move the museum hopes create some "knee-high naturalists."

"All of this stuff is around you. You just have to slow down long enough and walk away from things that are technical and electronic," said Deborah Lahey, the museum's president and CEO.

The exhibit is split into five areas, which each contain interactive elements geared toward children.

The "trips" are to the stream, the woods, a meadow, a cave and inside a naturalist tent filled with fake skulls of local animals, animal tracks and an oversized microscope.

"People have probably seen pictures of bald eagles, but here's a skull you can touch and you can handle," Sullivan said.

He hopes kids who are checking out a bear skull notice that the animal has molars like a human but also fangs like their dogs.

All of the displays in the exhibit feature written descriptions in both English and Spanish.

"These are experiences that you can't have when you are sitting in front of the TV," Sullivan said. "We want to get the city kids outdoors experiencing things."

Some of the animals on display include:

• Darter fish, which don't have swim bladders and instead walk along the bottom of streams.

• A gray fox, which looks like a red fox, but can climb a tree like a bobcat.

• A sharp-skinned hawk, whose stubby wings mean it can soar through a four-inch hole while hunting in urban forests.

• A Fox squirrel, a jumbo-sized squirrel that is the largest rodent in North America.