Thursday, 8 November 2012

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Skull and neck of the sphenosuchian Dromicosuchus grallator.

The reception for this year's SVP was held in North Carolina Museum of NaturalSciences, and it was a belter. The assembled palaeontologists had the run of the entire museum, the fossil prep lab was open and specimens were on display for close inspection. There was food, beer and a cake and biccy selection that was without parallel. We didnt just feel looked after, we felt loved.

Gotcha! Sauropod foot making footprint. Great to see the process of trace-making being
illustrated so prominently.

The museum warrants a post of its own for the simple reason it is one of the best I have ever been in. The discovery centre, which is attached to the museum is a shining example of what can be achieved with good museum displays. There are labs with glass walls so visitors can see actual scientists (!) at work. There are labs where kids (and adults) can do science themselves and there are many interactive displays dotted around to keep the kids interested. Most of all, there is lots of stuff on display. Real stuff like fossils, skeletons and the tool of the scientists who collected the data, from picks and shovels to the latest technology. Its all well-labeled, well lit and organised beautifully.

The skull of the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis specimen. Nice mount.

The dinosaur exhibit is superb; a fine Acrocanthosaurus atokensis skeleton, a Pachycephalosaurus, an Edmontosaurus but best of all is the Thescelosaurus, Willo, with it's might-be-a-heart concretion (although I thought the ossification between the ribs was more interesting). Mammals are well-represented with the spectacular skeleton of a giant ground sloth (Eremotherium eomigrans) lurking unexpectedly around a corner.

The famous Thescelosaurus Willo, with the 'heart' concretion clearly visible in the thoracic cavity.

Also on display the museum had an excellent live collection based in the native fauna of North Carolina. Some of these animals were displayed in isolated tanks, but many were housed in tanks that had been incorporated into various full-scale dioramas of a North Carolinan forest ecosystem, with each zone of habitation from above the canopy to the understory represented. This allowed the visitor to see native animals that might be too shy or too well-camouflaged in their natural environment. My personal favourite was the Hellbender, a large salamander that lives in the clear mountain streams of the Great Smoky Mountains. As we were there at night many of the nocturnal animals were out from under their rocks; we ventured back the morning we flew home and many of them were under their rocks or snoozing in the leaf litter, including the Hellbender, who was tucked under a log. All the animals looked very healthy and had adequate enclosures.

Amphumia means, an aquatic salamander with vestigial limbs, native to North Carolina.

My favourite exhibit? Tucked away in a dark corner of one the labs and against one of the glass walls was a superb exhibit featuring a colony of dermestid beetles cleaning a Harbour Seal skeleton - brilliant. I wonder how they’re going on?

Two Longnosed Gar and a Pumpkinseed fish share a tank.

If you are in the Raleigh area I highly recommend a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, but make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to become absorbed by this excellent museum.

A Greater siren, Siren lacertina squints through the glass at some bloke taking it's picture.


  1. I'm surprised this museum is one of the best you have ever been in. I'm a North Carolina native, and was not overly impressed on my recent visit. Full disclosure, I have not been to any other museums(as an adult), so maybe my judgment critera are skewed. Or are museums around the world generally neglected? While I wouldn't rate the museum any degree of terrible (It does have some dinosaur displays!), there just weren't many things that triggered the old sense of wonder.