Author Archives: Sternberg Museum

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Adventures on the Nature Trails!


The pond is full of wildlife in the spring and summer, including birds, insects, fish, frogs, and even turtles!

The first signs of spring are in the air, and that means the Howard Reynolds Nature Trails are stirring back to life. The nature trails are a great place to come relax, let the kids explore (and burn some energy), and get some fresh air. As we get further into spring and summer, all kinds of plants and animals will begin to arrive, emerge, and become active. From the gorgeous flowers to the birds, bugs, and lizards, the nature trails at the Sternberg Museum are a great place to spend some time outside as the weather warms up!


A stick insect found on the nature trails

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Exquisite Miniatures

Nov 25, 2015 through May 31, 2016

Wes and Rachelle Siegrist are a husband and wife team who capture the attention of viewers not with outstretched canvas but with miniature paintings so exquisitely crafted that they are often mistaken for tiny photographs. Their tiny treasures, as collectors often refer to them, typically measure less than nine square inches and appear even more detailed when viewed under magnification! Consequently, the Siegrists enjoy a dimension of cheap Cialis 20mg that few painters of standard easel-size paintings enjoy. The artists engage and draw their viewers ever closer to the point where they often become lost within the miniature world. Their compositions reflect broad and diverse encounters with nature and often stress biodiversity and the ecology of humans as well as wildlife.


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Museum Volunteer Opportunitites

The Sternberg Museum of Natural History offers many exciting and unique volunteer opportunities for members of our community.  Current volunteer possibilities include: Education assistants and on call tour guides, exhibits and archival work, and light administrative work.
The museum volunteer program is open to all interested individuals, retirees, working persons, or students. The only requirement is that volunteers must be at least 16 years of age. Younger volunteers may be considered on a case-by-case basis, but must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Our volunteers come to us with a diversity of skills and interest. Whether you have an interest in natural history or just enjoy working with people, there are numerous opportunities to expand your horizons. Experience is not required. We will ensure that you have the training and support needed.
Contact Museum Outreach Coordinator, Ian Trevethan at (785) 639-4738 or email for more information.


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Virtual Quilt Exhibition

CLICK HERE to be redirected to the quilt show page

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This exhibition explores the science and sensation of the Galápagos—the “cradle of evolutionary biology.” This remote archipelago inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, serves as living laboratory for ongoing scientific research, and became the very first UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Sternberg Museum hosts the North American premiere of a new exhibit developed by the Zoological Museum, University of Zurich, Switzerland. Opening Fall 2016.

Visit the Galápagos Islands

Once you’ve seen the exhibit, go see the Galápagos Islands themselves. Join our special 10-day eco-travel adventure. You’ll hike, bike, kayak & snorkel your way to buy drugs from Canadian pharmacy on, visiting each of the 4 inhabited islands. Stay in quaint hotels and dine in local restaurants off the beaten path. Climb an active volcano, explore an ancient lava tunnel and learn about the delicate environment from an authorized Naturalist Guide. View unforgettable landscapes and enjoy many up-close encounters with diverse wildlife. Departing in Spring 2017.

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Denizens: Wildlife of the Western Frontier

The exhibit of 62 artworks presents the spectrum of 62 artworks of indigenous wildlife which graced the nineteenth century American West. These derivative original engravings were published in Harper’s Weekly, The Illustrated London News, The Aldine, and other historical sources.  The art forms include copper plate engravings, wood block engravings, and chromolithographs by artists including Frederic Remington, William de la Montagne Cary, John James Audubon, Alfred Jacob Miller, and Robert Woodville.

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2015 Summer Programs

Click on the image for a list of our summer programs

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"Bringing Fossils to Life" – New Permanent Exhibit

Our newest permanent exhibit is open! Meet our Mudskippers, and learn about how some of today’s living organisms are similar to their fossil ancestors.


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Dr. Joe Thomasson Provides Professionals with Skills to Identify More Plants


What do two Environmental Specialists with the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas near Topeka, KS, a Regulatory Specialist with the U.S Corp of Engineers at El Dorado Lake, KS, an Environmental Planner III from HNTB Corporation in Kansas City, an Environmental Technician from the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation at Mayetta, KS, a Water Quality Specialist with the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma from Shawnee, OK, and an independent ecological consultant from Santa Fe, NM with a PhD in ecology all have in common in meeting recently for four days with Dr. Joseph R. Thomasson at the Sternberg Museum?  It turns out that all seven of these folks, whose professional job activities at some point require knowing how to identify plants in various types of habitats, attended a Plant Identification course taught from August 19-22 by Dr. Thomasson Curator of the Elam Bartholomew Herbarium at the Sternberg.  The course is one of a large number of courses offered nationwide annually by Wetland Training Institute (WTI), Glenwood, NM, and are taught by well know experts recruited and hired by WTI to teach the courses.  Courses cover a variety of subjects, primarily related to wetlands, such as wetlands delineation, wetlands restoration, wetlands law, hydric soil identification, plant identification, etc.  They are regularly attended by a wide cross section of professionals working for local to international, private companies, federal and state agencies, and private consultants.  Information learned in the WTI courses is applied by professionals in their work associated with wetlands, water quality, environmental studies, endangered plant surveys, road development and many other areas.

Using the facilities of the Elam Bartholomew Museum and Sternberg Museum of Natural History and a number of field trips to local wetlands, Dr. Thomasson began providing the participants with the academic background and skills necessary to help enhance their abilities to identify a wide variety of native plants both in the field and laboratory.  Although all of the participants had graduated with biological/environmental degrees from high quality academic institutions (including one with a PhD in plant ecology from a Colorado institution), all had in common significant deficiencies in their plant identification abilities.  The reasons for these deficiencies were various, but from discussions with participants it was clear that a common theme among them was that the institutions and programs from which they received their degrees simply did not sufficiently value or appreciate the critical need for a variety of courses and faculty whose technical academic training was in specific areas of plant identification.  Thus, for example, while institutions in the grasslands may have faculty, say, specifically trained about birds (an ornithologist) or fish (ichthyologist), and regularly offer the associated courses (ornithology, ichthyology), they rarely have faculty specifically trained in, say, grasses (i.e., an agrostologist) nor regularly offer a specific course on grass taxonomy (agrostology). Because participants’ original degree granting institutions did not provide and/or require various, specific plant identification courses (e.g., plant taxonomy, agrostology, dendrology, etc.) during their academic training, they are now returning at considerable expense to their employers to attend Dr. Thomasson’s course to learn the details and essentials of plant identification. Two of the attendees had also taken Dr. Thomasson’s June 2014 course on grass identification that had been at the Sternberg.  While an emphasis during the current Plant Identification course was directed towards plants associated with wetlands, information given the participants will allow them to begin identifying plants from any environmental setting.

Day one of the course began with a trip to a 100-300 yard wide fringe wetland that has developed in the upper reaches of Hell Creek Cove at the east end of Lake Wilson.  Although the drought in Kansas has been detrimental to plants in many local habitats, it has actually resulted in the development of a spectacularly diverse community of wetland plants on sandy bars and mudflats along the margins of the cove.  Much of the lush, banded, green appearance of the wetland is due to graminoid plants (e.g., grasses, sedges, bulrushes, etc.), but during the cooler morning hours of the fieldtrip one particular plant, creeping water primrose, painted a bright yellow band along at the waters edge where lake waters lapped onto the mudflats.  Other flowering plants like arrowhead provided splashes of white, and distinctive, symmetrical, yellowish-green circles of dwarf spikesedge, Eleocharis parvula, 1-4 ft in diameter and barely 1-2 inches tall,  dotted the open mudflats.  Back at the Sternberg in the afternoon participants used herbarium microscopes to dissect plants found at the fieldtrip site and to learn plant and flower terminology before using technical books like the Great Plains Flora to identify them to species (e.g., creeping water primrose is Ludwigia peploides).  Identifying plants to the species level is essential and critical for the technical reports and surveys associated with participants’ work, where a common (i.e., creeping water primrose) or general (e.g., a creeping aquatic herb) name is not acceptable.

Day two found participants at an area encompassing a fen and freshwater emergent wetland several miles northwest of Hays.  A fen is characterized by an area of water that at the top is covered by a thick layer of vegetation, in this case 6-8 inches or so of reed grass (Phalaris arundinacea).  This results in the development of a wetland that would be very much like a swimming pool with a mattress on top of it.  Fed by an Ogallala spring as well as runoff, the fen portion of this wetland near Hays is rare in Kansas, and undoubtedly the only one known in western Kansas.  When participants walked on it they experienced  a “quaking” feeling much like walking on a waterbed, and for obvious reasons they were advised by Dr. Thomasson not to jump up and down lest they fall through the top layer of reed grass into the water below!  Participants learned a wide variety of plant species at the site, many different from the Wilson Lake site, and were also treated to a snack of ripe, sweet, American plums (Prunus americana) growing at the edge of the wetland.  Later in the lab participants, using microscopes and technical keys, identified a ground cherry, Physalis longifolia, and learned the technical differences of and between several sedges, a critical graminoid group found abundantly in almost all wetlands.  Finally during the day Dr. Thomasson gave participants a tour of all of the collections at the Sternberg, and they were uniformly impressed with the variety, quality, and size of the collections (the drawers of butterflies were a special hit).

Day three started with a trip to Cheyenne Bottoms, a large emergent wetlands characterized by plants that are generally tolerant of periods when the wetlands are alternately either dry or saturated.   During the first trip Dr. Thomasson took to Cheyenne Bottoms with a WTI plant identification class in August 2012 all of the area was completely dry, whereas this August’s class participants saw a wetlands with abundant water throughout.  Unlike in 2012 when much visible wildlife was absent, during the current visit participants were treated to seeing many noisy and/or colorful birds (e.g, cattle egrets, great blue herons, etc.) in both the skies and wetlands.  No rattlesnakes were encountered by participants as had not been the case in June when at one stop we nearly stepped on one next to the van!    While Cheyenne Bottoms is best known by the public for the wide variety of waterfowl that use it, especially during their annual migration, Dr. Thomasson pointed out that such wetlands, and in fact all wetlands, are actually defined legally and technically by the plants (such as burhead, an obligate aquatic or OBL), hydrology, and types of soils at the site, not by any of the wildlife species in spite of their beauty and importance in wetlands.  Participants spent most of the day at several stops around the Bottoms learning the specific characteristics of many plants necessary for identification and their importance to wildlife at the area.  Participants learned that Cheyenne Bottoms, or any other wetland or other non-wetland habitat, simply cannot be understood and managed without knowing the specific plants growing there.  Later in the afternoon participants returned to the lab at Sternberg where they examined the technical, morphological features of a number of grasses and sedges seen at the Bottoms.

The last day class began with the dissection and identification of grasses with the Great Plains Flora, and then the group headed to a salt marsh northeast of Gorham, KS that has developed from upwelling, artesian salt water springs with their origins in Cretaceous strata.  Unfortunately the group had barely arrived out on the center of the marsh when thunder, lightening, and approaching dark clouds required a quick retreat to the safety of the vehicles.  The group barely arrived back at the main road when it began to rain so heavily that a return to the Sternberg resulted.  In spite of the weather, participants did get to experience the ”mucky” somewhat desolate nature of this salt marsh dominated by saltgrass, Distichlis spicata, as well as lots of mosquitoes during the short visit at the site.  The final day ended with looking at and learning the morphological features and  complexities of saltmarsh aster, Symphotrichum subulatum, and the family of plants (Asteraceae) to which it belongs.

In summary, the 2014 Plant Identification class was a great success, especially as judged by the concluding, very positive comments of the participants about how much they had learned, but also as indicated by the fact that at least two participants indicated an intention to return for a graminoid class already scheduled by Dr. Thomasson and WTI for next June, again at the Sternberg. Without doubt the success of the class was made possible by the excellent facilities available at the Elam Bartholomew Herbarium and Sternberg Museum and their associated staff, especially Reese Barrick, Curtis Schmidt and Amy Klien.  Also contributing significantly was herbarium equipment made possible in part by a wonderful estate bequest from “Happy” Dr. Howard C. Reynolds, a remarkable plant taxonomist, teacher and former faculty member at FHSU and curator at the Elam Bartholomew and also by donations from the descendants of Elam Bartholomew, original founder of the herbarium at the museum.          

Click here to read another article by Dr. Joe Thomasson, “Identifying and Keying Grasses, Sedges and Rushes.”

BySternberg Museum

Identifying and Keying Grasses, Sedges and Rushes

Dr. J. R. Thomasson, Curator Emeritus of the Elam Bartholomew Herbarium at the Sternberg Museum, recently completed another very successful class on plant identification using the facilities at the Sternberg Museum and visits to four local wetlands.  The class, “Identifying and Keying Grasses, Sedges and Rushes” (collectively called graminoids), was held from June 3-6, and participants included a hydrologist from the USDA Forest Service in Rapid City, South Dakota, two environmental specialists from the Kickapoo Tribe Environmental Office in Horton, KS, an environmental engineer from Kleinfelder Inc. in Littleton, CO, and an entomologist and environmental specialist from Felsburg Holt & Ullevig in Lincoln, NE.  These professionals attended the class in order to acquire or strengthen their abilities in the field and laboratory to be able to accurately understand and identify graminoids, the primary and undoubtedly most important group of plants inhabiting the grasslands and wetlands of central North America and elsewhere.  Many of the environmental projects these class participants conduct for their companies and agencies in the “real world”, as one class participant put it, “seek to find ways of preserving our natural heritage that are compatible with continued human development.”  Increasingly many academic programs in university biology departments lack faculty whose core academic training is in plant identification, and especially in graminoids.  As a result, undergraduate and graduate students often receive inadequate background on identification of these critical plants during their academic training.  To help correct this deficiency courses like that taught by Dr. Thomasson are offered and sponsored by private companies, in this case Wetlands Training Institute of Glenwood, NM, who also advertise the courses and recruit for participants and qualified faculty to teach them nationwide.

 During the graminoid course field visits were made to four wetlands in the central Kansas area including a unique and rare, Ogallala spring-fed, fen in Ellis County that was the subject of two of Dr. Thomasson’s master’s students, The Haberer salt water marsh on the Saline River, fringe wetlands around Wilson Lake, and the emergent freshwater marsh at Cheyenne Bottoms. At each locality participants were provided with a basic understanding of the nature of the wetlands and then Dr. Thomasson led them through the site identifying primarily the grasses, sedges and rushes found growing there.  At one locality at WilsonLake a sedge, Carex amphibola, was observed by the class that Dr. Thomasson indicated he had never observed during any of his many previous visits to the site.  In addition to plants, students also encountered other unique “critters” at the field sites including an occasional tick, a massasauga rattlesnake at Cheyenne Bottoms, and hordes of deer flies at the Haberer marsh.

In the laboratory at the Sternberg participants were provided with lectures and handouts describing the basics and specifics of the morphological features and literature used in the identification of graminoids.  Species of graminoids used included many of those encountered at field sites, and Dr. Thomasson provided a CD of PDFs of color images of many of the species seen and dissected during the class.  Books such as Flora of the Great Plains and Field Guide to Sedge Species of the Rocky Mountain Region were also used by the participants to key and identify both known and unknown graminoids.

This is the third year and fourth class involving some aspect of plant identification that Dr. Thomasson has offered through Wetlands Training Institute at Cheyenne Bottoms Education Center and the Sternberg Museum.  All of the participants have indicated that they have learned a lot during the courses and that such courses are a valuable resource for those needing to identify plants especially in the grassland and wetland ecosystems. An additional course on non-graminoid plant identification will be taught by Dr. Thomasson at the Sternberg August 19-22, 2014 and courses for 2015 are in the planning.