Staff & Student News

Zoology’s Division of Insects is much saddened to report that long-time colleague and friend, John A. Wagner, died at the age of 77 on March 5–6 after a period of illness.  John was part of the Division in various capacities since 1970 (summer Visiting Curator, Research Associate, and Associate) and Biology Subject Specialist in the Museum’s Education Department from 1988–1998.  The core of his professional career was teaching, both formally and informally. He taught biology at area universities and colleges, primarily Kendall College in Evanston (1962–1988; full Professor 1978–1988, chair of Science Division for seven years), also part-time at Northwestern University’s Evening Division (1962–1978), Barat College (Lake Forest, 1984–1987), and lectured at the Chicago Academy of Sciences (1967–1987).  He also conducted environmental impact studies in the Chicago area (1974–1984), ecological survey work at Argonne National Laboratory (1967), and was an active participant in the 2009 Indiana Dunes BioBlitz (see video).

John grew up in the Chicago suburb of Riverside and was interested in natural history from an early age.  He earned his B.A. (1957), M.S. (1959), and Ph.D. (1962) from Northwestern University and his broad training enabled him to teach a core of general biology and, at various times: zoology, botany, entomology, evolution and society, ecology and field biology, environmental science, geology, microbiology, physical geography, and parasitology!  His graduate and later research dealt with beetle ecology and systematics, focusing primarily on tiny beetles in the former family Pselaphidae (short-winged mold beetles), now regarded as a subfamily of rove beetle family Staphylinidae.  John was author (i.e., describer) or co-author of six genera and 23 species of Pselaphinae, and was working on describing additional species before his declining health prevented him from working.  His extensive collecting efforts in the US, Panama, and Costa Rica added thousands of valuable specimens to the Field Museum collection via some 500 bulk samples and resulted in at least eight beetle and one mite species (the type species of a new genus and family) being named after him by colleagues. 

In 1993, John expanded his interest in evolution to doing living-history portrayals of Charles Darwin (see photo), well over 80 in total, including one at The Field Museum in February, 2009 entitled “The evolution of an idea: A visit from Charles Darwin,” in connection with the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth that month.  John did Darwin presentations as part of the Illinois Humanities Council’s “Road Scholars Program” from 1997–2007, he also conducted programs he called “A View from the Field” on the nature of museums.  Long an environmentalist, John was active with the Evanston Environmental Association in the 1970s and 1980s and more recently served on the Board of Directors of the Save the Prairie Society, a volunteer group working with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and Illinois Department of Natural Resources to manage the important Wolf Road Prairie site in Westchester.  John was the President of the Save the Prairie Society from 2007–2008.

Various museum colleagues remember John as a gentle soul, having almost endless good cheer, truly a great educator, a good man who never spoke a bad word of anyone and he really rocked that Darwin role.  The Museum will greatly miss him.   John is survived by his wife Dru and their sons James and Jordan of Brookfield, as well as a son and daughter from his previous marriage.

The Division of Amphibians and Reptiles hosted researchers Matheus Pires and Darlan Feitosa from February 27–March 9, during which time they examined and photographed the Division’s collection of coral snakes.  Pires is a Ph.D. candidate in Zoology under the advisory of Professors Hussam Zaher and Nelson Jorge da Silva Jr. at the Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brasil and Feitosa is a Ph.D. candidate from Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, under advisory of Professors Ana Prudente and Nelson Jorge da Silva Jr.  Pires and Feitosa’s research focuses on the taxonomy of coral snakes (Micrurus, Micruroides and Leptomicrurus).

Research & Publications

The Field Museum and the University of Illinois-Chicago Department of Anthropology co-sponsored the 40th Annual Midwest Conference on Andean and Amazonian Archaeology and Ethnohistory on February 25–26.  The conference brought researchers from around the country to The Field Museum’s James Simpson Theatre where they presented the results of their recent work.  Over the two-day conference, scholars delivered 23 papers and 16 posters.  The conference was well-attended by both local and out-of-town students and faculty.

From March 5–7, Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau (Zoology/Insects) traveled in Shenzhen, China where she participated in the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC13) and gave an invited lecture entitled “Exploring the host-associated microbiome of ant species.”  During this conference participants also visited BGI (formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute), which is the largest genomics sequencing facility in the world. 

Curator Gary Feinman (Anthropology) published an essay, entitled “Science and the Human Sciences: Prehispanic Maya Settlement and History” on the website Publishing Archaeology.   The essay critiques a recent publication in Science (2012), which purports to explain the Classic Maya collapse as a consequence of moderate drought.

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) traveled to Buffalo, NY to give an invited seminar to the Program in Evolutionary Biology in the SUNY University at Buffalo.  Bruce’s seminar was entitled “Sporadic Isolation: the evolution of South American Mammals.”  It abstracted his edited work Bones, Clones and Biomes due to be published in June 2012 by the University of Chicago Press, by way of introducing work on the systematics and biogeography of Neotropical rats and bats accomplished with students Nate Upham (University of Chicago) and Paúl Velazco and Lucia Luna (University of Illinois at Chicago).  He also met with the lab staff of Research Associate Katharina Dittmar, discussed three manuscripts in progress, and was later feted at Duffs, a wings joint so famous that Barack Obama stopped there on his last pass through town.

Resident Graduate Student Dave Clarke (Zoology/Insects) published a monograph entitled A revision of the New Zealand endemic rove beetle genus Agnosthaetus Bernhauer (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae. The paper describes 34 species, including 28 new to science, all of which are restricted to forests and grasslands of New Zealand where they are presumably predators of micro-arthropods.  Being cryptic and tiny (up to 3.5 mm), these elusive beetles are rarely encountered and can only be collected with specialized techniques.  The revised taxonomy and mapping of over 1,100 specimens highlights Agnosthaetus as a potential model taxon for understanding biogeographic patterns within New Zealand.  All species are wingless and thus poor dispersers, and probably because of this the distribution patterns stand out from many other insect groups.  For instance, all species are restricted to one of the main islands of New Zealand (North, South, or Stewart Island) and most species also occupy only relatively small ranges within biogeographic regions traditionally defined by other groups (e.g., plants).  Additionally, regions of New Zealand otherwise characterized by low overall biotic endemism have high numbers of endemic Agnosthaetus species.  Combined with these patterns, Agnosthaetus seems to comprise two species-groups (16 vs. 18 spp.) with most species in each group distributed either east or west of the main axial mountain ranges of the country.  The 118 page monograph provides the first review of Agnosthaetus since description of six species in the early 1900’s, and includes the first comprehensive larval description for the subfamily Euaesthetinae.  To aid identification, end-users are provided with 200 line illustrations, photos, and scanning electron micrographs, as well as a review of useful characters and specimen examination techniques.  The monograph also represents a first step in promoting cybertaxonomy for the systematics of Euaesthetinae by utilizing the DEscriptive Language for TAxonomy (DELTA) system combined with a specimen-level database to largely automate production of the descriptions, key, and lists of specimen data. The project forms part of Dave’s Ph.D. dissertation and was supported by an NSF PEET grant to Associate Curator Margaret Thayer and Curator Emeritus Al Newton (both Zoology/Insects) and a Field Museum Lester Armour Graduate Fellowship.  The monograph was distributed with the December 2011 issue of the Coleopterists Bulletin and can be downloaded here.

On March 3, the 2012 Second City Anthropology Graduate Student Conference was held at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Graduate Research Assistant and Ph.D. candidate Danielle Riebe (Anthropology/University of Illinois at Chicago) helped to organize the event, which was in part sponsored by the Museum’s Anthropology Department.

During the conference Danielle presented a paper entitled “Pots Don’t Equal People, or Do They?”  The paper focused on the theoretical concept of boundaries and how it can be investigated in the prehistoric past.  Through the use of The Field Museum’s Elemental Analysis Lab, Danielle has been analyzing Late Neolithic ceramics from the Great Hungarian Plain in an attempt to model regional interactions through ceramic trade.  The preliminary research was funded in part by an NSF-IRES grant, the Women’s Board “Field of Dreams” Program, and the Anthropology Collections Fund.

Fieldwork & Collections

Public Education & Media Coverage

On February 22, Collection Manager Alan Resetar (Zoology/Amphibians and Reptiles) conducted a Chicago Wilderness Calling Frog Survey Workshop for beginning and experienced monitors living in northwest Indiana at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center in Chesterton, IN.  Fifty-six people attended the workshop.  The Calling Frog Survey is part of an amphibian biodiversity recovery plan.