Portfolio > Science Communication

Chicago 40
Chicago 40

The Chicago 40 is a dare. Avail yourself of these 40 species central to our region's identity. With each species you must complete a micro-conservation assignment. If you complete all 40, you will be given a prize. A very good prize that is real.

Species 1: Common Bean

Did you know the sculpture is actually called “Cloud Gate”? “The Bean” is just a nickname, with the definite article so everyone knows that you are talking about THE bean, the only bean, like the sun and the Trib and the queen. Cloud Gate is the Queen Bean, and when its tour of duty in Millennium Park is complete, it will be given to that Norwegian seed vault so future generations can also grow and enjoy mirror beans. But not just the bean, all domesticated beans were part of the Three Sisters agricultural practices passed between Native American nations covering most of North America. Beans, along with corn and squash, traveled farther than any one human could, turning protein into muscle bone breastmilk, taking nitrogen out of the sky and making it available to squash and corn for bigger crops. The bean has become people in this region for possibly as long as people have been in this region. In that way, it’s always been a mirror.

Challenge: Donate money to the American Indian Center.

Species 2: Ring-billed Gull

No you cannot have my hot dog. Who told you you could have my Hot Dog? Who has been giving you Hot Dogs? Who are the generations of people giving you Hot Dogs? Did your mama tell you about the Hot Dog people? Did she say they won’t all give you their Hot Dogs but enough will to make it worth your full attention. Yes our ancestors used to hunt fish, slippy silvery Hot Dogs darting through the Lake Michigan chop, a challenge, dopamine release in gull and fish alike at the kill instant.? Or maybe it’s just been one of you this whole time. One single gull that when you finally croak, the autopsy will find thousands of Hot Dog skeletons in your guts, their spirits released back into the city’s massive Hot Dog mills, to be eaten by tourists and residents of the future, with and without ketchup because that actually doesn’t matter, the only thing a real Chicago Hot Dog requires is a soul.

Challenge: Pick up beach garbage.

Species 3: Monarch Butterfly

A single valley in Michoacán gives much of our continent the gift of a robust butterfly called monarch. And one genus of plant, Asclepias, gives us this same animal, our state insect, as its nursery and first food. Flowers that are in bloom throughout the growing season give them roadtrip fuel. Migration that takes four or five generations to get to Canada (because they’re doing sex the whole trip up), but a single generation can travel back to Mexico. A valley, a genus, a continent, mixed properly, gifts sky flappy orange and black with white polka dots. Municipal, state and country borders not a concern, walled or no. The only royalty whose domain is an air river. The only sovereign who accepts everyone’s invitation to dinner.

Challenge: Plant milkweed native to Chicago.

More species and challenges to come. What species do you think should be in the 40? Tell us at robbieqtelfer@gmail.com.