A taxidermy bird on display in the Hidden Prairie exhibit at Morrill Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Bird chirps and soft music echo on the third floor of Morrill Hall in the Cooper Gallery where a new exhibit, Hidden Prairie: Exploring Life in One Square Meter, is on display. 

The exhibit was inspired by Chris Helzer’s book “Hidden Prairie: Photographing Life in One Square Meter.” This exhibit opened on Oct. 16 — taking the place of the Poop & Paws exhibit — and will be open to the public until May 29 before it is changed to a new exhibit.

Kate Madsen, a senior business administration major, said she was interested in how fast the museum turned around this exhibit when she became a staff member of the museum. Going on walk-throughs of the museum to see new exhibits, such as the Hidden Prairie, is something she enjoys. 

This new exhibit features up-close nature photographs from Helzer. Some of the work featured includes a photo of the seed head of a Eastern pasqueflower and a wolf spider in its hole. These images are meant to provide an up close view of nature according to Caroline Clements, public relations and membership coordinator for the University of Nebraska State Museum.

“You can really get a good look at the biodiversity that exists here,” Clements said. “A phrase that has been used a lot is, ‘Oh, Nebraska is a flyover state or a drive through state.’ But realizing if you just step back, take a moment and really look, there's an immense amount of life and color and things going on here in the state.”

Along with photography featuring up-close looks at nature, there are 8-foot tall displays focusing on the prairie in certain seasons. The museum’s exhibits team went through the effort of collecting different plant life through the four seasons and worked with their entomology collections to include insects that would be found in that season. 

Madsen said she never thought about how close prairie life is in her daily life. 

“I'm from Omaha. I'm not used to too much nature, especially like here in the Midwest, Nebraska, more specifically,” Madsen said. “So, it was interesting to see what kind of creatures and plants we have here.” 

On the glass of each display, there are pictures of the various insects and plants, asking viewers to try and find the different species in the display. 

There are hands-on activities in the exhibit, too. A table features a section about the life cycle of insects and the role of sunflower seeds. This spot provides an up-close view of the life cycle of larvae as it is hatched in the seed. Along with the life cycle of insects, there is a sorting activity for individuals to sort out what happens when species are removed and the impact of plants. 

Throughout the exhibit, there are questions and ideas allowing an interactive experience for the viewer. One question — “What can I do in my backyard?” — provides ideas of adding native flowers to attract pollinators and animals to observe nature up close. 

Another idea shared in the exhibit is starting a nature journal to keep a record of what someone sees, smells and hears. It is also recommended to choose a “sit spot” where someone goes often to keep track of changes within the wild life. 

The exhibit offers photography, displays and interactive activities to engage with viewers, according to Clements.

“I think for students that are from Nebraska, it's a great opportunity to get an up-close look at the diversity that exists in your backyard that you might not be aware of,” Clements said. “For students that aren't originally from Nebraska, it's a great opportunity to get a look at some of the native species here on the prairies that make up part of what Nebraska is.” 


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