La Virgen de Guadalupe appears in Houston this weekend in a spectacular new exhibition

Quilts. Statues. Blankets. Street art. Devotional candles. Tattoos. In the Americas, you can find the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe almost anywhere, in any form. Her image represents not only a great miracle but the identity of a nation of believers. And this weekend you can trace the story back to its origins—only at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas opens this Friday, Dec. 11.

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La Virgen de Guadalupe, also known as La Virgen Morena, appears in this 17th-century painting.

In collaboration with the Basilíca de Guadalupe, the limited engagement exhibit features the iconic image of the Virgin in its many forms. Her fascinating history begins in 8th-century Spain and ends in modern North and South America. In between is a complex story of deep faith, conquest and conversion.

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A screen opens the exhibit and tells the story of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire through its panels.

According to deeply held beliefs, La Virgen de Guadalupe, also called La Virgen Morena to some, appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 near the hill of Tepayac outside the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. Juan Diego, an indigenous Catholic, fought to convince the bishop of what he’d seen, sharing a message from the Virgin to build a church where she had made her appearance. Juan Diego was met with doubt until he brought back roses growing out of season at the top of the hill, carrying them wrapped in his tilma, or cloak. When he poured the flowers from his tilma at the feet of the bishop, the image of the Virgin was left behind in the fabric, providing proof of the miracle and convincing the bishop to have the church built.

Through the next four centuries, the popularity of the Virgin of Guadalupe pushed her beyond religious symbolism and into the culture of Mexico and the Americas. Today, she symbolizes New World Catholicism as well as peace, hope and comfort to her followers.

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After almost 500 years, the Virgin of Guadalupe still resonates in the Americas, captured as a cultural symbol in artistic expressions of devotion like these statues.

“Regardless of your personal take on this story, we invite visitors to the exhibition to consider the history and reality surrounding the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Curator of Anthropology at HMNS. 

The show features an authorized reproduction of the image of Virgin; the original manuscript of the Nican Mophua, an Aztec-language document that recounts the story of the apparition and part of the collections of the New York Public Library; an 18th-century painting of the Virgin said to have touched the original image in the Basílica in Mexico City; the Doctrina Christiana, one of the first books printed in Mexico dating back to 1553, on loan from the Benson Library at The University of Texas at Austin; and artistic expressions of contemporary devotion to the Virgin.

Information panels are printed in both English and Spanish, and an audio guide will be accessible by cell phone. Tickets on sale now.

Photo From You: Insect Identification

About two weeks ago one of our readers submitted a photo of an insect for us to identify. Erin Mills, our resident entomologist, figured out what it was and is ready to teach us all about a new moth.

Photo Peter sent us to identify

This photo comes to us all the way from right outside of Almeria, in Southern Spain, wow! Peter was digging in his garden and dug up what he thought was a snake, or part of one. It turned out to be a moth pupa. He kept it until the moth emerged and took a picture of what he saw. The moth’s wings were not yet completely developed at the time of the picture, so I knew I had a challenge ahead of me! Also, I don’t consider myself an expert on European moths. Luckily for me, this particular moth had some very distinguishing markings and a very unique behavior.

This is called a Death’s Head Hawkmoth. It is one of 3 different species that share this common name because of the marking on the thorax that looks vaguely like a skull. All 3 species belong to the genus Acherontia, This particular species, Acherontia atropos, is perhaps the most well-known of these moths.  They are native to the Middle East and Mediterranean region of Europe. This is the only species that is found in Europe, the other two are Asian. This fact, along with the markings on it’s thorax and abdomen, made it easy to identify.  Peter made a comment that the moth didn’t appear to like being harassed and actually hissed at him. This was another dead giveaway! Death’s Head Hawkmoths actually have the unique ability to make a squeaking noise by forcing air through their proboscis to deter predators. This is probably what Peter heard and described as a hiss. This is among several other unique features and behaviors of these moths.

Tomato Hornworm (5-Spotted Hawk Moth)
Creative Commons License photo credit: the_toe_stubber

They belong to the family Sphingidae, known as sphinx moths or hawk moths. Most sphingids have a very long proboscis that helps them to reach the sweet nectar deep inside of flowers. Death’s head moths, on the other hand, have an unusually short and thick proboscis. They have to find other ways of getting food, so they are known to raid bee hives for honey at night. They have a very thick exoskeleton to help protect them from stings and they are immune to the venom. Once inside the hive, they mimic the scent of the other bees, so for the most part they can move around the hive freely. Their thick, strong proboscis is perfect for penetrating the wax covering the honey cells. They will also feed on rotting fruit and tree sap. They can be a seasonal pest to some beekeepers.

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The skull pattern on their thorax has given them somewhat of a negative reputation. Their feisty disposition doesn’t help either. The caterpillars are known to make a loud snapping noise with their mandibles and will bite if they feel threatened. The squeaking noise of the adults has been compared to a melancholy cry.  They are often associated with death and the supernatural. You may recognize them from the movie Silence of the Lambs. In the movie and book, the trademark of the murderer was to place a pupa of this moth in the mouths of his victims. That in itself makes them seem kind of creepy! Also, all 3 of their scientific names are associated with death in Greek mythology. In Europe they were thought of as harbingers of war, death, and pestilence. Their appearance was thought to be a bad omen.  Of course this is all superstition and these are not harbingers of death, but just large beautiful moths, or are they??

Thank you so much for sending in the photo Peter, and I’m glad we could identify this insect for you! It’s amazing what you can find when digging in the dirt. Remember, if you find an odd looking bug and would like to know what it is, snap a picture and send it to us at blogadmin@hmns.org. Happy bug watching!

A Windy Day

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Creative Commons License photo credit: allegra_

Houston always has the biggest and best—being the energy capital of the world we have to honor one of the best alternative energies – WIND. The week of June 1 we had the largest Wind Power 2008 Conference and Exhibition in the world at the George R. Brown convention center, sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association or AWEA.

This was a total learning experience for me. Do you know what a nacelle is? Neither did I until I attended the NEED teacher workshop at the conference. NEED is considered the best energy education resource in the world. NEED workshops provide staff development and continuing education for teachers and sometimes even graduate credit. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is always honored to be associated with this exceptional group and is planning many NEED workshops at the HMNS during the next school year.

The NEED Wind Energy workshop was one of the most valuable and fun workshops I have attended.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Joshua Davis (jdavis.info)

Mainly we learned why we should teach about wind energy – it is one of the fastest growing, cheapest, renewable, environmentally friendly, energy sources available. Every state in the U.S. has wind energy sources. The country that uses the most wind energy is Germany; Spain is second and the U.S. is third, which uses about half as much as Germany. Texas produces the most wind energy in the U.S.  The city of Houston starting July 1 will get 1/5 of its energy from wind for the next 5 years. This includes city owned facilities such as airports, police stations, fire stations, and water treatment plants.

Towards the end of the seminar, Ian Baring-Gould,  Senior Mechanical Engineer with the National Wind Technology Center in Golden Colorado told us about the Wind for Schools Program.  Even though the program is not for Texas, we can still use the ideas. Ian was referred to as the “guru of wind energy”, so I filed his name into my brain under “valuable people to know.” He also fell under, “nice people to talk with.” One of the coolest things he said was that they have a wind energy “graveyard” up in Golden where they do research. He said that I can come dig around and see if there is anything I could use to help teach my teachers back in Houston. WOOHOO I am always game for a great garage sale.

Then the teachers created model wind turbines. Our group created the fasted which produced 320 microvolts. That is me looking rather skeptical along with Sharon Fontaine, Science Content Specialist with Houston ISD, building our turbine.

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At the end of the day the teachers got to go into the Exhibition Hall and visit all of the exhibits. I continued to gather information about wind energy and met many fascinating people from all over the world. Most of the displays were rather ordinary but some were quite an experience. You could actually peer into a nacelle and see its inner workings.

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You could get an idea of how huge the blades are by standing next to a cross section of one:

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This company was quite extravagant in its display:

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If you ever have a chance to go to any of these energy conferences – do. Its fun to walk around seeing all the different yet related industries, and you get such a great sense of the global economy.