Montana Natural History Center

Bull trout
Joel Sartore/National Geographic, and Wade Fredenberg/USFWS

In the beginning, the idea of global warming was easy for me to ignore. Of course I found the footage of floating polar bears distressing, but the ice caps seemed far away, and scientists seemed even farther from any real answers.

"Field Notes" Takes The Mystery Out Of Mushrooms

Nov 23, 2015

Throughout the human history of traipsing the earth in search of edibles, mushrooms have undoubtedly been the least understood and most feared flora in the forests of the world. Early Greeks and Romans thought most mushrooms were sinister, evil things. They associated them with dark, damp areas of decay and often depicted mushrooms in the company of snakes or toads, two key ingredients in witches’ cauldrons.

Unravel The Silky Mysteries Of Spiderweb 'Stabilimenta'

Nov 18, 2015
Unidentified orb-weaver spider in its web.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-2)

I hardly would have noticed her among the dry grasses if it were not for an unusual structure incorporated into her web: a thick white zig-zag of silk descending from the center which drew my attention before I noticed the spider waiting in the middle. What was this silken aberration? Wouldn’t it make the otherwise cryptic web more conspicuous to spider-seeking predators or web-avoiding insects? Why would a spider take such risks?

'Field Notes': Water-Loving Willows

Nov 10, 2015
Cottonwoods, a member of the Salicaceae family, are a common sight across Montana.
Flickr user Jon Hurd (CC-BY-2.0)

Amidst the rugged gumbo-ridge landscape of more easterly Montana, water is everything. With hotter summers than the western half of our state, and with drier winters, the Montana of my childhood does not have the many deep, clear, blue lakes that look up from the covers of most Montana travel brochures. It is the small, isolated watering holes dotting the prairies that sustain life here.

'Field Notes:' Deer In The Spotlight

Nov 8, 2015
White-tailed doe.

As they grazed on the grasses in a small break in the forest, and I held my breath to keep from scaring them off, I realized the white-tailed deer's abundance didn’t take away from their significance.

Malachite: Brilliantly Green, And Made In Montana

Nov 5, 2015
Courtesy Laurel Hitchborn


Never having seen such a brilliant green like this in nature, I was certain it was melted plastic or some other man-made material. Paint. It had to be paint. I tried to scrape the enamel off of the dolomite matrix, but to no avail. As I looked about, I saw that scant splashes of this enigma were all around me.

Paintbrush: The Prettiest Parasite On The Prairie?

Oct 26, 2015
Indian paintrbrush (Castilleja linariifolia) in Grand Teton National Park.

Most people are familiar with the showy red or yellow flowers of the Indian paintbrushes. They can be found from the dry valley grasslands to lush alpine meadows. There are 21 species of the paintbrush just in Montana, including bristly paintbrush, the red-flowered species of dry slopes and scarlet paintbrush which is common in meadows and along streams.

Stellar Scintillation, Or Why Stars Twinkle

Oct 14, 2015
Stars over camp
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-NC-ND-2)

I often return from camping trips with a sore neck. For a while, I couldn’t figure out what caused this ailment. “Maybe I slept on it weird,” I think to myself. Then I think back to my last trip into the wilderness, and remember specifically the cloudless, moonless nights. The inky black sky. The stars. The universe over my head.

How Tall Can A Tree Grow?

Oct 8, 2015
How tall can a tree grow?

Have you ever driven across Montana and noticed that the farther west you go, the bigger the trees get? In fact, if you kept on driving all the way to Seattle, you’d notice that the trees there are even bigger than those in western Montana.

Fishing With The King: The Belted Kingfisher

Oct 6, 2015
A female belted Kingfisher with her catch.
Teddy Llovet (CC-BY-2)

While recently visiting the Rock Creek area to simply go fishing I became distracted as I cast my red skwala into the clear, frigid stream. I was not distracted by the surrounding beauty of grasslands and different flora, or my ongoing love/hate relationship with fly-fishing, but rather the immense variety of sound echoing off the rock outcroppings surrounding the area.