Ribes cereum “Wax Currant” Grossulariaceae

Missoula, MT
July 19, 2015
Robert Niese

Apparently the berries of the Wax Currant are not very palatable. In fact, its young leaves and flowers are a much more prized trailside treat than its fruits! These little berries will retain their characteristically long, shriveled flowers to maturity when they start to turn red. Perhaps I’ll collect some for a wildberry jam later this summer.

Rauner: Don’t Close the Illinois State Museums -- seriously.

Hey, so, taking a break from my vacation because this can’t wait:

In order to save the state some money, Governor Bruce Rauner of Illinois has proposed to axe the Illinois State Museums; 6 institutions which represent the natural history, art, and culture of our state. This would permanently close the exhibits and neglect more than the 13.5 million accessioned objects in collections.

For one, this is not at all a wise financial move: out of the $4 billion shortfall, the $6.29 million operating budget of the museum systems accounts for about 0.15% of the total budget - and the negative implications would far exceed that drop in the budget, reflected in significant declines in tourism, education, and access to research and collections.

Closing a natural history museum (or any collections-based institution) is not as simple as shutting the door and walking away. Our state has far-reaching legal and moral obligations to maintain and use those objects and specimens entrusted to us in perpetuity. Rauner clearly does not understand the severe consequences in his want to shave a little off the top – it’ll come at the cost of the history and physical knowledge of this state. The research conducted from the ISM systems impacts communities all around the U.S.. We ought to remember the borders of our state are political, not geological. If the closure goes ahead and we shutter our public museums, it could set a precedent for how local legislatures regard other state museums – and that would be catastrophic.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • If you’re in Illinois or around Springfield, attend the public hearing next Monday, July 13th, and stand in opposition of the closures.
  • Submit public comments to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. You ought to do this before the July 13th hearing, but submissions are valid until July 23rd. 
    • A SUGGESTED FORMAT (you can adapt as needed) for your email
      (or letter to mail):
      The Honorable Bruce Rauner, Governor
      State of Illinois
      207 State House
      Springfield, Illinois 62706

      Dear Governor Rauner,

      As a [SCIENTIST, EDUCATOR, STUDENT, MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC], I am deeply concerned about the proposed closure of the Illinois State Museum System.  The ISM System is an internationally recognized museum with a strong reputation for scientific excellence (active federal research grants, globally recognized staff) and reliable curation of scientific, cultural and historical objects (13.5 million accessioned objects) of state, national and global importance.
      The ISM System has a demonstrated track record of public outreach and education (in 2014, over 40,000 schoolchildren visited the ISM and 2300 teachers were helped), including STEM education, for the citizens of Illinois.  Surely the people of Illinois should not be cut off from so valuable an institution formed for the common good, the preservation of their heritage, and the education of their children for future success in a modern society.  Please consider the societal services provided by this modern, significant, and high visibility museum system, and save the ISM for the people of Illinois.

  • Sign the petition and join more than 8,900 people who support the continued operation of these museums.

Please help me spread the word. This is a time when natural history collections need everyone’s help and public support, regardless if you live in our state. I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,


Crustaceans belong the the subphylum Crustacea, and are members of the invertebrate phylum Arthropoda

Like other arthropods, they have an exoskeleton, which does not grow with them, and which they must moult in order to grow larger. They have two-part legs (other arthropods have one or three-part legs), though the number of legs varies greatly between species.

The commonly-known species of crab, lobster, shrimp, crawfish, and barnacles all belong to the Crustacea subphylum, but they’re not alone - there are more than 61,000 species of Crustacean, and they’ve existed since the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago.

Though most crustaceans are motile and aquatic, there are some that are partially terrestrial, barnacles are sessile (non-moving) as adults, and a few  are parasitic, such as the whale and fish lice, and bizarre tongue-eating louse (Cymothoa exigua).

Nouveau Larousse. Pierre Larousse, 1898.


One of my absolute favorite places in Paris: Deyrolle, a modern day Wunderkammer just behind Musée d'Orsay on the left bank. It was first established in 1831 by Jean-Baptiste Deyrolle from a passion for natural history and entomology and you can visit (and buy everything seen here!) this wonderful shop on 46 rue du Bac in Paris. Some of you may even recognize this place from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011) 

This is a 30-micron thick slice of ureilite meteorite under a microscope with polarized light. The colors reveled show different levels of magnesium and iron in olivine and pyroxene crystals. The shattered appearance reflects how the former asteroid smashed from an impact, the heat from which caused the crystals to fuse back together with the carbon filling in the spaces in between.

Geologists at our Museum of Natural History study them to learn more about the formation of our solar system. 

“There is a lot of information in ureilites,” says geologist Cari Corrigan . “They help us understand what type of materials are out there in the asteroid belt and the kind of activity happening. It’s not as simple as rocks banging into each other―it takes a lot of pressure to turn carbon into diamonds!”

Read more on Smithsonian Science News

Travel back around 400 million years, and you wouldn’t have seen any forests, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything to fill that particular role in nature. Before trees, Earth was covered in “forests” of 20-foot-tall mushrooms. Back in 1859 in Canada, scientists started digging up the fossils of what they believed were ancient tree trunks, but it wasn’t until 2007 that they finally confirmed the “tree” was a fungus. The organism, called Prototaxites, towered up to 24 feet tall and made a landscape that looked more like a Super Mario Bros. level than modern Earth.

And Prototaxites wasn’t just confined to Canada. Fossil hunters have dug up the titanic shrooms all over the world, suggesting that it was probably the biggest life-form on land at a time when animal life was nothing but microbes and worms.

Dog-Sized Scorpions: 6 Ways The Earth Was A Sci-Fi Nightmare