Observing Animals and Nature
Humans are just one species in a vast, interconnected ecosystem. How are different species—plant, human, animal—existing in relation to each other? Today, convene with insects, flora, sea life, and more; reflect on your relationship with other species; and learn about the rich lives of other species. Get up close to butterflies to learn about their beautiful, complex forms and lives, experiment with botanical printmaking to see the elaborate detail of plant structures, and traverse a tactile experience that may help you empathize with insects.
Image courtesy of Facing West Shadows: The Endless End
In the Microcinema
See research in action in these two short films drawn from the Smithsonian Institution’s archives. Both feature research by lepidopterist (butterfly researcher) Bob Silberglied. Following Silberglied’s untimely death in a plane crash at the age of 35, much of his body of work was lost until, 50 years later, biologist Arnaud Martin uncovered and digitized these two important films. New scores have been created by composer Kristina Dutton.
In Rearing Anartia (1976, 10 mins.), Silberglied and entomologist Annette Aiello document field research that occurred in the 1970s at the Barro Colorado Island field station in Panama, where scientists raised hundreds of Anartia fatima and A. amathea butterflies to study how closely related species may interbreed.
Featuring many thousands of butterflies, The Sulphur Butterflies (1971, 13 mins.) documents Silberglied and fellow lepidopterist Chip Taylor’s work in alfalfa fields of southwest Arizona as they studied how the females of two species of Colias butterflies use ultraviolet coloration to recognize males of their own species for mate selection.
By Jiabao Li
Artist Jiabao Li explores how an artist might collaborate with animals and ecosystems from a number of perspectives in three short films. Squid Map (2023, 2 min), offers captive squid the chance to play with and redraw world maps made from sand, reinterpreting human divisions from their own perspective. Chthulucene (2022, 6 min.) uses dance and composition to imagine how humans might better connect to our oceans by observing octopus’ behavior and intelligence. And in Mouse Coach (2023, 1 min.), Li cedes control of her daily exercise routine to Squeeker, her “mouse trainer,” running as many steps herself each day as he does in a special wheel fitted with step-counting sensors.
Jiabao Li's works address climate change, interspecies world sharing, humane technology, and a just, sustainable future. She is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Her lab explores the intersection of art, design, technology, and biology.
With the Explainers
Also known as flower pounding or leaf bashing, tataki zome is the Japanese art of transferring the botanical dyes that naturally occur in flowers and leaves by pressing them onto a fabric surface. Try your hand at this beautiful art form and create your own piece to take home.
With Science from Scientists
How are the different organisms that live along the California coast interconnected? And how do different species directly inform the quality of life for others? Join educators from Science from Scientists for an interactive experience that begins with a zoomed-out view of the California coast and invites you to move in closer to map out the giant web of intersections across life forms and learn about its inhabitants. You’ll start by spinning a wheel to be matched with an organism that you’ll dive into the deep with, tracking its connections across the coastal system.
Science from Scientists’ mission is to teach and inspire the next generation to identify and solve real-world problems by improving STEM literacy. Their educators have advanced STEM degrees and offer curricula to schools and sites for informal learning using state and national frameworks for hands-on inquiry-based lessons.
With Ralph Washington Jr.
What is it that makes us find insects unpleasant? Maybe we’re afraid they might bite or crawl on us, or imagine that they’re slimy and creepy-crawly. What drives these assumptions, and are they even true? Join scientist Ralph Washington, Jr. for a sensory experience that invites you to test your assumptions—and then reflect on them—to get beyond classifying insects as pests and learn to appreciate our planet’s most populous creatures and empathize with their stunning diversity, inherent intelligence, and essential roles across ecosystems.
Ralph Washington, Jr. has an MA in entomology and is a three-time national and international champion of entomological natural history trivia. One of his favorite lessons from studying the lives of small creatures is the reminder that although life can often be hard, at least he isn’t a termite getting paralyzed by a toxic fart.
With Jess Nguyen and Lydia Greer
Get hands-on with paper puppet making while also learning about lost insect species! Inspired by The Endless End, artists Jess Nguyen and Lydia Greer invite you to create and experiment with paper puppets modeled after local species of extinct insects. They’ll dive into the methods of shadow play that they use for performances and filmmaking, and encourage you to reflect on the importance of insects within our local ecosystem.
With Vivian Altmann
Celebrate spring with a science-themed storybook read-aloud followed by a related activity geared toward young children (and their grown-ups). Come hear a story, get hands-on, and learn something new with the Exploratorium’s own Vivian Altmann! This month we’ll tune in and hear stories of sounds and listening, paired with fun, noise-making activities.
With Latifat Apatira
Note: Capacity is limited to 15 people and is first come, first served.
Nature printing is an ancient printmaking technique that uses natural objects to produce images. Before the invention of photography, botanical nature printing was a tool used by physicians, botanists, and naturalists to document exotic and medicinal plants. Join nature print–making artist Latifat Apatira to learn more about this fascinating art form—then, try your hand at making your own prints. No previous art experience is necessary for you to create beautiful life-size botanical artworks. With imagination, curiosity, and creativity, nature printing can be an amazing means of exploring our deep, personal connections to the botanical world.
Latifat Apatira is a Bay Area printmaker, watercolorist, and educator. Guided by her faith and her curiosity about plants, Latifat uses fresh flowers and foliage, ink and watercolor to create flora portraits that weave together art, botany, and history.
With Arnaud Martin and Kristina Dutton
Explore the world of evolutionary biology through two short films that take an up-close look at the fascinating wings of butterflies. With over 180,000 species, butterflies and moths make up 12% of all known species. In Biopixels (2022, 3 min.) light-based microscopy explores the endless biodiversity that can be observed through the color and pattern variation on butterfly wings.
And in Nanoscapes (2022, 3 min.) we zoom in even closer, looking at these wings at magnifications of up to 50,000x. Both films invite reflection on the depth of detail and data that can be observed and understood through butterfly wings, with Nanoscapes offering the deepest dive through colorized electron microscope images of how butterflies actually build these important physical patterns. And, join the film's producers—director and composer Kristina Dutton, and evolutionary biologist Arnaud Martin for a Q&A after the screening.
Arnaud Martin is a gene-nerd and evo-devotee often found daydreaming in the lab about color pattern landscapes and tropical cloud forests. He is dedicated to using genome editing in nontraditional laboratory animals, establishing butterflies and moths as models in developmental biology and genetics. He is an assistant professor at The George Washington University.
Kristina Dutton is a composer, musician, and media artist who specializes in interdisciplinary work. Her compositional focus is in film, dance, and multimedia events.
With Lydia Greer
See the complex ecosystems of our city landscapes reimagined through a handcrafted, multimedia cinema experience. Weaving multiple moving images of Bay Area ecologies, mycorrhizal networks, fire, and water, Facing West Shadows: The Endless End takes the viewer on a journey through cycles of ecological and species extinction. The short film illuminates the disrupted life cycles of native plants and animals, aquatic systems, and fire ecologies as affected by anthropogenic climate change. And it prompts reflection on our roles as animals within this system. It features a score by Kristina Dutton.
Facing West Shadows is a collective of artists, puppeteers, filmmakers, and musicians hybridizing art forms to create magical acts of rebellion as experimental art that is sustainable in the current Gold Rush climate of the Bay Area. Facing West Shadows combines analog shadow theater with original animation, video projection of found footage, and sometimes opera performed live. The principal members are Lydia Greer, artistic director, and Caryl Kientz, theatrical director, in collaboration with artist Ya Wen Chien.