The opening of the Akeley Hall of African Mammals in 1936 marked the birth of the golden age of the diorama. Named for Carl Akeley—the naturalist, explorer, and Museum taxidermist—the hall showcases large mammals of Africa.
At the center is a freestanding group of eight elephants, poised as if to charge, surrounded by 28 vivid habitat dioramas. These provide a glimpse of the diverse topography of Africa and its wildlife, from the Serengeti Plain to the waters of the Upper Nile to the volcanic mountains of what was once the Belgian Congo.
Considered the most social of cats, lions live in prides that consist of one or more males, several females, and cubs. While a male lion consumes an average of 5,500 pounds of meat a year—mostly wildebeest, zebra, and antelopes—females do most of the actual hunting.
African lions breed at 3½ years old, and the cubs are born spotted at birth. Male lions weigh about 375 pounds while females average 265 pounds. In captivity, lions have lived up to 25 years, but in the wild they usually survive only half as long.
Find this diorama in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals.
This image from Giuseppe Poli’s Testacea utriusque Siciliae…(1791-1827) depicts the internal and external structures of a Mediterranean scallop (Pecten jacobaeus), with a degree of detail that had not previously been seen in a published work.
This illustration is on view now at the Museum in the exhibition, Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration from the Museum’s Library.
American badger - July Morning, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
After a fruitless night of hunting, a badger has discovered a fresh target: the burrow entrance of a Wyoming ground squirrel. Badgers will dig furiously to excavate underground prey and their own dens. They can quickly tunnel themselves out of sight using powerful forelimbs and long claws. When attacked themselves—cougars and eagles will try —badgers fight back with ferocity.
This beautiful diorama is located in the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals.
Weighing 15.5 tons, this iron meteorite is the largest ever found in the United States and the sixth-largest in the world. The smooth surface melted during its blazing entry into the atmosphere, while the pits formed on the Earth’s surface.
The Willamette Meteorite was originally located within the Upper Willamette Valley of Oregon. It was revered as a spiritual being that has healed and empowered the people of the valley by the Clackamas Indians who occupied the region.
In Erpétologie générale …(General herpetology…), the first comprehensive account of all amphibians and reptiles then described by scientists, organized by French zoologist André-Marie-Constant Duméril (1774-1860), dead and sometimes poorly preserved museum specimens appear in remarkably lifelike postures. This illustration depicts the Madagascar warty chameleon (Furcifer verrucosus).
See this and other illustrations from the Museum’s Rare Book Collection in the exhibition Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration from the Museum’s Library, open now.
SPOTTED SKUNK AND RINGTAIL (CACOMISTLE) - June at Sunset, New Mexico
In this diorama, the last rays of the June sun catch one face of the striking landform known as Shiprock. The remarkable handstand of the spotted skunk (left) is a warning to discourage the two curious ringtails (right) from getting any closer. If this pose doesn’t work, the skunk will release jets of foul-smelling musk from glands under its tail.
Ringtails also combine chemistry with defensive body language. Here, one ringtail has made its tail fur stand upright, creating the illusion of larger size. If the standoff escalates, the ringtail might curve its tail over its head, and—as a last resort—emit its own smelly secretion.
Today USASAURUS and GERMANODON face off in the World Cup! Which winged reptile will make it through to the next round? We can’t wait to find out. Make your own pteam pterosaur now and share it with friends: Color A Pterosaur!
Learn more about Sinopterus and Tupandactylus, the pterosaurs featured here, in our new exhibition Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs.
Royal Llama of the Inca
Most Inca goldwork and silverwork was melted down by the Spanish conquistadors. The Museum’s silver llama figurine is a rare example of Inca metalwork. Approximately 500 years old, it is from the Island of the Sun, or Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.
Every morning, an Inca priest presided over the sacrifice of a llama at the temple of the Sun. Anthropologists think that this figurine is a special white llama covered with a red blanket that was kept by the Inca ruler, or Sapa Inca, as a kind of mascot.
From the Museum archives: “Dr. Barnum Brown with mounted Pteranodon, at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, 1938.” Taken by Charles H. Coles, this image combines two of our favorite things: pterosaurs and Barnum Brown.
Learn all about Pteranodon longiceps, perhaps one of the most recognizable pterosaurs, which lived about 85 million years ago, then watch a video about Barnum Brown, the man who discovered Tyrannosaurus rex.
The popular Rapa Nui (Easter Island) moai cast in the Hall of Pacific Peoples for #MuseumMonday. Easter Island is famous for its rows of moai, basalt figures of deified ancestors that were carved in quarries, then moved to a platform on the water’s edge. There are 887 moai on Rapa Nui, where they are revered, even considered by some islanders to be sacred.
According to legend, Cleopatra (69 BC–39 BC), the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, ended her own life by enticing an asp to bite her. The snake we now call an asp (Vipera aspis) produces very painful—but rarely deadly—venom. Cleopatra was knowledgeable about poisons and their effects, having tested many on condemned prisoners. If she indeed committed suicide (some have speculated she was murdered by political rivals), Cleopatra would have selected a relatively painless death for herself, perhaps ingesting a mix of opium, aconitum (also known as wolfsbane), and hemlock.
Learn more about villains and victims in the Museum exhibition, The Power of Poison.
Black-tailed and antelope jackrabbits - June at noon, near Tucson, Arizona
The dioramas at the Museum precisely depict a moment in time—a specific location, and in the case of this diorama, time of day, complete with indigenous flora and wildlife.
The black-tailed jackrabbit (left) and antelope jackrabbit (right) are often seen idling or running together, but make no mistake, these are two different species. Both hares have long ears and legs, but antelope jackrabbits’ ears are even more enormous. Black-tailed jackrabbits are distinguished by black tails and ear-tips. In a race, the antelope jackrabbit would win, reaching speeds of 44 miles (72 kilometers) per hour.
This diorama is located in the Jill and Lewis Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals.