This spring, take a walk on the wild side.
Learn about life in a wolf pack. Peer inside a rabbit's brain. Marvel at the sight of a massive prehistoric beast. And stop to stroke a stingray.
All are possible in the next few weeks thanks to zoo and museum exhibits that make Chicago -- to borrow from Maurice Sendak -- "Where the Wild Things Are."
Living with Wolves
Husband-and-wife wildlife filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher spent six years (1990-96) living with a pack of wolves in a 25-acre enclosure in Idaho's Sawtooth wilderness area. Their experience moved them to quote a Native American proverb in their book "The Hidden Life of Wolves": "To look into the eyes of a wolf is to see your own soul."
The Dutchers' book, released in February by National Geographic Books, is the basis for the "Living with Wolves" exhibit, opening at The Field Museum on Friday, March 22. The book recounts the Dutchers' life-changing experiences with the wolf pack though photographs and prose.
Living with Wolves features 21 photographs, accompanied by text of their observations.
Wolves have recently lost their federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in a number of western states and are now "in danger of being slaughtered," Jim Dutcher said.
The couple, who founded the not-for-profit Living with Wolves organization, now travel the country, telling audiences that wolves are not the evil creatures depicted in fairy tales. They want people to know that wolves -- ancestors of our pet canines -- are nurturing, family-oriented creatures that are needed in the wild.
"The most important thing to know is that wolves are incredibly social, family animals," Jamie Dutcher said in a telephone interview. "They care about each other deeply -- they grieve for a lost relative. They live their lives in a similar fashion to ours."
Living with Wolves runs Friday, March 22, through Sunday, July 7, at The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The exhibition is free with paid $10-$15 general museum admission. Visit fieldmuseum.org. For information on the Dutchers and their organization, visit livingwithwolves.org.
Animal Inside Out
Visitors to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry can get an in-depth look at more than 100 animal specimens, featuring everything from skeletons, muscles and brains to other inner workings of animals' bodies, at Animal Inside Out, a Body Worlds production.
The exhibit, currently in its U.S. premiere in Chicago, will be on display through Monday, Sept. 2.
The specimens have been preserved through a process called plastination; it involves replacing the body's fluids with hardening plastics.
"This exhibit is really a celebration of life," said Anne Rashford, director of temporary exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry. "Here is an opportunity to see animals in a whole new light. The plastination process allows guests to see the most incredible details, and to examine the differences between humans and animals."
Museum guests will see everything from the dense muscles and tendons of a bull and the inside of a rabbit's brain to the inner systems of a shark, octopus and other creatures.
"Animal Inside Out" is designed for all ages, although the museum requests that children younger than 13 are accompanied by an adult.
"I think this exhibit tells a really wonderful and important story about all of the different systems and organs in animals' bodies. Each one has a different purpose," Rashford said. "I think the exhibit is really beautiful and elegant."
Animal Inside Out runs through Monday, Sept. 2, at the Museum of Science and Industry, at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. The exhibit requires an additional $6-$12 timed-entry ticket and is not included in the regular $11-$18 museum admission. Museum hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (with spring break and summer hours extended until 5:30 p.m.). (773) 684-1414 or msichicago.org.
Dinosaurs roam in Brookfield
On Saturday, April 6, 24 life-size animatronic dinosaurs head back to Brookfield Zoo for a return visit of the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit.
The zoo was first "invaded" by its animatronic Jurassic guests in 2009. Many favorites are returning, along with some new creatures.
"We are going to feature some new dinosaurs this time, including some feathered dinosaurs," said Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager at the Brookfield Zoo. "A lot of researchers have come to the conclusion that many of the dinosaurs we see in movies and read about in books were actually feathered."
Zoo staff decided to have bit of fun with exhibit information, and facts about the dinosaurs will be displayed as though the giant creatures are modern-day celebrities.
"You'll see how a magazine like GQ may decide to report on the dinosaurs -- or how Fossil magazine might report on a dinosaur's fashion statement," Copeland said with a laugh. "The facts are there, but we try to bring them across in a fun way, to connect with people who follow current events."
One of the exhibit's biggest highlights will be the 50-foot-long, 20-foot-tall Shantungosaurus -- known to be the largest dinosaur on two legs. It will stand beside the zoo's famous Roosevelt Fountain.
"These creatures are as realistic as you can have a dinosaur look. These animals are going to be far more lifelike than if you go to a museum and see dinosaur bones," Copeland said.
Along with viewing the animatronic creatures, zoo guests can also visit a 5,000-square-foot educational tent with fossil replicas and more information about the world of the dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs Alive! runs Saturday, April 6, though Sunday, Oct. 27, at Brookfield Zoo, at First Avenue and 31st Street, Brookfield. Admission to "Dinosaurs Alive!" is $3-$5, in addition to the $10.50-$15 general zoo admission. Children ages 2 and under are free. Zoo hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. (708) 688-8000 or visit czs.org.
The Shedd Aquarium invites its guests to reach out and touch someone -- a swimming stingray to be exact -- in a new hands-on special exhibit opening in mid-May. The Stingray Touch exhibit is expected to run through the fall, weather permitting.
An estimated 40 cownose stingrays and yellow stingrays will be housed in an 18,000-gallon outdoor pool, said Elise Waugh, coordinator for communications and public relations at the Shedd Aquarium.
Guests can reach into the 2½-foot-deep pool to stroke the stingrays as they glide by. The cownose stingrays are always moving and zipping along the surface; the yellow rays prefer to stay near the pool's floor, Waugh said.
"Stingrays are very friendly -- they are graceful, gentle, soft animals," Waugh said. "They are used to being around people. We hand feed them in our Caribbean Reef exhibit. We've had stingrays at the Shedd for decades, and they have always captivated our guests."
No one needs to worry about being stung, as the aquarium staff clips the stingrays' barbs to prevent any accidents.
"It's just like clipping their fingernails," Waugh said.
Stingray Touch is set to open in mid-May (date to be determined) at the Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lakeshore Drive Chicago. The aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Ticket prices have not yet been determined. Visit sheddaquarium.org for information.