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Person in a wooded forest

Let your inner scientist out(side)!

biology, earth scienceJohn Gordon, Content DeveloperJun 5, 2020

Here’s your challenge: we want all you collectors, scientists (amateur and professional), and nature lovers to get outside and share your natural discoveries with us on social media! Upload pictures (or drawings!) of your finds to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Tag the Science Museum of Minnesota and use the hashtags #MyCollectorsCorner and #ShareYourDiscovery!

Let your inner scientist outside!

It’s somehow summer already! The days are long, it’s sunny and hot, and summer is in full swing—animals are active and plants are growing!

But...if you’re like me, you have started to become one with your computer. Does that mean I now have a sleek exterior and superhuman cognitive abilities? No. It means that, like my computer, I constantly make a heavy breathing sound and frequently fall asleep for no reason. So it’s time to get outside and do some science!

At the Science Museum, one of our favorite ways of encouraging people to get out and explore the world is the Collectors’ Corner. If you’re not already familiar with it, the Collectors’ Corner is a free stand staffed by helpful community science enthusiasts where you can bring natural objects into the museum, tell us about them (this is key—the more you know, the bigger the reward), and then trade them for points. You can use your points to purchase new treasures, from agates to shark teeth to fossilized trilobites.

Unfortunately, the Science Museum is temporarily closed to the public, and the Collectors’ Corner is closed with it. The museum and the Collectors’ Corner will be back eventually, but in the meantime we’re experimenting with ways to allow collectors to trade online!

Have you discovered something rare? Fascinating? Beautiful? Gross? Share it with our online community, and get a head start on the new, digital Collectors’ Corner! When the new online Corner is up and running, the Science Museum will have special rewards for everyone who helped start it up with #MyCollectorsCorner.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Be safe! Keep a safe social distance from others, avoid trespassing, and if being outside your home feels dangerous, wait for a different day. (Many scientists can only do their research at certain times or seasons!)

  • If your discovery is alive, be gentle with it, and try to leave it in its natural habitat! Take some photos and record observations, and then let it be.

  • If your discovery is dead (or was never alive), make sure it’s clean, safe, and that it doesn’t belong to someone else before adding it to your collection.

  • Try to get a close, clear photo in bright light! If you can’t do that, or if you just want to try something different, you can sketch or paint your discovery. (Scientists often create detailed drawings of their subjects!)

  • It’s not legal to collect some objects, even if they aren’t private property. At the Collectors’ Corner in the museum, we don’t accept bird specimens—feathers, bones, eggs, nests, et cetera—because it’s against the law to collect parts of some birds. If you’re unsure if it’s ok to collect something, just snap a photo on the spot instead.

  • Try to include some information about your discovery when you share it! What’s it called? Where did you find it? What does it do? What does it feel like or smell like? When did you find it? (Scientists collect as much information as they can!)

  • Remember to tag us and use #MyCollectorsCorner and #ShareYourDiscovery when you post.

  • Finally, it’s a great time of year to get outside, but if you don’t have access to a natural area, or if you don’t feel safe leaving your home right now, remember that nature really is everywhere! Look closely, and I bet you’ll find some great natural discoveries. For example . . .

In my alley, I found a maple leaf covered in weird growths.

I did some online research, and these bumps are called galls. They’re probably caused by tiny insects, or mites, feeding on the leaves. The mites release a chemical that encourages the leaf to form these bumps, which eventually grow over the mites. The mites keep feeding inside the gall until they lay eggs and die. The eggs hatch, the baby mites feed in the gall, and then they crawl out and spend the winter in the tree’s bark. If I had a microscope and a small knife, it might be cool to cut the galls open and look closely at what’s inside!

And here’s a baby milkweed plant I found growing in my yard. I put a piece of white paper behind it to help it show up in the photo.

I didn’t pull this lil milkweed out for my collection because I want it to grow big and healthy! Monarch butterflies (the big black and orange butterflies you see in the summer) need milkweed to live. The butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and the stripey little caterpillars that hatch from those eggs only eat milkweed. Milkweed’s sticky white sap (it looks a little like milk, hence the name!) is slightly poisonous. It won’t hurt you (it just tastes bad) but any animal that eats too much of it could get a little sick. But monarchs have evolved to resist the poison, and any animal that tries to eat a monarch caterpillar will get a nasty taste of that stored up milkweed poison!

I also went down into my basement to look for natural objects. Unfortunately, the centipedes I was hoping to capture were asleep, hidden away and curled up all cute (Nothing cuter than a house centipede, right?) Instead, I found this sheep skull my brother-in-law gave me.

This object probably teaches us more about brothers-in-law than it does about sheep, but I photographed it next to my ruler to help show how big it is. If you don’t have a ruler handy, try photographing your object next to a familiar object to show its scale—you could use a pencil, a coin, a soda can, or anything with a consistent size.

If you look, you can find natural objects anywhere!

So get out there, have fun, be safe, and be scientists!

Want to join other amateur scientists and help researchers across the world or in your neighborhood? Learn more about community science.