Nature museum studying past for a better future

CHICAGO (WLS) -- At the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum this week they are studying the past so we have a better future.

A Merlin Falcon from 1834, common brown moths collected for more than 100 years, a Peregrin Falcon from 1934. They are all part of the Chicago Academy of Science's vast gathering of specimens from the world around us.

The academy at Clark and Armitage was founded in 1857 and 15 years ago it gave birth to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Musuem in Lincoln Park. This week, Founders Week, they have opened their vaults to give us a peek into the past.

"These specimens are literal snapshots in time," said curator Steve Sullivan. "They contain information from the 1800s that helps us understand vividly what the world was like back then."

Scientists here and around the world share these specimens and their findings, and it's because of this mysteries are solved. Like why were eagles and falcons disappearing in the 1960s. It was because of the pesticide DDT.

"These older specimens have significantly stronger and more molecularly complex eggshells than were the ones that were exposed to DDT," Sullivan said. "DDT causes weak eggshells that break when mommy sits on them to incubate them."

Sullivan likes to ask visitors here, "When was the last time you were out driving and lots of moths splattered on your windshield?" A long time ago, right? That's because moths are disappearing.

That's because we are killing them with pesticides but by doing that we are disrupting the food chain for birds.

"If we spread too many pesticides and kill the moths we have then starved our backyard birds to death," Sullivan said.

Sullivan will be at the museum all day Thursday answering visitors' questions. Just try to stump him.

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