Museum to open survival exhibit

Staff report

CLEVELAND — “Amazing Species: Life at the Limits,” a new exhibition opening Feb. 18 in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 1 Wade Oval Drive, Cleveland, showcases how organisms use exceptional talents to go about their ordinary tasks.

This exhibit showcases animals that can do amazing things, such as hold their breath for 90 minutes, see ultraviolet coloration that human eyes cannot detect, eat and swallow prey much larger than itself and endure temperatures above 300 degrees Fahrenheit and below -458 degrees F. These are a few of the extreme approaches to life and a riveting glance of the magnificent distinction of the natural world and the power of natural selection to shape exceptional responses to the challenges and opportunities of life on Earth. Viewers will see the remarkable and unusual strategies that animals and plants use to simply survive.

“’Amazing Species’ is a unique exhibit that showcases extraordinary adaptions that animals and plants use to find food, reproduce, fend off predators and survive in normally dangerous and unfavorable conditions,” said Evalyn Gates, executive director and CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Visitors will be greeted with the fascinating tardigrade, a creature that can withstand oxygen deprivation, ionizing radiation and extreme heat or cold. These extreme examples of the amazing life around us will educate visitors and amaze guests of all ages.”

Featuring life-size and larger-than-life models, several species of live animals, videos and interactive exhibits, “Amazing Species” highlights an array of organisms with surprising ways of thriving in harsh environments, finding a mate or their next meal, leveraging strength, endurance, speed and more.

Organized by the American Museum of Natural History, “Amazing Species: Life at the Limits” tells the story of the creatures that have adapted to survive in the harshest environments in the world. Over billions of years, living things have evolved from simple cells into an awe-inspiring array of life forms, a spectacle of behaviors, specialized parts, and exacting skills. Some species are familiar. But others are so amazing that they test the limits of the imagination.

“Amazing Species,” overseen by Dr. Tim Matson, curator and head of vertebrate zoology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, will showcase bizarre mating calls, extreme examples of parasitism and other extraordinary means of survival, using specimens, videos, interactive exhibits, and models, including a climbable Hercules beetle.

“The abilities of plants and animals to adapt to extreme situations allows them to overcome nature’s challenges, but to thrive,” said Matson. “This exhibit highlights some of the most astonishing examples of adaptation in nature and relates the stories of interesting, amazing and astonishing plants and animals.”

Dr. Gavin Svenson, co-curator of “Amazing Species” and assistant director of science, curator and head of invertebrate zoology adds, “Learning about plant and animal adaptations has direct impact on our day to day lives through application of biological solutions to our own challenges. Why invent something new when another species may have already evolved the perfect solution? For example, Velcro was inspired by plant seeds. The challenges we face can be overcome by turning to the life around us for bio-inspired solutions that can improve our future as a species in balance with the world on which we live.”

Visitors will be invited deep into a cave where animals that live without light lack pigmentation — and eyes. A fluorescent coral reef will reveal the phenomenon of synchronous spawning, in which different coral species are triggered by moonlight to release billions of eggs and sperm in unison. Live animals on display will include the mantis shrimp, an aquatic powerhouse that packs one of the strongest punches on the planet.

A cacophonous soundscape will showcase the inventiveness of mating serenades, from the hammerhead bat’s honk to the shy pig frog’s group song. And a life-sized model of the titan arum plant will expose visitors to one of the world’s largest flowers, though thankfully not its smell: in nature, this unusual plant releases the scent of rotting flesh to attract flies.

These and other fascinating forms will help to show how life survives, and even thrives, in the most improbable conditions. A glimpse into the exhibit will include Breathe and Eat: Getting food and oxygen into the body is a key to survival, but how plants and animals accomplish that can vary widely; Thrive and Endure: From lightless caves to frigid permafrost, life finds a way to thrive even in the most seemingly inhospitable environments; Move and Sense: Animals use many ways of getting around, plus a range of senses, to navigate different parts of the planet; Protect and Prosper: From suits of armor to amazingly long lifespans, some species seem, at times to cheat death.

“Amazing Species: Life at the Limits,” at the Museum from Feb. 18 to July 9, is free with museum admission. Admission fees are $15 adults; $10 children 3-12, college students with valid ID and seniors over 60; free for children 2 and under. Admission Wednesdays after 5 p.m. is $8. Shafran Planetarium shows are $5 with general admission or $7 for planetarium-only tickets.

Staff report