What are the three typical characteristics of mammals?
If you said having hair, possessing three middle ear bones, and being warm-blooded, then you can go to the front of the line because you've got a head start on many of us. If you got hair and being warm-blooded but totally flubbed the three middle ear bones component, then I've got a really interesting learning experience to recommend to you.
Side note: Three middle ear bones? I totally did not know this. You too? Yes? Anybody?
Last Wednesday, my three year-old Colin and I had a chance to check out the brand new Extreme Mammals exhibit at the Field Museum. This is really unusual and interesting exhibit (trust me when I tell you that you've never heard of many of the animals featured here). Extreme mammals features fossils and other specimens plus vivid reconstructions. The exhibit examines the ancestry and evolution of numerous species, ranging from huge to tiny, from speedy to sloth-like, and displays animals with oversized claws, fangs, snouts, and horns. Ultimately, it addresses the question of what makes a mammal and examines extremes across a variety of variables including size, climate and reproduction. Your kids will enjoy it, and you will learn of ton of information that you've never encountered before. Win for the kids. Win for you.
Extreme Mammals comes to Chicago from the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada.
Highlights include taxidermy specimens – from the egg-laying platypus to the recently extinct Tasmanian wolf, and fleshed-out models of spectacular extinct forms such as Ambulocetus, a “walking whale.” Also on display: an entire skeleton of the giant hoofed plant-eater Uintatherium, with its dagger-like teeth and multiple horns; the skeleton model of Puijila darwini, a newly discovered extinct “walking seal” from the High Arctic with webbed feet instead of flippers; a life-size model of a 15-foot Indricotherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; one of the oldest fossilized bats ever found; and an impressive diorama featuring the once warm and humid swamps and forests of Ellesmere Island, located in the high Arctic, about 50 million years ago. See, I told you that you've never heard of most of these creatures.
This exhibit is definitely geared towards older kids and adults. Little ones always seem to have a hard time connecting with these kinds of exhibits because they can't read, the lighting is low and they just don't have the attention span for it. But there were a few interactive touch points that younger kids will enjoy, including a computer exhibit on locomotion, a tactile exhibit where they can feel differing types of skin texture and a model of a glyptodont’s shell that kids can climb in to experience what it feels like to be sheltered by this protective body armor.
Interestingly, the exhibition points out that new mammals are still being discovered to this day. In fact, in the last few decades alone, scientists have found hundreds of previously unknown mammals. The exhibition details how scientists find these new species from the striped rabbit found in the forests in Laos and Vietnam to the tiny Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat found in 2005 in the Andes Mountains. Visitors will learn the importance of conservation for both the preservation of species and the continued discovery of new mammals.
No need to rush out to see this exhibit -- it will be in town through January 6, 2013. But do be sure to check it out next time you visit the Museum. Tickets to Extreme Mammals are included in both Discovery and All-Access passes to the Museum and are priced at $22-$29 for adults, $18-24 for seniors and students with ID, and $15-$20 for children 4-11. Discounts are available for Chicago residents.