What Is the Academy of Natural Science?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2020
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The Academy of Natural Science is a museum of natural history in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Established in 1812 to promote the sciences and “useful learning,” it is the oldest American museum of its kind. In its infancy it organized expeditions into the wilderness, and explorers brought back new species of flora and fauna for study and examination. These expeditions formed the beginning of the Academy of Natural Science's collection of 17 million items.

Permanent exhibits include a steamy indoor tropical garden where butterflies fly freely around the room and can even land on visitors, and the large Dinosaur Hall. An icon of the Academy of Natural Science looms over guests in Dinosaur Hall, the 42-foot (12.80 meters) long skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex. About 30 other dinosaurs are also featured in the hall, with half represented by skeletons. The academy has an online exhibit of the fossils that were once owned by Thomas Jefferson, including a mastodon fossil.

Child guests at the museum enjoy The Big Dig, where they can act as paleontologists to dig up a full-size Stegosaurus model. Visitors also can see dinosaur footprints and eggs. In the Fossil Prep Lab, they can see paleontologists and other museum staff working on real fossils that have been dug up at other locations around the world.


Youngsters can also visit the Academy of Natural Sciences’ children’s museum, Outside In. As its name implies, the children’s room brings the outdoors inside for children to see up close. They can feel a genuine meteorite, view bees buzzing in work around their beehive or search for shark teeth, among other activities. Animals are a big attraction at Outside In, including a rabbit, a lizard with no legs, cockroaches that hiss, a cowbird, and a tortoise.

Dioramas of animals in natural settings are a big part of the visitor’s experience at the Academy of Natural Science. Among the 37 dioramas are those that showcase moose, bears, bison, mountain sheep and musk oxen, while others feature tigers, lions, zebras, gorillas and antelope. The Asian dioramas feature a panda and a yak.

The museum first allowed public access in 1828, offering views of some of the collected items. All of them were identified with labels written in Greek and Latin. About 60 years after the museum’s founding, and after three moves because of quickly expanding holdings, the Academy of Natural Science settled in its present location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.


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Post 3

@KoiwiGal - I am excited about the fossils to be honest, than about the butterflies. Particularly the fossils that were once owned by Thomas Jefferson. I mean, that's two very important and interesting pieces of history rolled into one package.

This is the kind of museum that's very good about changing the exhibits too, so that you can go back every few months and see something different.

They probably keep half or more of their items in storage, because there simply isn't room to display them all. I've been to museums where they try to display as much as possible and they are completely overwhelming.

A well paced museum like this one is much better and easier on the eyes and brain. It's particularly good for kids as well.

Post 2

@pastanaga - Butterfly rooms can be really amazing. I haven't been to the one in this museum, but I went to one in England recently which was quite large and had at least 20 different species of butterfly in it. They also had an area showing how the butterflies hatched from their cocoons. And they even had a colony of leaf cutter ants in the middle of the room so that we could look at those too.

Since the butterfly room in the museum is lodged in a tropical greenhouse they probably have all kinds of unique plant species as well. That would make for some really good photos.

And I've heard that these kinds of butterfly houses are also really

good for the butterflies, as they help to provide money to breeders who let their charges out into the wild as well as selling them, to help maintain healthy numbers all over the world.

It's good for museums to be giving back, as they did often contribute to extinction back in the day when they paid so much for unusual specimens.

Post 1

This museum sounds amazing. I can't even imagine where they would put 17 million items.

I was in Philadelphia a few years ago and it didn't even occur to me to go and see this museum.

There are so many really good natural history museums in the world, but I've never heard of one that actually has a real butterfly room inside. I've visited butterfly rooms in zoos before and they are always extraordinary, with creatures that you just can't see anywhere else.

I really wish that I had made the time to go and see this museum now. I will definitely have to make time for it the next time I go to Philadelphia.

This and the Philly cheese steaks, as that was my favorite part of visiting the city the last time I was there.

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