Spencer Klinefelter: Education Coordinator

Spencer Klinefelter, Education Coordinator

Spencer Klinefelter, the newest member of the Museum team, has been teaching summer camps and outdoor education since he was 16.

As the Museum’s Education Assistant, Spencer runs field programs for local elementary schools, develops curricula for classroom kits, and is a leader at Spring Camp. He also helps Earth Stewards Project partnership with Ponderosa High School plant seeds in the Museum’s new Native Plant Demonstration Garden, and other projects across the City.

Edit: We are proud to acknowledge Spencer’s skills as an educator, and have promoted him to the position of Education Coordinator. In this role, Spencer works with teachers to plan their field trips, creates curriculum, and continues to teach programs.

Spencer grew up near Sacramento and attended UC Santa Cruz, graduating in 2016 with a double major in environmental studies and education. He joined the Museum staff part-time in December and will rejoin the team in September once school programs resume. Spencer’s dedication to connecting students with nature extends to his work with Kids in Nature, a local after school program.

“The most rewarding aspect of leading the field programs is watching eyes light up at the sight of a hawk, or hearing that a student can’t wait to return and explore the place further,” Spencer said. “Fostering that curiosity is a gratifying experience.”

April 2018: Appreciating Scientific Illustration

Flowers of California

For thousands of years, illustrators have helped us understand the natural world. They communicate details, concepts and scales that cannot easily be conveyed in words, and they enable us to learn more about a subject through their craft. From molecules to galaxies, extinct critters to the inner layers of mountain ranges, scientific illustration helps us envision the often unobservable. It also often enables us to focus on important details, through the scientific lens, all while captivating us with its beauty.

The first weekend in April, we are proud to open the 30th year of our scientific illustration exhibit, The Art of Nature. It is a wonderful collection embodying the special marriage of art and science. This year, we will feature 65 pieces in a variety of artistic styles, such as watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, acrylic, and mixed media.One of them is “Flora Californica” (above), which is a watercolor and gouache piece by Santa Cruz artist Yvonne Byers.

The exhibit highlights the diversity of nature, depicting insects, plants, birds, mammals, landscapes, and amphibians. Participating artists include members of the California Guild of Natural Science Illustrators as well as students of UC Santa Cruz’s Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History.

Thirty years ago, our scientific illustration exhibit began as a partnership with UCSC’s scientific illustration program. We are thrilled to include UCSC student artists again this year, with the talented students from the Norris Center’s science illustration class. Their pieces focus on California bees and are part of a new illustrated handbook to bees of the Central Coast. This month, we will continue the bee theme with a multimedia science illustration workshop on “Bees of California” on April 14 and our monthly Naturalist Night on “The Buzz About Local Santa Cruz Bees” on April 25, both in collaboration with our Norris Center partners.

I hope you will join us in exploring this year’s The Art of Nature to experience the natural world through an array of artistic perspectives.

See you at the Museum!

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

April 2018: Ward’s Natural Science Establishment

Collection of protective nests and cases

Collection of North American butterfly chrysalids

A natural history museum collection is as much a collection of methods as it is a collection of objects. We learn a lot by looking at these forms of collection, and we benefit from the many local individuals who have contributed their personal materials, their eye for detail, and their passion for the natural world to our museum. Oftentimes our artifacts and specimens connect us to the broader stages of science and history, whether it be our founder Laura Hecox’s correspondence with a Midwestern scientist or the Smithsonian borrowing materials from our ethnographic collections. In our entomology collections, we find specimens that not only represent entomological diversity but also connect us to the history of a natural sciences institution that has played a major role in science education for years: Ward’s Natural Science Establishment.

Ward’s Natural Science Establishment was founded in 1862 by 28 year-old Henry Augustus Ward. Ward was a lifelong student and enthusiast of the natural world, having begun his first collection, a set of geology specimens, at the age of 3. As a young man he took off from the States to travel the globe, gathering specimens all the while. He would even sell fossils he collected to further finance his education in geology. This entrepreneurial spirit served him well, and led to the collection commissions that provided the foundation for Ward’s Natural Science Establishment. Notable collection endeavors include Ward’s stunning fossil, mineral and meteorite display at the 1893 World’s Fair, which was purchased by Marshall Field and donated to what would become the Field Museum in Chicago. During their heydey as a museum’s collections supplier, which lasted through the early 1940s, Ward’s employed many scientists to collect, identify, and prepare their specimens.

While Ward’s was historically known as a premier purveyor of fossils and minerals, their collections products extended into all branches of natural history, including the entomological displays that are this month’s Collections Close-up. Purchased from Ward’s in the 1930s, we’re looking at two displays: “North American Butterfly Chrysalids” includes a chrysalis each of Black Swallowtail, Silver-spotted Skipper, Mourning Cloak, Cabbage, Red Admiral, and Monarch Butterflies. These specimens represent the third stage of the butterfly life cycle, at which point the fully grown caterpillar sheds its exoskeleton to reveal the chrysalis, or pupa, which then hardens to provide a protective shell within which its body will undergo metamorphosis into a butterfly. This stage can last for a few days or up to a year depending on the species.

Our other feature is the display “Protective Nests and Cases made by Insects,” featuring the Orizaba Silkmoth cocoon, Mud Dauber nest, Bagworm bag, Caddisfly case, Mantis egg case, and Acacia Ant with hollowed out thorn. These specimens show greater variance, in that some are cases insects produce whereas others are natural elements insects utilize, and they also show the change in naming, both common and scientific, that can occur as our understandings of insects change: the “orizaba silkworm cocoon, Attacus orizaba” is now referred to as the Orizaba Silkmoth, Rothschildia orizaba.

Alongside their product catalogs, Ward’s also produced bulletins and guides, such as “How to make an insect collection.” Containing a range of information on capturing, breeding, and preparing specimens, the book reflects the company’s overall interest in educating people to do good science: “A job worth doing at all is worth doing well, and a scientific collection of insects cannot be obtained unless certain fundamental methods are followed.” You can find this guide through the Biodiversity Heritage Library repository of digitized biodiversity texts.

Over the years Ward’s Natural Science Establishment has transitioned from primarily serving the collections needs of the museum industry to Ward’s Science, serving the classroom needs of schools and colleges and offering everything from classic educational specimens to AP science activities. Nonetheless, Henry Ward’s passion for engaging natural materials in public displays lives on in museum collections far and wide, from fossils in the Field Museum to chrysalids here in the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

March 2018: Echinoderms


Starting in March, the Museum is premiering a new blog by Collections Specialist Kathleen Aston called Collections Close-Up, which will feature items from our Collections that are rarely, if ever, on display. In addition to featuring the items in our newsletter and on social media, the Museum will display the items in our galleries in a special exhibit that will change each month.

For March, we are taking a closer look at the Museum’s echinoderm or “spiny skinned” animal collections. Phylum Echinodermata consists of more than 6,500 living species that can be divided into five classes, including sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea lilies/feather stars, and brittle stars. They tend to exhibit a characteristic five-sided, radial symmetry, with arms radiating out from a central body disk. Echinoderms have a unique water vascular system which carries liquid throughout their bodies in a series of tubes, and achieves movement through hydraulically driven tube feet. Additionally, echinoderms have mutable connective tissue, which allows their bodies to quickly transition between rigid and pliant states, meaning they can maintain a variety of postures with no muscular effort.

Now, sea stars like the ones you can find in our touch pool belong to the Class Asteroidea, meaning star-like. Here we are taking a closer look at Class Ophiuroidea, whose name comes from the ancient Greek word for serpent. Members of this class are commonly called brittle stars for the fact that their arms, which regenerate, easily break when caught.  Brittle stars are the most abundant echinoderms, and outnumber sea stars both in number of species and number of individuals. They are often found in thick carpets along the ocean floor, where they tend to feed on small organic particles. In comparison, sea stars tend to feed on relatively larger prey such as clams or snails. Though similar looking, brittle stars structurally differ from sea stars in several ways. Perhaps the easiest distinguishing feature is that while the arms and body of sea stars tend to merge gradually into one another, the long and snake-like arms of brittle stars are distinctly off-set from the disk of the body.

One representative of class Ophiuroidea in our collections is this individual Amphiodia occidentalis (above right), which was collected in Pacific Grove in 1939. First described in the 1860s, this species of long-armed brittle star clearly shows the snaky and sinuous arms attaching to a distinct body disk. As this species has been observed on the Central Coast to avoid areas with wastewater, it can be used as a bioindicator for water quality.

But Class Ophiuroidea has more to offer: basket stars. In basket stars, like this Gorgonocephalus eucnemis (above left),  the creature’s five arms are branched into smaller and smaller subdivisions that give the impression of a tangled basket or nest. Once prey is trapped in these branches, it is immobilized by a secretion of mucus and slowly coiled by the branches to the basket star’s mouth. Basket stars are cold-water creatures, and are found in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans as well as the deep-sea worldwide.

In museum collections, echinoderms are generally preserved as dry specimens when they are going to be studied for skeletal examination. Wet specimens, or preservation in alcohol-based fluids, are preferred for the study of soft tissue, but are also more generally versatile. Modern methods of collecting and preserving echinoderms encourage video documentation prior to preservation, to better capture information regarding behaviors like locomotion and feeding.

March 2018: Investing in Our Collections

Collection materials on a desk

During the past three years, we have been working hard to enrich, expand and diversify our education programs and exhibits, as well as improve our overall visitor experience and deepen our connections with Members.

We are also re-investing in the management of our collections, which form the foundation of our 113-year-old institution. The Museum hired Collections Specialist Kathleen Aston exactly one year ago to build on the organization’s goal of making our wonderful collections more accessible to the public, including digitizing our catalog and conducting the first full inventory in nearly two decades.

Our museum was established on the collection of lightkeeper Laura Hecox in the early 1900s and substantially grew with the addition of the Humphrey Pilkington’s collection in the late 1920s. Since then, thousands of other acquisitions and donations have helped grow our collections to more than 16,000 items, most of which are rarely seen by the public.

Starting in March, the Museum will expand its monthly newsletter spotlight on collections to include a monthly blog by Kathleen called “Collections Close-Up” and a new pop-up exhibit in the Museum galleries that will feature a collections item not often displayed. You’ll also be seeing more about our collections on social media and our website.

Our collections are priceless to us, and we are excited to share them with you, piece by piece. Each object has its own story and we look forward to telling each of them to you. We also are grateful for your support of the Museum, which contributes to management of this critical community resource.

See you soon at the Museum.

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

Kathleen Aston: Collections Specialist

Kathleen Aston, Collections SpecialistAs our Collections Specialist, Kathleen Aston’s job is to manage the 16,000-plus items in the Museum’s collections, which include specimens, artifacts and objects running the gamut of natural history. To name just a few, the collections include fossils, shells, rocks and minerals, taxidermy, baskets and items of archaeological significance to early Santa Cruz history.

Kathleen joined the Museum in February 2016 as an intern cataloguing items in the pottery collection and trained with then Collections Specialist Chloe Marquart before assuming her current role in February 2017. Kathleen leads efforts to digitize documentation of collections items and re-inventory the collections, and is the main point of contact for any collections-related inquiries.

“We would really like to open our collections more to the public with a forward-facing digital catalog that can be a reference point and research point,” Kathleen said.  

A native of the East Bay, Kathleen first became interested in natural history after attending the Lindsay Wildlife Experience—formerly known as the Lindsay Wildlife Museum—in Walnut Creek. She has a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Reed College in Portland, Ore., and is working on a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Washington.

“I’m interested in how we relate to objects and how they help us understand things,” she said. “I am excited to be working with the physical collections and look forward to sharing them with our Members and the public.”