By Julie Henning
Natural history museums around the country help people understand the world around them and appreciate the past that shaped them. From fossils and feathers to constellations and cultures, here are five natural history museums to pique group curiosity.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Founded in 1900, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science pays homage to Edwin Carter, a pioneer and naturalist who assembled and displayed specimens of Colorado flora and fauna in his log cabin home.
Today, the collection has grown to a three-story, 500,000-square-foot building that remains a source for education about the natural history and anthropology of the Rocky Mountain region, Earth and the universe. Exhibit topics include gems and minerals, wildlife and North American indian cultures. The building also houses a planetarium and IMAX theater.
Museum of Natural and Cultural History
Located in the heart of the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, Oregon, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History explores Oregon’s geology, natural history and cultural past. The museum is a center for archaeological and paleontological research and houses an impressive fossil collection from around Oregon and the Western United States.
In the museum’s South Wing, over 5,000 years of Northwest cultural history and 200 million years of geology are represented in the “Oregon – Where Past is Present” exhibit. In the same wing, replicas of a saber tooth salmon and giant sloth skeleton are highlights of the “Explore Oregon” exhibit that also discusses the natural and cultural forces that continue to shape Oregon’s ecosystem today.
Florida Museum of Natural History
The Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida-Gainesville campus is perhaps best known for its butterfly attractions. Visitors observe scientists as they work at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. The museum houses a butterfly collection that spans three floors, as well as a large screened enclosure that provides an interactive experience with hundreds of butterflies.
Other key highlights are a fossil collection that encapsulates 65 million years of Florida’s history, exhibits outlining Florida’s rich and diverse ecosystems, and advancements in energy conservation and alternative-energy sources.
Bell Museum of Natural History
The Bell Museum of Natural History is affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. The museum has a mission to educate and connect people to the natural world and universe, and will be breaking ground on a new state-of-the-art facility on April 22 (Earth Day) of this year.
Key to the museum’s legacy is a large collection of three-dimensional dioramas that were created to bring people closer to the natural world through the representation of the ecological interactions of animals in their habitats. Inside the Touch and See Discovery Room, guests can interact with animal and plant specimens; museum staff present live reptiles and amphibians for up-close observation.
Cape Cod Museum of Natural History
The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History overlooks Wing Island and Cape Cod Bay from picturesque Brewster, Massachusetts. In this setting, it’s easy to see why the facility operates as a museum of natural history, nature education center and steward of conservation land.
Offering twice-daily naturalist guided walks in the summer months, visitors especially love Mudflat Mania, an exploration of the bay at low tide. Inside the museum, popular exhibits include an aquarium, world-class bird carvings, and an archeological exhibit that tracks the glacial melting that shaped Cape Cod starting at the end of the last Ice Age.