Behind the Scenes Around Chicago: The Field Museum

February 18, 2008 8:10:41 AM PST
The Field Museum has more than 25 million objects and specimens, but only about one-percent is on display. The rest of it is locked up. The first stop on this behind-the-scenes tour -- the Bird and Mammal Prep Lab.

"We take recently deceased animals and we transform it into something that will last for the ages and serve the needs of scientists," said Bruce Patterson, curator of mammals.

Dead animals from around the world arrive every week. Staff members and volunteers dissect the birds and sew them back together. They're added to the bird collection - which has more than a half-million birds. Larger carcasses are placed in a special room.

Another Field Museum science lesson- flesh-eating beetles. The caterpillars are what crawl around and eat massive amounts of tissue. They clean the bones. The Field has nearly 200-thousand mammal skeletons...of all sizes. Some bones are bigger in the dinosaur and oversize collection!

"And, anyone, if they think they have a Brachiosaurus....the only way to know it is by comparing it to our type of defines that name," said Bill Simpson, collection manager of fossil vertebrates.

Researches and scientists study the bones and artifacts.

"We share what we learn with the public in our exhibitions...but behind the scenes and the doors, where all the scientists are...there's daily, activity with research," said Scott Demel, Head of Collection Management, Anthropology.

And they're repairing collections. The Field has about 7-thousand Chinese rubbings....that's the largest collection outside of Asia. Debbie Linn and her team mend delicate paper - piece by piece. It's time-consuming. But all this work - that goes on Behind the Scenes - is part of preserving history.

Another science lesson- the fish lab.

"We have more than 1 million specimens, 1000s of species, dating to 1890s," said Demel. "We have extinct species...we have alive species."

Every fish has a story. White Fish once lived in Lake Michigan, but the museum's fish expert says it was overfished, and hasn't been seen in 30 years.

To go behind-the-scenes at the Field Museum, you have to be a museum member. Once a year, members get to look around. This year, the event is on March 26th and 27th. For information, visit