I recently returned from a vacation to Kansas, during which I got to visit the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence, KS. Located in Dyche Hall and founded in 1901, it is part of KU's Biodiversity Institute, a research center dedicated to the study of life on Earth. This is my review of this historic museum.
When you walk into the lobby, you immediately realize you are not alone. And I'm not talking about the person at the front desk. Look up and suspended above is the ominous Tylosaurus, a mosasaur, a prehistoric sea monster that prowled the waters that once covered this land. Though an intimidating sight, this ancient marine lizard has been reduced to stone, and poses no threat.
The Lobby, located on the 4th floor, houses the Panorama of North American Wildlife, the main driving force behind the establishment of this institution over a hundred years ago. Go to your right and begin in the arctic, where polar bears and seals dominate the frozen landscape, and end in the rainforest on the left, were giant snakes slither and colorful birds dot the trees. Overall, an impressive display which provides good information about different North American habitats and the adaptations of the animals which inhabit them.
Downstairs, on the 3rd floor, one is met with a cast of the most complete Parasaurolophus skeleton found. After that, there is a Camarasaurus femur, a giant piece of a petrified tree, and then a small room of fluorescent rocks and fossils. After this is the main fossil exhibit. Here, you are met with a replica of one of the asphalt pits at Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles. A Bambiraptor, a little bird-like dinosaur, is perched nearby. I enjoyed getting a close look at the graceful, avian-like skeleton of this little dromaeosaurid. The left part of this fossil hall contains a lot of mammalian specimens, including the skulls of Mammuthus columbi (the Columbian Mammoth) and Mammut americanum (the American Mastodon). One display showcases the horns of bison species, both living and extinct, including the impressive Bison latifrons. Also in this section of the hall is a sub-adult Tyrannosaurus rex specimen. These specimens give one an idea of the great diversity of mammals throughout Earth's history.
To the right of the entrance to the fossil hall lurk the bones of mosasaurs and other prehistoric sea creatures from the Niobrara Chalk Beds, which were laid down by the Western Interior Seaway during the Late Cretaceous. Here there is a vibrant "paleo garden", which showcases living plants and their extinct relatives. In the surrounding exhibits, one travels to seas even further back in time than the Western Interior Sea and catches glimpses of early fishes and other extremely ancient critters.
One of the highlights of the fossil hall, in my opinion, is the Silvisaurus condrayi, a nodosaurid ankylosaur dinosaur from the Cretaceous, discovered in Kansas in the 1950s.
The mounted skeleton of Silvisaurus condrayi, along with some beautiful artwork depicting what the animal may have looked like when alive.
One concludes the fossil hall with some turtles, the gigantic skull of a Triceratops prorsus, and a Pteranodon skeleton. These flying creatures once soared above the waters of Cretaceous Kansas in search of fish to feast on. Overall, a nice, well put together fossil hall.
Also on the 3rd floor is Bugtown, a small exhibit featuring both dead and living insects. Nothing super impressive in my opinion, but if you like coach roaches, definitely check it out.
Onward and upward. The 5th floor provides a wonderful vantage point for viewing the Tylosaurus visitors first meet in the lobby, along with information about mosasaur biology and behavior. As the beast spirals from the ceiling to the lobby below, it gives a sense of movement. Other than the Tylosaurus, floor 5 features an exhibit on the theory of evolution and some other specimens. I found myself mostly engaged in the exhibit on the proposed evolutionary lineage of whales, which I have been reading about lately.
The impressive Tylosaurus spirals from the ceiling downwards to greet visitors upon their entrance to the lobby.
Then it's up to the imposing halls of the 6th floor. Here there is an exhibit that normally houses live bees... but no bees on that day. Speaking of live animals, in these halls you can see live snakes and lizards (which my mother avoided). Two exhibits show off the museum's bird (ornithology) collections, one of which I am assuming is older than the other (judging by the fading colors on some of the specimens). My sister and I enjoyed "nerding out" on the birds and other animal dioramas throughout the halls. I'll admit I didn't get a good look at the archeological exhibits on this floor. There are also dozens of mammal skulls and exhibits on parasites (yay!).
Afterwards we hit the gift shop, I spent a bunch of money, and we were on the road once again. I definitely enjoyed my visit to the KU Natural History Museum, and hope to return one day, hopefully with children of my own, eager to learn about God's amazing world. I recommend checking it out if you are in the area!
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