Last year Indiana celebrated its bicentennial and the state museum put together a special exhibit called “Indiana in 200 objects” This was the last weekend of the exhibit, so I headed off today to spend the day at the museum. I had expected something of a linear history of Indiana presented by objects, but they put together a much more creative exhibit by grouping the artifacts according to theme. There was everything from fossils to fuel engines, jars to jackets, stained glass to specimens of taxidermy, and everything in between – all unique objects to persons, places, or events in Indiana history. Today I’ll share some of my favorites of Indiana’s natural history.
I was delighted to see a display of Gene Stratton Porter. She is one of my heroines; being a tireless environmental advocate, an authoress, an accomplished artist, photographer, and naturalist. I hope one day to visit her home and the museum there. One of the most endearing aspects of her personality is that she loved moths. The exhibit displayed this lovely photo of her with some moths and one of her hand colored book-plates from her book Moths of the Limberlost.
Indiana was home to abundant flocks of passenger pigeons, largely thought to be the most numerous bird in America. The flocks were decimated and hunted into oblivion in a matter of a few decades. Indiana’s last bird was shot in 1896 (according to some sources – there’s some discrepancy). This bird was a silent testimony to the destruction that was left behind in the wake of pioneer settlement.
The Whooping Crane has a happier story. They once migrated through the state, but were rare by the late 1800s. In 1941, the worldwide population numbered only 15 individuals. After intensive captive-breeding programs, the cranes once again returned to Indiana in 2001 following an ultra-light aircraft along their historic migratory route. I learned that the aircraft program was discontinued last year, but the birds are still coming through and their populations are more stable.
Long before settlers and passenger pigeons, Indiana was home to much larger creatures. Several gigantic mastodon specimens have been preserved from the Ice Age. This skeleton is over 13,000 years old and was excavated in 1998 on a farm near Fort Wayne. At 6,000 pounds and 9-feet tall, I don’t think he’d make a good house pet.
Indiana has a wealth of fossils. The museum has a magnificent display on permanent exhibit and they recount an exciting and vibrant natural history recorded in stone. In several areas of the state, you can find incredible hoards of fossils, including crinoids, like the one depicted here. Deposited when Indiana was under water, crinoids were aquatic animals that looked more like plants. Their graceful shapes and intricate patterns make them a favorite among collectors.
Rich in caves, minerals, and other geologic treasures, Indiana is heaven for rock hounders. During the Master Naturalist classes I took this past fall, one of my favorite lectures was on Indiana’s rocks and minerals. The instructor brought in beautiful specimens and I had a wonderful time admiring them all. This geode is a beautiful representative of the varied and rich geologic history Indiana has experienced.
As I’ve gotten to know my state better, I’ve been amazed at the variety of ecosystems in this relatively small state. Caves, forests, meadow, wetlands, bogs, rolling hills, and flat plains all can be found here. And so too, can sand dunes. At the northern tip of the state, Lake Michigan boasts of beautiful beaches of sand dunes. It’s a fragile ecosystem, with extensive groves of beech and maple trees that stabilize the older dunes and protect them from erosion. During the early 1900s, the dunes were in danger of destruction and concerned citizens actively worked to protect them. Among the group were several artists that painted the dunes, raising awareness of their beauty and documenting the precious landscape. Frank Dudley spent over 40 years painting his beloved dunes. Due to him and the efforts of many others, the Dunes were designated a State Park in 1925.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief look at the natural history of Indiana. The exhibit did a wonderful job of highlighting the rich heritage of biologic and geologic diversity in our state and the importance of preserving and protecting it. I’ll be sharing more of the exhibit in the next few days. Happy weekend everyone!
Blessings to you,