Mindful Mondays: Do Animals Feel Emotion?

Written by Willow Sedam, Animal Husbandry Staff

Mindful Mondays: Do Animals Feel Emotion?

Throughout history, humans have been asking questions about the natural world. But there’s one we keep coming back to with endless curiosity: do animals feel?

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras was an early ponderer of this very question. A vegetarian, Pythagoras believed that animals and humans had the same souls, and should be treated equally. He was even known for going into markets and purchasing live animals, only to set them free. But Pythagoras’s ideas were controversial – the later philosopher Aristotle created his own theory, a ranked view of nature that put humans at the top and the lesser, “irrational” animals below them. For Aristotle, and many thinkers who followed in his footsteps, the idea of animals having souls or feeling pain, let alone emotion, was a strange one.

 

But is it really that odd to imagine that animals might feel emotions like we do?

 

After all, it’s not hard to find instances of animal behavior that appear to be driven by emotion. Take your dog to the vet or start up the vacuum cleaner around him, and you’ll see a response that looks a lot like anxiety, fear, or even anger. If animals appear to feel negative emotions, couldn’t they feel positive ones as well? Might they feel a similarly wide range of emotions to ours?

Elephants and whales have both been observed behaving unusually around dead herd members, guarding the bodies of fallen friends for days, or carrying deceased calves with them for miles. And great apes have even been able to communicate their own emotions to researchers. Koko, a gorilla who had been taught sign language, responded “Bad, sad, bad, frown, cry, frown, sad, trouble” when learning her adopted kitten had died.

Koko with her kitten, photo from the Los Angeles Times

 

It’s no surprise that these animals – some of the smartest in the world – would be able to feel; but it’s not just the big-brained mammals like us who display signs of emotion.

 

Parrots and crows are exceptionally bright birds, and their intelligence seems to extend to the complexity of their emotional lives as well. Crows have been known to form bonds with humans who feed them, and grudges against those they don’t like. They will even bring gifts to humans they like, and teach other crows to attack those they don’t. And parrots can get so bored in captivity that, without anything to occupy their clever brains, they will develop compulsive behaviors similar to neurosis in humans, such as plucking out their own feathers.

Some fish have even been observed to exhibit individual personalities. In a study where new and possibly dangerous things were introduced to a school of fish, some fish would approach aggressively, some curiously, and some would simply hide. Each new item saw the same fish approaching in the same manor – the aggressive one continued to act aggressively, the shy one continued to act shy. Each fish had their own unique temperament!

And let’s not forget invertebrates – those animals without a backbone like insects, worms, and squids. You might not think them very smart or emotionally deep, but you would be doing them a great disservice. Octopuses are renowned for their intelligence, despite their short and solitary lifestyle. Captive octopuses enjoy playing with humans – and will attack ones they don’t like. They’re smart enough to get bored, and smart enough to escape their tanks looking for something more interesting. That’s a lot of complexity for an animal so closely related to slugs.

 

So, problem solved: animals do feel, and they feel quite a lot! …Right?

 

Unfortunately, the scientific jury is still out in this case. While there are plenty of behaviors that we observe in animals that might look like what we think of as emotions, we can’t exactly ask a lizard how it’s feeling. So, we rely on assumptions – assumptions that could be wrong.

The biggest problem we face when trying to answer these questions about animal emotions is called anthropomorphism, the action of projecting human traits onto animals, plants, or even inanimate objects. It’s a bit like seeing faces in clouds – they’re not really there, but we’re so used to looking for them that we conjure them up anyway. While an action or expression might mean one thing to a human, it could mean something completely different to another animal. While humans smile when happy, chimpanzees bare their teeth as a threat display. And while a dog wagging its tail may be excited or happy, a cat wagging its tail is definitely not. It’s easy to misread these behaviors and displays, and easier still to project a human idea of an emotion onto an animal who may experience the world in a vastly different way from us.

 

But just as it is important not to project our own emotions onto animals and their behavior, it’s important, too, to not assume that animals are mindless or emotionless drones. It’s tempting to think that animals experience less than we do – that they don’t feel pain, sorrow, or joy. But nature has proven time and time again that intelligence and emotion come in all shapes and sizes. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to be kind – to your human and non-human neighbors.

 

To stay informed on the latest Mental Health: Mind Matters programs and experiences, visit the Mind Matters webpage and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us in your experiences when you visit the museum to help us #MakeItOk. 

We look forward to welcoming you to FCMoD to experience this amazing exhibit!  

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Mindful Mondays: Animal Enrichment

Written by Willow Sedam, Animal Husbandry Staff

Mindful Mondays: Animal Enrichment

Just like us, animals can get bored. Have you ever been bored stuck inside on a rainy day? Imagine if you lived your entire life in your house –  many animals kept in captivity in zoos, aquariums, and even our own homes do spend their whole lives in one place. And without proper enrichment, animals can get bored quickly!

 

So, what is enrichment?

Behavioral, or environmental, enrichment, is anything that makes an animal’s life more interesting! It could be training a dog to sit and stay, or giving an octopus a complex puzzle to solve. It can be rearranging an animal’s cage for a change of scenery, or introducing new and exciting sounds or scents to them.

 

At the museum, we have our own animals – from black-footed ferrets to tree frogs – who all need enrichment. But enrichment comes in all different shapes and sizes!

Our colony of domesticated fancy rats are smart, omnivorous foragers, and need lots to do to keep their brains working. One day, they might get a new toy or a hiding place like a tunnel or wicker ball in their enclosure. The next, they might get peanuts hidden inside of cardboard tubes that they have to sniff out and chew open to get to. One of the keys to enrichment is variability – if an animal gets the same kind of enrichment at the same time every day or week, the novelty can wear off. Switching up enrichment styles and schedules is as important as the enrichment itself!

 

But enrichment isn’t one size fits all. Every animal is different, and so are the things we give them to keep them interested and excited.

 

The museum’s ornate box turtle, Tara, isn’t very good at sniffing out treats or chewing open cardboard boxes, so her enrichment takes a different form. She gets walks – inside the museum when the weather is cold, and out in the big backyard when it’s warmer. She loves her walks, and spends her outdoors time digging, hunting ants, and finding rocks to carry around in her beak. And even Tara likes treats – though instead of peanuts, she gets mealworms, which she chases down and gobbles up! To figure out what kind of enrichment an animal needs, we have to think about what our animals would be doing in the wild; Tara is actually a Colorado native, so spending time foraging in the Big Backyard is the perfect enrichment activity for her.

But what happens when animals don’t get the enrichment they need? Like us, bored animals can become frustrated, restless, or even depressed. They can get lethargic and low-energy, pick fights with other animals in the same cage, or pace the same path over and over again. Enrichment is important for animals of all shapes and sizes, from lions and tigers to little turtles like Tara.

 

Want to try giving your pet enrichment? There are lots of different ways to, and you might already be doing it without realizing! Training your dog to sit and stay, or playing catch-the-string with your cat are some easy ways to get your pet’s mind and body active. You could also introduce your pets to new (pet-safe) foods, or interesting and novel scents. Or, rearrange their cage, move their bed, and hide their toys in new places around the house. You can even make your own puzzle feeder: take a shallow box, cut holes of various sizes in the top, and sprinkle in some treats. See how your pet thinks through the problem to get to its prize – does it fish the treats out with a paw, shake the box until they fall out, or tear it open to get to the food?

There are tons of different fun enrichment projects you and your pet can work on together – so next time you’re feeling bored, consider designing a new toy for your furry (or slimy, scaly, or feathered) friend. You just might discover that it’s just as enriching for you as it is for them!

 

 

To stay informed on the latest Mental Health: Mind Matters programs and experiences, visit the Mind Matters webpage and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us in your experiences when you visit the museum to help us #MakeItOk. 

We look forward to welcoming you to FCMoD to experience this amazing exhibit!  

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Mindful Mondays: DIY Fidget

Mindful Mondays: DIY Fidget

A fidget is an object that can be fiddled with to expend some energy and help the brain focus on the task at hand! Make your own to help you remain calm in stressful situations, or to help you focus when doing homework or another task!

Supplies:

  • Craft stick or popsicle stick 
  • Chenille stem (any color)
  • 6-8 pony beads
  • Painters tape or washi tape

Instructions:

  1. String the beads on to the chenille stem.
  2. Lay the stem on the craft stick and bend the ends of the stem around the ends of the stick.
  3. Use a piece of tape to attached the chenille stem to the craft stick. Make sure your tape covers the ends of the chenille stem so they don’t poke anyone!
  4. Keep your fidget handy, and use it to keep calm or maintain focus!

 

Each mind matters. Taking care of our mental health is important to all of us – everywhere and always. Learn more by visiting FCMoD’s special exhibition Mental Health: Mind Matters, open through January 10th.

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Mindful Mondays: Understanding and Expressing Emotions

Mindful Mondays: Understanding and Expressing Emotions

This activity is recommended for ages 3-7.

Happiness, fear, frustration… let’s get to know our emotions! Make your own paper plate emotion face and see how our faces help convey how we are feeling.

Supplies:

  • Paper plate 
  • Construction paper, all colors
  • 6 brass fasteners
  • Scissors 

Instructions:

  1. Take a paper plate to use as your face. Use the crayons to color the plate however you like!
  2. Using construction paper, cut out eyes, eyebrows, a nose and a mouth for your face. If you need a guide, use a pencil to draw the shapes before you cut them out.
  3. Use 6 brass fasteners to attach the facial features to your plate.
  4. Try it out! Move the facial features to create different emotions. Ask another per-son to guess what the face is expressing, or challenge another person to create that expression.

 

Each mind matters. Taking care of our mental health is important to all of us – everywhere and always. Learn more by visiting FCMoD’s special exhibition Mental Health: Mind Matters, open through January 10th.

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Mindful Mondays: The Best Life-Saving “Drug” I Found

Written by Carl Nassar, President of Heart Centered Counseling

Mindful Mondays: The Best Life-Saving “Drug” I Found

Therapy saved my life. That wouldn’t come as a surprise to you if video footage of my childhood was available for you to view.

The screen would zoom in on a boy whose constant companion was loneliness. A boy whose imaginary friend Bucky tried valiantly, but without success, to fill the relational void. You’d discover a boy attending a religious elementary school promoting the fear of God over the love of God, and a fear of the world rather than a love for it.

In therapy, I came to understand how my past was shaping my future (Freud called it “the transference of everyday life,” and Berne labeled it “replaying your life script”). I learned how my scared-ness was trampling over my vitality (Perlz called it the “dilemma of secondary Gestalts”). I learned what it looked like to open my heart, first to my own pain, as something to go through (and not around), and then to the world, as a way to lean in (instead of leaning out).

I loved therapy. It helped me to reclaim my excitement and energy for life. It also gave me my voice. That love grew into a professional desire to become a therapist myself. I wanted to help good people realize that they no longer needed to simply get by in this life, but rather to discover and learn to thrive. I wanted to help others work through the traumas (of childhood and later life) to become the people they’re meant to be—to find their voice in the world and to use it to express all of who they are, in its endless unfolding.

After 20 years in the field, I’m more convinced than ever that the popular song from 1965 speaks a profound truth, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love…” and, while not in the song, I might add a line about therapy being a beautiful way to discover that love within ourselves.

I’m more convinced now than ever that each of us can become the hope we long to see in the world. I believe this so much that I created a video series called “What if a Therapist Reported the News?” It’s my way of helping people break free from the paralysis of waiting for the news to change, and instead encouraging each one of us to find the courage—in how we live our everyday lives—to take the small steps that allow us to create the news we’re waiting for.

As we come to the end of our time together in this blog post, I want to share my gratitude for you…not only for taking the time to read this, but for each small act of courage—each small step toward kindness—you show in your everyday life. Because one final lesson therapy taught me was that each us matter far more than we image, and each small act adds up to create a new world, even if we don’t see its dawning quite yet.

Carl Nassar is known differently to different people. To some, he’s a professional counselor offering a safe space to reclaim hope and tenderness. To others he’s the president of Heart Centered Counseling, supporting a team of 250 providers that together provide access to a counseling and psychiatric care throughout Colorado (www.heartcenteredcounselors.com). And to those who find his YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCW3MmwKez76a51rQRp17qwQ/), Carl offers a thoughtful and inspiring answer to the question What if a Therapist Reported the News?

 

To stay informed on the latest Mental Health: Mind Matters programs and experiences, visit the Mind Matters webpage and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us in your experiences when you visit the museum to help us #MakeItOk. 

We look forward to welcoming you to FCMoD to experience this amazing exhibit!  

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Mindful Mondays: Celebración del Día de Muertos

Post written by Katie Auman from Poudre River Public Library District, originally posted October 17, 2019.

Celebración y Ofrenda del Día de Muertos

“La cultura es lo que, en la muerte, continúa siendo la vida.”

El día de muertos es una celebración de México y Latinoamérica donde cada año las familias se reúnen el 1 y 2 de noviembre para honrar a sus ancestros y seres queridos. El origen de esta celebración data cientos de años atrás cuando los Aztecas celebraban rituales durante el verano dedicados a la muerte. Después de la colonización, las fechas de las festividades se cambiaron para coincidir con creencias post-colombinas como “la noche de todos los santos.”

Desde entonces, esta celebración ha sido acogida en diferentes partes del mundo y se centra en honrar, recordar y celebrar la vida de aquellos que ya han partido.

Ofrenda

La ofrenda o altar es un elemento fundamental en esta tradición, la cual es cuidadosamente creada en honor de los familiares o personajes ilustres fallecidos. Es importante señalar que cada familia o individuo crea una ofrenda que es personal, compleja y que utiliza detalles y elementos que tienen un gran significado. En la siguiente imagen encontrará un breve resumen de algunos de estos elementos y sus significados.

 

Altares en miniatura para niños y familias

Es fácil crear un altar en miniatura del Día de Muertos inspirado en los altares más grandes que verán en las celebraciones tradicionales. Con este proyecto de “hágalo usted mismo”, podrá construir un altar incorporando los elementos tradicionales de una ofrenda con su toque personal, pero en un espacio más pequeño como una caja de zapatos.

Material:

  • Caja de zapatos
  • Papel construcción o papel de envoltura para cubrir su caja
  • Marcadores, crayones o pintura
  • Tela
  • Tijeras
  • Pegamento, cinta adhesiva o engrapadora
  • Vela
  • Flores / Cempazuchitl
  • Papel Picado
  • Calaveras de Azúcar
  • Fotografía de su ser querido
  • Vaso con agua
  • Algo para comer
  • Objetos de especial interés para su ser querido

Si no tiene estos artículos, ¡deje volar su imaginación! Haga sus propias flores con papel y dibuje sus decoraciones.

Paso 1

Utilice tela, papel construcción, marcadores, etc. para decorar la caja de zapatos en colores como morado, rosa mexicano, naranja y rojo. Cubra el interior y el exterior de la caja de zapatos.

Paso 2

Coloque una foto del ser querido que está honrando en el centro de la caja. Llene la caja con artículos que le recuerden a esa persona. Cualquier elemento puede ser una ofrenda – fotos, objetos de especial interés de su ser querido, pertenencias, etc.

Paso 3

Decore los espacios vacíos de la caja y añada alimentos o dulces.

Paso 4

Decore la orilla de la caja con flores, velas, papel picado y un pequeño vaso de agua. Estos elementos representan los cuatro elementos: la tierra, el fuego, el viento y el agua.

 

 

Día de Muertos Celebration

“Culture is what, in death, continues to be life.”

The Day of the Dead / Día de Muertos is an annual Mexican and Latin American celebration when families gather to honor the memory of deceased loved ones on November 1 and 2. Scholars trace the origins of this celebration back hundreds of years to Aztec festivals held during the summer. After colonization, the festivities were shifted to coincide with “All Saint’s Eve.”

Since then, the festivity has been celebrated all over the world and centers on honoring, remembering, and celebrating the lives of those who have departed.

Traditional Altar Display

One of the most visual parts of the Día de Muertos tradition is the altar, a carefully crafted centerpiece of the annual celebration. Each family or individual’s Día de Muertos altar is a complex and personal creation with incredible symbolism as each element included carries specific meaning. Here are the most important elements, from flowers to food to fire, and what they mean.

 

DIY Shoebox Altar for Kids and Families

It’s easy to create a Día de Muertos miniature altar modeled after the larger altars you’ll see at traditional celebrations. You can still follow the requirements of an authentic altar and personalize it, but in a smaller space. This is a great DIY craft for kids!

What you’ll need:

  • A shoebox
  • Construction paper or wrapping paper to cover your box
  • Markers, crayons, or paint
  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Glue, tape, or stapler
  • Candle
  • Flowers / Cempazuchitl
  • Tissue paper / Papel Picado
  • Sugar Skull / Calaveras de Azúcar
  • A photograph of your loved one
  • A small glass with something to drink
  • Something to eat
  • Offerings (items of particular interest to your loved one)

If you don’t have these items, feel free to think outside the box and get creative! Create orange marigold flowers/cempazuchitl flowers out of paper or cut out and color your own decorations.

Step 1

Use your fabric, construction paper, markers, etc. to decorate the shoebox in colors like purple, pink, orange, and red. Cover the inside and the outside of the shoebox.

Step 2

Place a photo of your loved one you are honoring in the center of the box. Fill the box with items that remind you of that person. Any item can be an ofrenda – photos, objects, anything.

Step 3

Fill the remaining space in the shoebox with décor and add other treats and foods.

Step 4

Surround the box with flowers, candles, tissue paper, and small glass of water. These items represent the four elements of earth, fire, wind, and water.

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Mindful Mondays: The Feelings Volcano

Mindful Mondays: The Feelings Volcano

This activity is recommended for ages 5-11.

Have you ever been overwhelmed by a strong emotion? Maybe you were angry with a friend for taking your favorite book, or frustrated that you couldn’t figure out that math problem? We all have strong feelings sometimes, and that’s okay! Try this is a twist on the classic baking soda-and-vinegar volcano experiment, and explore why it’s important to express and regulate our emotions in healthy ways!

Supplies:

  • Empty plastic bottle or 8 oz cup 
  • Measuring cup 
  • Funnel 
  • 1 tbsp baking soda 
  • Distilled white vinegar 
  • Food coloring (if desired) 

Instructions:

  1. To get ready: Place the baking soda in the empty plastic bottle or 8 oz cup using the funnel. 
  2. Think about a time when you were overwhelmed by a strong emotion (feeling sad, embarrassed, mad, nervous, etc.). Talk with your grown up about what happened. What happened to make you feel this way? What did you do about it?
  3. Pour a little bit of vinegar into the measuring cup. (Add food coloring if desired). This vinegar represents the feelings you had in your story. Now, let’s say that instead of expressing your feelings and doing something to manage them, you let them keep building and building and building up inside of you!
  4. Add more vinegar “feelings” to the cup until it reaches the ½ cup mark. What do you think will happen when you act on your feelings by adding the vinegar to the baking soda?
  5. Pour the vinegar into the baking soda. What happened? All of those sour feelings came out!
  6. Time for another experiment! What if instead of letting those sour feelings build up, you did something to manage them? Maybe you talked to your grown up about how you were feeling, or maybe you took some long, deep breaths! When you take steps to manage them, your feelings aren’t so sour anymore – they’re more like water than vinegar! What do you think will happen if you add water to baking soda?
  7. Pour the water into the baking soda. What happened? This time, we didn’t let our emotions get the best of us!
  8. There’s nothing wrong with having feelings! They’re part of being human. But it’s important that we learn how to express and manage our feelings so that we can control them instead of them controlling us. Work with your grown up to make a list of ways you can express and manage your emotions in hard situations, when you sense a feelings volcano brewing! Some ideas you might include: 
  • Take 10 slow, deep breaths. 
  • Draw or write about your feelings. 
  • Talk about your feelings with a friend, family member, or teacher. 
  • Dance to your favorite song.  
  • Stretch your body. 
  • Hang your strategies up somewhere to reference throughout the year! 

 

Each mind matters. Taking care of our mental health is important to all of us – everywhere and always. Learn more by visiting FCMoD’s special exhibition Mental Health: Mind Matters, open through January 10th.

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Mindful Mondays: Let’s Talk About It!

Mindful Mondays: Let’s Talk About It!

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (FCMoD) is honored to bring the groundbreaking traveling exhibition Mental Health: Mind Matters to our community from October 3, 2020- January 10, 2021. With the generous support of our community partners this exhibit and the museum are free during the run of this exhibit 

In the fall of 2018, FCMoD secured this exhibit knowing that mental health would be a timely topic for our community. And while this topic was important two years ago, the need for us as individuals, neighbors, parents, children, community members and community leaders to engage in conversation about mental health and mental illness has only grown.

Between the COVID-19 public health crisis, economic recession, wildfires, and unrest around racial justice, the year 2020 has given us all our share of challenges. Although uncertainty and difficulties still walk with us through this time, so do the threads of hope and greater resiliencyThis year, we found new ways to connect with one another, had opportunities to challenge assumptions and reframe narratives, and refocused areas in our lives that we find to be most important. This exhibit provides yet another opportunity to step into a conversation that touches all of our lives, in an environment that is safe, welcoming and hopeful. 
 

Mental Health: Mind Matters is an interactivetrilingual exhibit that provides experiences for visitors of all ages to help open the door for greater understanding, conversations and empathy toward the challenges of mental health. Walking through the exhibit you will have the opportunity to engage with empathy-building experience like hearing from people – in their own words – about how mental illness affects their lives. Interactives like noise-distorting headphones help visitors experience the difficulties some people have with symptoms of psychosis. Another interactive lets you dance around to learn about the connection between physical activity and mental wellnessTest your knowledge with a multi-player quiz about common misperceptions around mental illnesses and mental health. Anchored toward the back of the exhibit, you can check out a resource area that includes both children and adult activities, books and other helpful resources on mental health. Don’t forget to visit the Worry Shredder to shred your worries away! These are just some of the many incredible experiences in this remarkable exhibit. 
 

Working with our community partners, FCMoD will feature virtual and in-person programming throughout the dates of this exhibit. Forest therapy walks encourage participants to relax in nature. FCMoD’s virtual lecture series, Discovery Live, offers opportunities to hear from the mental health experts in our community and learn about the amazing work their organizations are doing. Programming in the museum’s gallery demonstrates different mindfulness techniques and relaxation activities. Visit fcmod.org to find the programs that resonate with you and learn how to take this conversation to the next level. 

As you consider visiting FCMoD, we want you to know about our deep commitment to keeping you safe during your visit. Gallery hosts regularly clean the museum throughout the day, with special attention to high-touch areas. All visitors over the age of two to are required to wear a face covering, and contact information will be requested at the beginning of the visit to help with contact tracingAlthough the museum is free through January 10, ticket reservations are required to help manage capacity and appropriate physical distancing. Groups 15 should contact the museum to reserve blocks of tickets. Ticketing information is available on the Plan Your Visit webpage. 

 

To stay informed on the latest Mental Health: Mind Matters programs and experiences, visit the Mind Matters webpage and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us in your experiences when you visit the museum to help us #MakeItOk. 

We look forward to welcoming you to FCMoD to experience this amazing exhibit!  

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Sugar Beet Science and Microbiology

Post written by Jenny Hannifin, Archive Research Assistant.

Did you know that scientific research using the humble sugar beet led to the birth of microbiology?

In the 1800s, agriculture and manufacturing industries struggled to meet the demands of a growing and changing population. Science was applied rigorously to solve domestic challenges, and the “industrialization of agriculture was reflected in the growth of the sugar beet, fermentation and other food industries.” (Needham, p. 189)  Scientists in the mid-1850s wanted to understand the chemical nature of living matter, not only for the betterment of agriculture, but for the sake of pure science.

Louis Pasteur (1822 –1895), famous for his vaccines and processes of sterilization, began his career by studying the crystalline structure of organic substances. He believed that asymmetrical structure, which produced optical activity (the polarization of light), was related to life itself, and that processes like fermentation worked because the substances involved were alive (what we now call microbes or microorganisms). Pasteur taught his students the principles of bleaching, sugar refining, and fermentation, including the processes used in the manufacture of beetroot alcohol.

Sugarbeets were a big industry in France, and one of the Lille distilleries asked Pasteur to help them solve a problem they were having with spoiled product. Pasteur analyzed the fermentation processes that he observed at M. Bigo’s sugarbeetroot distillery (circa 1856), and tied those observations to his research on the asymmetry of living substances.

What began as a search for the cause of spoiled beet alcohol led to a full-on investigation of fermentation. If the products of fermentation were alive, as Pasteur thought, then fermentation was a living process, not one of decay, as was believed by many scientists at the time.

But if that were true, where did that life come from? Could it spontaneously generate, as some believed (Pasteur thought not)? Fermentation was at the root of important scientific debates at the time, and investigating questions like these heralded the beginning of microbiology (the study of microscopic organisms).

Pasteur eventually proved that microbes in the air we breathe kick-start many processes (like fermentation) that are inherent in organic matter. Pasteur also determined many important principles about living microbes; for example, that microbes infecting animals caused disease, the so-called “germ theory” of disease.

Image: Wagons bringing in sugar beet harvest to C&S Depot on Mason Street, Fort Collins, Colorado, circa 1902.

 

Sources:

  • Needham, Joseph (ed.). The Chemistry of Life: Eight Lectures on the History of Biochemistry (1970: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).
  • Geison, Gerald L. The Private Science of Louis Pasteur (1995: Princeton University Press, Princeton).
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Leave it to Beaver: Conservation of our natural and cultural heritage

Post written by Linda Moore, Curator of Collections

(A personal disclaimer: I grew up in Oregon–the Beaver State; in Corvallis, which is the home of Oregon State University and, of course, the mighty OSU Beavers. Our family drove around with twin stickers on our back-bumper declaiming “I’m a Beaver Believer” and “I’ve Got Beaver Fever.” I come by my love for these buck-toothed engineers honestly, and my “beaver fever” is unabashed.)

My experience with historical research has taught me that it can be almost impossible to pick up and follow a single topic: inevitably one thing is knotted on to another, tangled up with a dozen more, and sometimes tied on to its own tail. This has been the way it’s gone with my research on the beaver felt top hat of my last post. My research on that object made me curious to see what other artifacts of beaver history are preserved in the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery’s collections. Turns out it is an impressive inventory:

3 beaver felt top hats in addition to the one attributed to President Lincoln

1 elegant felt lady’s riding hat

2 wide-brimmed beaver felt Stetsons

1 pair of beaver fur mitts

1 bearskin coat trimmed at the collar and cuffs with beaver fur

1 sweet beaver fur cape and muff set, made from beavers trapped on George Campton’s ranch in Livermore about 1910 for his sister

1 old beaver trap, pulled out of the Cache La Poudre River and donated to the Museum in the 1960s

1 pelt from a beaver trapped by the donor himself in Colorado and donated in 1979

2 stuffed and mounted beavers (the largest and fattest dang beavers I’ve ever seen)

a set of beaver skulls

and, finally, various pairs of bright orange upper front beaver teeth

The presence of these beaver-related objects in the Museum’s collections reflects a steady involvement of the species in our region’s history, despite an economically driven “beaver fever” that severely depleted their numbers before Colorado had even become a state. The earliest historical trapping records of the Colorado Rocky Mountain region show sixty to eighty beaver present per mile of stream. By the turn of the 20th century the species’ population nationwide was as low as 100,000 individuals, very few of whom were here in the West.

Two sources I’ve come across recently not only decry the West’s loss of beaver populations, but advocate their protection and reintroduction as a means of conserving our region’s natural and cultural riches. Both recognize that in shaping the region’s waterways to their own purposes, beavers once played, and can play again, a vital role in maintaining the environments in which the region’s unique human history has unfolded. The first of these is Beaver World, a charming book by Enos Mills, a signed copy of which is in the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery’s Local History Archive. Mills was a passionate advocate for the natural world, and an astute direct observer of wild animals interacting with the environment. Beaver World was published in 1913, and in it Mills not only gushes about the beaver’s emblematic industriousness, “He works not only tooth and nail, but tooth and tail,” but more insightfully recognizes the role the species plays in maintaining both a healthy ecosystem, and a landscape humans find welcoming and pleasing:

Beaver works are of economical and educational value besides adding a charm to the wilds. The beaver is a persistent practicer of conservation and should not perish from the hills and mountains of our land. Altogether, the beaver has so many interesting ways, is so useful, skillful, practical, and picturesque that his life and his deeds deserve a larger place in literature and in our hearts.

The beaver’s role in maintaining healthy, functional Western ecosystems is the central focus in the much more contemporary article “Voyage of the Dammed,” carried in The High Country News. Writing at a time when water conservation is a high-profile problem and many of its proposed solutions carry high price tags, author Kevin Taylor outlines the position of environmentalists and other concerned citizens who advocate, at least in part, leaving it to the beavers:

The humble, hardworking rodent, through its dams and ponds, can extend the release of water late into summer, saturating the ground and healing watersheds. It has the power to re-create the primordial, wetter West that existed for millennia.

The article extends the beaver’s vital restorative role to cultural values as well. Taylor quotes a Coeur d’Alene tribal elder, 86-year-old Felix Aripa, who sees within the native ecosystems restored by beaver activity the roots of cultural restoration: in the returning native plants, fish, and animal species are embodied the cultural riches of language and long-held cultural knowledge.

These two sources have whetted my appetite for learning more about this species, and for doing what I can to promote its ongoing presence in our region. I understand that in caring for the beaver artifacts which lie within the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery’s collection — clothing, tools, and scientific specimens — we preserve the history of a species which plays a central role in the Native American traditions of this area, as well as in the story of the region’s surge in population and development in the 19th century. As I read the strong praise Enos Mills gives this species and the excited plans of those advocating its restoration, I’m thrilled with the possibility that within today’s beaver population is preserved a solution to our region’s compelling need to conserve both the health of the environment and the wealth of our cultural and historical heritage. “I’m a Beaver Believer” indeed.

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