'Extreme Mammals' Featured at Calif. Academy of Sciences

New exhibit at San Francisco museum focuses on unique mammals

By: By Lauren Schiff

Extreme Mammals features a reconstruction of the extinct Macrauchenia (Macrauchenia patagonica) © AMNH/D. Finnin

 A a reconstruction of the extinct Macrauchenia (Macrauchenia patagonica) © AMNH/D. Finnin

From April 3 to Sept. 12, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco will be featuring a new exhibit, “Extreme Mammals: The Biggest, Smallest, and Most Amazing Mammals of All Time,” that showcases some of our most intriguing relatives, with fossils and reconstructions alongside recent specimens and live animals. The exhibit aims to explore the surprising and extraordinary world of extinct and living mammals. Through the use of dynamic media displays, animated interactive computer and hands-on activities, touchable fossils, casts and taxidermy specimens, the exhibition will highlight distinctive mammalian qualities and illuminates the shared ancestry that unites such diverse creatures. “Extreme Mammals” will also familiarize visitors with a colorful array of animals as they discover their place in the family tree and learn why humans are, perhaps, the most extreme mammals on Earth.

During a trip through “Extreme Mammals,” visitors will learn how mammals evolved, how scientists define this group and how some of the most extreme adaptations in the mammalian family support survival and reproduction. Highlights of the exhibition include taxidermy specimens from the egg-laying platypus to the recently extinct Tasmanian wolf. Visitors will encounter specimens such as an entire skeleton of the giant hoofed plant-eater; the skeletal model of a newly-discovered extinct “walking seal” from the High Arctic; a life-size model of the largest land mammal that ever lived; one of the oldest fossilized bats ever found; and a diorama featuring warm swamps and forests that flourished about 50 million years ago.

Another mammal featured in the exhibit, Homo sapiens, may look more familiar to clients.

“We don’t often think of ourselves as extreme mammals, since we don’t have long horns or venomous spurs,” said Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged, curator of anthropology at the academy. “However, we are without a doubt one of the most extreme mammals that evolution has produced. Our brain-to-body weight ratio is higher than any other mammal on Earth, and our ability to make and use complex tools sets us apart from all other life forms. That trait has enabled us to occupy virtually all parts of our planet and even explore others.”

Dr. Alemseged’s research, including his discovery of the oldest and most complete known hominid child, will be featured in a video display in the exhibit.

Admission to the California Academy of Sciences is $24.95 for adults; $19.95 for youth ages 12 to 17, seniors ages 65 and older and students; $14.95 for children ages 4 to 11; and free for children ages 3 and younger. The academy is free to the public on the third Wednesday of each month.