Beyond the northwoods nook


Beyond the northwoods nook

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

If you live in the secluded northwoods of northern Wisconsin, you know that the earth’s natural habitat here is largely untouched and very well protected compared to most of the United States lands. You also are aware of the vast diversity of species that live here. Mammals, birds, fish, herptiles, plants, and invertebrates. When I moved here from the plains states of the central Midwest, I was shocked that I could see to the bottom of the Namekagon River.


Namekagon River on Hwy. M in Cable, WI

I could see to the bottom of Lake Owen. I could walk two blocks from my desk in the cave and wind up in the middle of an untouched forest. Everything is so natural and pure. There is more habitat available to species than just an agriculturally polluted stream or some narrow buffer strips bordering a row crop field managed solely for pheasant hunting. I had grown accustom to murky and muddy agriculture streams where the second you stick your hand in the water your hand disappears. I had forgotten that naturally clean water existed in the US…until I moved to Cable, WI. Now, living in Cable for most of a year, I have grown accustom to water so clean you can see the stream bed. Air not constantly hazy with dust from farmings operations. Untouched forest surrounding the highways and more diversity of species than I could ever imagine. Living up in the northwoods, I think it’s easy to lose sight of what is really happening to our species diversity in our own country, let alone the whole world. Most notably with insects.

SD stream

South Dakota stream

Insects are often overlooked but represent the largest percent of the world’s organisms. There are about 1 million documented insect species and an estimated 4 million yet to be discovered. This puts insects at representing 40% of all documented species (2.5 million) globally. Unfortunately, insects (and most invertebrates) are in sharp decline and there is reason to be worried about it.

A German study found a drop from 117 butterfly and moth species in 1840 to only 71 species by 2013, a 60% decline since the start of the Industrial Revolution. But declines of invertebrates are hardly limited to Germany. Another recent study has found that invertebrate abundance has shown a 45 percent global decline in the past four decades. Of the remaining species, 42 percent are classified as threatened with extinction. Also, just in the past 10 years, three species of moth have gone extinct in the United Kingdom. These three species only add to the 62 other U.K. moth species that have gone extinct in the 20th century.  And these few examples are only the tip of the iceberg of insect decline. But why does it matter?


Small amount of row crop in western South Dakota

Entomologists, scientists who study insects, are well aware of this pressing issue. But it’s probably easy to slip the minds of most people who get to live in such a rich and specious areas of the country, such as the northwoods, which is FULL of a diversity of insects. It slips mine even! The loss of insect species may be hard to notice or comprehend when living in the middle of the woods, but it is still happening beyond the nook of the northwoods and it still affects each one of us. The threats of insect decline have been studied and compiled by the Zoological Society of London. They have found that these worldwide insect declines are hindering food suppliers of larger animals by limiting pollination of crops. The same crops that are the root of insect decline! Monocultures of row crop, which cover 40 percent of all United States land area, extensively use pesticides to kill insect “pest” species to the specific crop. Unfortunately, these pesticides also are quite detrimental to non-targeted insect species, which is a recent and widespread concern.

Monocultures create “biological deserts”, void of native plants or ponds/wetlands where insects could reproduce. Pesticide use along with increases of crop land, urbanization, and habitat destruction are only adding to the insect declines. With less invertebrate pollinators to help out, human food sources could be in trouble in the near future. But it’s not just humans and pollinators that are suffering, it’s ALL species of insect which has it’s own suite of natural food chain consequences.


Lake on Hwy. M near Lake Namakagon in Cable, WI

People are attracted to the northwoods every year to do partake in incredible birding during migration season. Aerial birds eat insects. Lots of insects. Perched birds eat seeds. Lots of seeds. This 2010 study found that the aerial birds depending on insects to feed themselves and their young have suffered more decline in recent years than the perching birds that depend on seeds. North American has one billion fewer birds than it did 40 years ago. Now, this is not solely due to the declining insect populations, but it’s a large part of the cause. The decline of all insect species not only affects northwoods people’s foods but the economy as well. When growing up in agricultural areas, it becomes normal to not see incredible diversity of species. But the northwoods is a rare and unique place, unlike most of the Midwest. So how can we keep the species diversity of the northwoods intact and use it as a model for other areas of the country that are devastated with agriculture? We try our best to preserve and conserve what we do have.

Final thought: Okay, so species are declining, but what can I do? The loss of species has a lot to do with land use and habitat. What kind of land use do you support? Is there any ways that you can reduce your global footprint though your lifestyle choices? Think about what most of the agriculture is used for. Lake Namakagon is made up of trillions of water drops. Every drop counts to make that lake the way it is. Make your drop count-because it does matter.



What is your ethical obligation?


What is your ethical obligation?

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

What happens when a song bird hits the front window and doesn’t survive? What happens to the dead owl on the side of the road? What about the millions of organisms that die everyday of natural or unintentional human inflicted impact? Lots of people bring dead animals that they find to the Museum. We call these “salvaged” animals since they were not killed specifically for any purpose. It never ceases to surprise me every time a new animal “walks” through the doors. Each person has a story about their collection and I have always wondered what motivates people to bring dead animals to the Museum specifically? So I started asking them.deadbird2.jpg

As a Curator, one has to be comfortable with death and working with dead things. My take on it is that death is a natural part of the life cycle. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Everything that lives eventually dies and those molecules that make up the dead organism are reused by the Earth and thus new life. Discussing the topic of death isn’t the most easy of conversation, but it’s something so intimate and inevitable for each one of us. Everyone has ethics and thoughts about death. People grieve in different ways, if they even grieve at all. Though, thinking about death of our own species is a little different than death of a wild animal.

By talking to people, I have learned that there seems to be a few reasons why they decide to bring in salvaged animals to the Museum.

The first is because they think the Museum can use the animal for the collections. And they are not wrong! Some of the salvaged animals that come into our care undergo taxidermy, cataloging, and are displayed right here in the Museum. Birds make up probably 90% of salvaged animals that come through our doors. Many are very common species that the Museum already has, so we have to be very mindful of accepting them due to space limitations. Our collections room is already quite full of beautiful specimens that not much else can fit! If we don’t need the particular salvaged animal a person brings in, we may not take it. But rest assured, the dead creature will be just as well off if it’s put back into the earth.

The second reason people have told me as to why they bring salvaged animals to the Museum stems from personal emotions. People want to do something for the dead animal they see. They see a dead owl on the side of the road, they feel bad that it died, and they want to do something about it, something for it. So what else is there to do than to bring it to a natural history museum in hopes of giving the animal a “second chance”?  But what fascinates me is the type of specimens that are brought to the Museum. They are all larger animals, mostly birds. So, how is that owl any different than the 22 insects that were killed on the car windshield that same day?


It is intriguing to me the perception of different species to different people. How is an dead owl different that a dead dragonfly? They both ultimately live to fulfill the same purpose. They both live, reproduce, die, and return energy to Earth. Do people bring in dead dragonflies? No. But just what is it about that dead owl that pulls on people’s heartstrings and triggers a reaction? Owls are cute? Fluffy? They have big eyes? Maybe because dragonflies seem so abundant that nobody cares or notices if one dies? But we hardly get a chance to see a living owl in the wild, so when one is found dead maybe it’s a big deal to people compared to a dead dragonfly. Relatively speaking, both species are equally abundant in their respective niches. Whatever the case is, it seems to come down to personal ethics, obligations about species, and emotions…which is a whole other field of science!

Why are collections important?


Why are collections important?

-with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

Every natural history museum has collections. Dead animals. Ancient artifacts. Boxes of rocks. Birds on a stick. Skulls….the list goes on and on. But why? Why do we collect “things”? Why do we create entire careers preserving and taking care of these things?


Natural history museums serve as a ship to house the Earth’s natural history. As humans, I think we are drawn to the knowledge of knowing our past, our natural history, and what’s surrounding us in the environment. We try to understand the evolution of Earth and the creatures on it. How did it all come to be? We want to understand our surroundings past, present, and future. As a Museum, we preserve the natural past for scientific study, present learning, and future comparisons. Each specimen serves as a snapshot of the natural environment in a particular place and time (assuming the proper documentation is available, but that’s a whole other blog itself!). This allows scientists to track changes in population ranges, abundances, and compositions. New species are being described every day. Existing species are going extinct every day. Natural history museums serve as a record and database to compare current observations against, to document impacts of climate change, pesticide use, and other environmental changes.


Unlike a lot of natural history museums that contain millions of specimens, the Cable Natural History Museum has just over 3500 specimens. Since our Museum is relatively small, we do not have the capacity to conduct scientific research. Instead we gear our collections more toward education.

Birds (3345x2499)To share the specimens with people, we create exhibits and outreach programs to teach the natural history of Earth. Collections are invaluable in providing detailed and authentic illustrations of the natural world. Collections provide a base for education to show people about the wonders of the planet so they will understand the value and strive to take care of the Earth. In order to provide these opportunities to the public, the Museum must maintain and take care of the collections.

Regardless of research or education, I like to think of museums as real-life history books. Within the walls of a museum, endless discoveries are waiting to be made. By the staff, the collectors, or the wondering public eye. The past comes to life once again. Each specimen has a story, a place in time, and generates more sparks of human curiosity. We all took history class in high school. It’s required learning. So why not learn and study the history of Earth? It’s where all of our atoms and molecules come from after all!

Welcome to the Cave!



with Kaylee Faltys, Curator

Hello Museum readers! My name is Kaylee Faltys and I am the Curator at the Cable Natural History Museum. I started at this position in January 2017. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Wayne State College in Nebraska and earned my Master’s degree in Biological Sciences from South Dakota State University. I became interested in natural history museums while having the opportunity to work as a student research assistant at Wayne State’s small natural history museum on campus. I spent hours cleaning, cataloging, fixing, and preparing specimens- through the good, the bad, and the stinky and enjoyed every part of it.

Kaylee Faltys

I wanted to be a marine biologist since first grade, but that doesn’t go over too well when growing up in Nebraska. So, I became a freshwater biologist (particularly in aquatic macroinvertebrates) and focused my research around that field. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career until winter break of 2015 while attending graduate school. The light bulb when off while I was standing on my balance board looking out the window at the snow covered street and it just dawned on me that I could actually work as a Curator for natural history museums! I had loved that job in undergraduate school and knew it was the one for me. Only a few years later and with incredible luck, here I am in Cable, WI as a Curator- my dream job.

Since this Curator position is new to the Museum, I want to start writing a little article each week in our weekly newsletter to highlight various aspects natural history, science, and to talk about our collections and collections management here at CNHM. As humans, we are drawn to knowledge of the past. The history and origin of the Earth is particularly fascinating and I want to share that knowledge with all readers. I also believe that collections are an essential part to any natural history museum and I will be discussing aspects of our collections from a Curator’s point of view.

**I should also note that reference to the “Cave”, in the title of this column, is referring to my physical office here at the Museum as it is the only office almost completely underground, cold, and with an abundance of concrete wall space. It’s also a reference to the fact that Museum collections are not in the public’s eye as much other aspects of our Museum. Collections are sort of the underdogs from the cave, and I am privileged to be their voice.       –Kaylee