Monday, August 15, 2011

Florida Museum of Natural History

I went to the Florida Museum of Natural History not knowing quite what to expect. On one hand, the website was very well managed and made it look like a decent-sized museum with all the trimmings. On the other hand, I knew it was part of the University of Florida campus, and many other campus 'museums' are generally one room affairs with minimal signage and virtually no learning opportunities.

I was happy to learn that the museum lived up to the website's promises more than my expectations of a campus museum. It is housed in its own building, surrounded by a couple of art museums in the corner of campus. It had three main exhibits, a Florida fossil exhibit, peoples of Florida, and a rotating exhibit which happened to be on canoes. There was also a discovery center for the kids and another hands on display about 'wild music'. As the wild music cost extra and there was a day camp in the discovery center, I did not hit either of these two sites.

The Florida's Fossils section was well laid out, first taking you through a series of picture timelines showing generally what flora and fauna dominated which era, then you got to get an idea of what animals could be found in Florida by viewing the fossils. Each animal plaque was topped with a miniature bronze statue depicting how the animal would have looked in life, making it easy to pick out the animals you want to read more about and compare the skeleton to the fleshed-out version.

There was an amazing giant sloth, much larger than anything I had seen at the Page museum, and a glyptodont (a giant armadillo-like creature), which I absolutely adore!

I also learned that there were many cats found in the Florida region including American Lions [err... I mean Jaguars], the smaller precursor to the saber-tooth cat found in CA, Dirk-toothed cats, and Nimravids. Nimravids look just like dirk tooth cats but one of the bones in their skull (the post-orbital process) is solid, unlike 'true' cats.

The peoples of Florida exhibit was a little more chaotic. This could have been due to the fact that we may have entered it backwards, but since we could not tell for sure... well, I guess that was part of the problem. Either way, in the middle of the exhibit there was a corridor filled with larger than life models of common sea animals of Florida.

It was very fun, and I think I may have spotted my future research animal there... I was confused as to why this exhibit was in the middle of a hall devoted to the peoples of Florida, though.

The rest of the hall focused on some of the main native groups of Florida. The Seminoles were one group, and the other was a group called the Calusa. The Calusa lived in southern Florida and were excellent wood workers. Their wood carvings and art really impressed me. I loved their style.

In addition to the main building, we also went to the butterfly rainforest, which costs extra, but was so worth it. The butterfly rainforest, unlike many other butterfly pavilions was a permanent display, and because of that, the habitat was wonderfully lush.

There were many different types of butterflies... all fluttering around.

My biggest gripe was that there was no good guide for them. They had some hand held deals which did not even have a 4th of the butterflies picture on them. Their website has an excellent guide, however, so I was able to id these beauties after the fact fairly easily.

In addition to butterflies, they also had some birds flying about, like this orange weaver finch... which made Carlos happy. It's definitely a beautiful place to sit and watch. Since the entrance to the main halls were free, I felt okay spending the cash to get into the butterfly rainforest and I am glad I did!

All and all a good place to go and see some things unique to the Florida area. You can decide what you want to see based on what you want to pay for. They also have discounts for Florida residents and students (but only Florida college students).

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