Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Major Natural History Museum in Kansas

University of Kansas Natural History Museum

   When we were in Laurence, Kansas at the KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, ranked No. 1 among public programs, we were impressed by the focus on life on the earth.  This museum has the largest university collection in the world of specimens  of  plants, animals, fossils and the archeological.     

    Walking into the Natural History Panorama of North American mammals was a wow experience.   We felt we had been dropped into an alternate reality where all of the mammals of North America were suddenly there in front of us in their natural settings.

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum has a marvelous collection of taxidermied animals.

    Each area had its appropriate vegetation, water, rocks and background so cleverly integrated that you couldn’t see where the picture background began.

    In 1886 William T. Hornaday went on what he called, “The Last Buffalo Hunt,” to get specimens for what could be an animal headed for extinction.

    One of the men he taught his methods to for preparing animals for display was Lewis Lindsay Dyche.  Hornaday later pushed for the government to protect bison and the numbers have gone up so there is no chance of their extinction.

    Hornaday helped prepare the animals for a panorama of North American Wildlife to be shown at the Kansas Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

     Many of these animals became part of the present exhibition when Dyche's methods of taxidermy mounting and exhibition caught the public’s eye at a time when neither the media nor the nature programs had shown much interest. The State of Kansas dedicated Dyche hall for a permanent home.


Animals from all parts of North America are on display at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum

    Seeing the animals on display it was hard to believe that they had been mounted over 125 years ago.   The panorama is arranged by areas with the first one being the rainforest.  This and the Polar section were added later so visitors could have a complete North American experience.

    The positions and faces of the animals convey much about them.  In the forest scene two wolves face off with a skunk.  The skunk is defiant and the male wolf is threatening while the female wolf is watching patiently as if being more aware of the skunk's power than her companion.  

   At the mountainside covered with several dozen mountain animals we got a lesson in the evolution of the mountain sheep hooves that not only have sharp edges to hold on to the stones but a suction cup feature that gives it added advantages. 

    The plains area has buffalo, deer, badgers, ground hogs, and other animals so complete that you could study North American animals by just studying what is in the gigantic Panorma.

    At one point in the exhibition is a display with five different animal furs for the visitor to touch to see the different ways fur has evolved to meet the living conditions of that particular animal: Warmth in water, warmth in cold air, snag resistant, underground movement, and change with the seasons.

    From a higher floor we viewed the mountain scene as if we were standing on a high crag.

    On another floor there were naturalist displays in boxes of mammals in scenes doing what they do.  A Red Fox carefully stalks a prairie vole in a snowy scene.

    On the main floor in a separate section taxidermy horse Comanche stands alone in the semi dark to protect his hide from light damage.  He was the sole survivor of the Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn.

    Despite being badly shot up he survived and lived another 15 years.  When he died his hide was preserved and later turned into a monument of the battle.

    The museum's section on the results of evolution was so interesting in itself that I will write a separate story about it for next week's Venture Bound.

Two wolves confront a skunk.

Carla faces off with fierce taxidermied bear.