Science Never Stops
Explore highlights from The Academy's scientific research. Make sure to check out the Academy Blog for more stories.
Summer Butterfly Guide
Welcome to summer in the Philadelphia area! As the temperature and humidity soar, so do the butterflies! We present 12 summer butterfly species to watch for in the mid-Atlantic region. Let us know which species you are seeing by posting in the comments or on social media!
Click here to view the full Summer Butterfly Guide.
New Sound Installation Gives Voice to the Schuylkill
An immersive sound installation created by two seasoned artists brings the deep sonic environment of the Schuylkill River watershed to the surface.
The River Feeds Back, a new project commissioned by the Academy, is created by collaborating artists Annea Lockwood, known for her explorations of the rich world of natural acoustic sounds and environments, and Liz Phillips, who combines audio and visual forms with new technologies to create interactive experiences.
Click here to read more about The River Feeds Back on the Academy Blog.
The River Feeds Back is included with general admission. Click here to purchase tickets.
Trapping Lanternflies with Innovation
Drexel’s Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) alumna Emma McKee researched the best way to trap spotted lanternflies and came up with a modification for circle traps that allows an exit strategy for other smaller, beneficial insects.
Click here to learn about McKee's innovative trap and how you can build your own.
The Fish With the Fishy Name
“Mark, do we have any assfish?”
It was not the question I expected when the Academy’s president, Scott Cooper, called upon my department, Ichthyology, for help.
Ichthyologist Mark Sabaj discusses The Fish with the Fishy Name on the Academy Blog.
The Future Ghost Forests of New Jersey
Jakes Landing is a centuries-old access point to Dennis Creek in Cape May, New Jersey, where the forest landscape abruptly drops into a tidal saltwater marsh. Close to the marsh, row after row of dead Atlantic white cedars jut out of the ground like spikes. Just beyond those are swaths of statuesque loblolly pines.
The forest is healthy now, but these trees are in danger. Most trees in the Delaware Estuary region that stand close to salt marshes are at risk of death due to sea-level rise.
Click here to read The Future Ghost Forests of New Jersey on the Academy Blog.
Coyote and Fox Populations on the Rise?
You may have noticed a common theme at the dinner table: Grandpa has spotted the fox in the yard again or perhaps your aunt has heard of a coyote in the local nature preserve. These discussions usually lead to a general wonder of whether wild canine populations are on the rise, if they are a positive or negative influence on the local environment and what their presence might mean for the neighborhood.
The Academy wanted to know these answers, too. So, we reached out to Dane Ward, PhD, assistant teaching professor in Drexel’s Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) department who specializes in urban wildlife ecology, to learn more.
Click here to read Coyote and Fox Populations on the Rise? on the Academy Blog.
Floodplains and Redlines
Three of Drexel University’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) students wanted to make an environmental justice impact right in here in Philadelphia. So, they set out to better understand how historical housing policies and flood hazard zones have unequally effected various communities within our city. The Academy reached out to learn more.
Click here to read Floodplains and Redlines, our Q & A with BEES students Erin Wright, Ivy Steinberg-McElroy, and Sally Harpster.
Plastic-free Philly, Philly’s solution to plastic pollution, is a volunteer effort aimed at reducing single-use plastic water bottles and replacing them with environmentally healthier options, such as drinking tap water and using refillable bottles. By eliminating plastic water bottles, you help keep our waterways clean and beautiful, preserving the health of our environment and our communities for future generations.
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University launched Plastic-free Philly in 2022 — our Water Year — to raise awareness of plastic pollution and clean water. The institution conducts actionable water science that seeks to illuminate the interactions between humans and the environment, especially in aquatic systems. The Academy is a science leader for the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which protects and restores the rivers and streams that supply drinking water to 15 million people.
Click here to learn more about Plastic Free Philly.
New Species of Ancient Fish Discovered Along PA Roadside
During the late part of the Devonian Period (380-to-360 million years old ago), the world was a very different place than today — the climate, physical location and features of the continents have slowly changed with time. Over the past 30 years, paleontologists from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University have studied Devonian-age rock strata, mostly exposed along highway roadcuts, and collected large numbers of fossil fish across what is now Pennsylvania.
Read about the new species of Langlieria on the Academy Blog.
Academy Leads Effort to Map Philly’s Heat and Air Quality
This summer the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University will lead a campaign to map heat and air quality in Philadelphia, working with community scientists so that residents have a stronger voice in the planning and implementation of climate change-preparedness strategies.
Philadelphia was approved as one of just 16 communities across the U.S. and abroad to lead an Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign, a joint initiative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Integrated Heat Health Information System and CAPA Strategies, LLC.
Click here to read the full Academy Leads Effort to Map Philly’s Heat and Air Quality story on the Academy Blog.
The River Feeds Back
The Lenni Lenape call the Schuylkill River the Ganshowahanna, or roaring waters, for its noisy course over rocks and stones, and the Wissahickon Creek the Wisameckhan, or cat-fish stream. In The River Feeds Back, you can traverse these aquatic environments through an immersive sound installation created by artists Annea Lockwood and Liz Phillips.
Recorded at sites along the 135 miles of the Schuylkill River from its headwaters to its mouth, this layered sound map offers glimpses of the river system above and below the water’s surface through a variety of listening portals made of wood, slate and clay pottery. Experience swirling currents, water slipping and rushing over rocks, the underwater lives of aquatic insects and fish, trumpeting geese crashing into water, chirping birds, cheeping frogs, and the long, slow sweeps of toad calls. The River Feeds Back attunes us to the life-giving waterways of the Schuylkill, vital sources of water for Philadelphia.
The River Feeds Back is a companion piece to Lockwood and Phillips’ outdoor installation, Inside the Watershed on the Schuylkill River Trail, in which passersby can experience a live feed from the river as well as a sound composition. Both projects are presented as part of Watershed Moment: How to Get to the River, an art adventure walk (opening August 3, 2022). Both works have been created as part of Water Year 2022, a yearlong celebration and investigation of water designed to inspire a more intimate connection with our local waterways and the vital need to protect them.
Little Organism, Big Impact
Our natural world is made up of incredibly diverse lifeforms that range in all different sizes, from the humongous blue whale and the giant sequoia to the tiny ant and minuscule plankton. So, it should be no surprise that some of Earth’s smallest creatures — such as diatoms — can actually have some of the biggest impacts on our planet.
Click here to read our blogpost about the small, but significant diatom.
New Species Named and Described
Alagoas Screech Owl, photo by Gustavo Malacco
Accelerated climate change and biodiversity loss, both driven by human activities, are threatening nature and people’s lives and livelihoods around the world. According to the International Union for Conservation’s Red List of Threatened Species — a major indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity — least 10,967 species are currently affected, increasing their likelihood of extinction.
That makes the Academy of Natural Sciences’ description of five new species in 2021 all the more critical to understanding the natural world and inspiring everyone to care for it. The newly named birds, insect, fish and fossil fish add to the Academy’s world-renowned scientific research and research collection of more than 19 million animal and plant specimens dating back to the institution’s founding in 1812.
Click here to read about the new species named and described by Academy scientists in 2021.
The Name’s Bondi, Synodus bondi
Scientists at the Academy have a long history of contributing specimens not only to the collections of their primary field of study, but also to other collections throughout the museum. For example, Edward Drinker Cope is best known for his contributions to paleontology, but he was also an early driving force behind the creation of the Academy’s Ichthyology and Herpetology collections.
It remains common today for our researchers to bring back specimens from collecting expeditions for their colleagues in other departments. They may collect some mollusks while gathering fish or pick up some interesting specimens for sale in a market. Every so often their efforts may be rewarded with a new species named in their honor.
This is what happened in 1939 when Ichthyology Curator Henry Weed Fowler described a new species of lizardfish from Jamaica and named it Synodus bondi. The specimens used in the description were collected by an ornithologist from the Academy by the name of James Bond, a name made famous by Ian Flemming when he borrowed the moniker for his spy novels.
Read more on the Academy Blog.
Mystery in the Library
A photo from 1909 sends Academy Archivist Jennifer Vess on a deep dive to explore the women associated with the library.
Click here to read the entire story of the mystery in the library.
Reading the Leaves
The veins in a leaf do more than store water for the plant; even plant leaves preserved as fossils. They can reveal what environmental conditions were like when and where the plant was growing.
Leaf veins are a passion for Zack Quirk, a National Science Foundation fellow and University of Michigan paleobotany PhD candidate, who’s been using the Academy’s Botany Collection to measure the length of veins in plants. He chose the Academy herbarium because of it wide range of specimens collected from around the world. To collect these plants on his own would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.
Click here to continue reading Reading the Leaves on the Academy Blog.
Academy Unscripted is a new series featuring one-on-one conversations with Academy scientists. Explore more episodes of Academy Unscripted.
Episode 1 - Senior Director of Exhibits & Public Spaces Jennifer Sontchi talks with Interim Curator of Fishes Mark Sabaj
Is COVID-19 Affecting Our Water?
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many lifestyle changes around the globe, namely — people are staying at home.
The onset of this extreme, sudden and nearly universal social isolation has prompted our Biogeochemistry Section scientists to ponder what kinds of changes in water quality they might see due to COVID-19.
With the large-scale shift to people working at home and sheltering in place, there will likely be an increase in suburban wastewater effluent. Effluent is an outflowing of water or gas to a natural body of water, from a structure such as a wastewater treatment plant, sewer pipe or industrial outfall.
Will this cause changes in water quality that we will be able to detect over time, as social distancing measures continue to be in effect?
Click here to read the full article on the Academy Blog.
In January 2019, we learned that over 50% of Philadelphia’s recycling was being sent straight to an incinerator in Chester. The problem was part of a larger issue with recycling nationwide — that the market for purchasing recycled goods, with China being the primary buyer, had shifted greatly. In 2018, China decided to no longer accept recycled materials that didn’t meet new stringent rules around contamination and mixed materials. Soon, recycling, which had actually been profitable for Philadelphia, became an expense for the city.
One of the main reasons that much of Philadelphia’s and the United States’ recycling is so expensive to sell is that it is deeply contaminated. You can help address this problem by knowing what you can recycle and how best to clean your recycling. On the Academy Blog, find out the answers to these common questions about recycling in Philly:
- How clean should my recycling be?
- What can and can’t you recycle curbside?
- What can you recycle at a special facility?
- How can you reduce the amount of recycling you create?
- What does yard waste and composting have to do with creating less waste?
- What resources can help me recycle properly in the Philadelphia suburbs?
Click here to read our Recycling 101 blog.
A Real Shocking Discovery
Academy Ichthyologist Mark Sabaj is one of the co-authors on the descriptions of two new species of electric eel.
Scientists have discovered a new species of eel that can discharge up to 860 volts of electricity – significantly more than the 650 volts previously recorded by what had been believed to be the only type of eel in existence… until now.
Mark Sabaj, PhD, interim curator of fishes at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is well-versed in techniques for catching electric eels both with and without getting shocked. He contributed to a large study of electric eels as a member of a multinational team led by Carlos David de Santana, an ichthyologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Sabaj is a co-author on the descriptions of two new species, Electrophorus voltai and Electrophorus varii, published in Nature Communications.
Click here to read the full Q & A with Mark Sabaj on the Academy Blog.
Color Our Collections
Coloring can have many benefits for people of all ages. It can help enhance motor skills and vision, reduce stress and anxiety and improve focus.
Click here to download a PDF coloring book made of images from the Academy's Library and Archives.
In late September, Academy staff scientists and collaborators conducted a mussel survey on the Schuylkill River upstream from Boathouse Row. Their goal was to document the presence or absence of mussels and, in particular, whether there were any Tidewater Mucket (Leptodea ochracea) in this stretch of the river. This survey was the last in a series that was conducted throughout the lower Delaware River watershed.
Click here for details and to see more photos.
Four Ways to Cut Your Carbon
Looking to reduce your personal carbon emissions? There are some big steps you can take. For example, if you need to travel a long distance, you can choose rail or even sailboat — to follow in Greta Thunberg’s wake — rather than flying. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist last week completed a transatlantic journey by racing yacht to attend the United Nations summit meeting on global warming this month. Few of us fly every day, and fewer sail. So how can we do our part to reduce CO2 emissions (which contribute to harmful greenhouse gases largely blamed for driving global warming) in our daily life?
Click here for four ways you can reduce your carbon.
A Relic of Botany History
Dr. Carl Ludwig Willdenow’s Anleitung zum Selbststudium der Botanik: ein Handbuch zu öffentlichen Vorlesungen (Dr. Carl Ludwig Willdenow’s Guide to Self-Study of Botany: A Handbook for Public Lectures) has been added to the Academy's library. Willdenow is a major figure in the field of botany. The book was not previously contained in our vast collection and contains several brilliantly colored plates.
Learn more about the title's addition to the Academy: https://www.anspblog.org/a-relic-of-botany-history/
Time Outdoors: It’s Healthy
Doctors and psychologists have long recognized that spending time in nature leads to a healthier well-being, and a growing field of research aims to better understand and quantify the benefits of spending time in nature. Time spent outdoors is related to lower stress levels, decreased blood pressure, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
So, if the prescription is to spend more time in nature, what’s the dosage? A recent The New York Times article highlights some new findings, namely that researchers have zeroed in on the ideal amount of outdoor time for reaping nature’s maximum health benefits: 120 minutes per week. Two hours in a week doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it can sometimes be difficult to fit that time into our already hectic schedules.
Click here for some easy suggestions for adding 120 minutes of outdoor time to your week.
Where Does Your Water Come From?
The Wissahickon Creek watershed is 64 square miles and covers portions of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania. The Wissahickon is a small but important part of a larger system. It is a tributary of the Schuylkill River, which in turn is the largest tributary of the Delaware River. The whole Delaware River Basin covers 13,500 square miles and provides water for more than 15 million people, including half of New York City’s potable water supply. Do you know the source of your drinking water?
Read more: https://www.anspblog.org/where-does-your-drinking-water-come-from/
Keeping Tabs on the Environment
Summertime means the height of field work season for many Academy scientists. They can be found up and down the Delaware River watershed measuring fish, collecting algae samples, measuring sea level rise due to climate change, testing water for the presence of harmful chemicals and more. Wading in cool streams, hiking bucolic trails, walking through wetlands, and boating to find the fish are all involved. But so are smacking mosquitoes, sweating in waders, battling sun burn, and lugging equipment in heat and humidity. But all in all our scientists agree: it beats sitting in the office!
Learn where our scientists are this summer.
Five Things You Can Do Now to Help the Environment
Did you know that a recycling shipment with as little as 0.5% non-recyclables can be considered unusable and trashed? Are you aware that livestock is a major source of greenhouse gasses and that eating less could reduce your environmental impact? Have you tried adjusting your thermostat one degree to save 10% on your energy use? Learn five things you can do to reduce your footprint on our earth.
Read more: https://www.anspblog.org/what-are-5-things-you-do-to-help-the-environment-in-under-10-minutes/
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