Mammals in the Extreme: The Biggest, Smallest, and Most Amazing Mammals of All Time Finally Have Emerged-And Are on View for All to See

Article excerpt

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THE EXHIBITION "Extreme Mammals: The Biggest, Smallest, and Most Amazing Mammals of All Time" explores the surprising and often extraordinary world of extinct and living mammals. Featuring spectacular fossils and other specimens, vivid reconstructions, and live animals, it examines the ancestry and evolution of numerous species, ranging from huge to tiny, from speedy to sloth-like, and displays animals with oversized claws, fangs, snouts, and horns.

"Ranging from the familiar to the wildly exotic, mammals represent some of the most fascinating and extraordinary creatures ever to have lived, including, of course, humans," notes Ellen V. Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History. "By looking closely at this one amazing class of animals ... 'Extreme Mammals' offers visitors a fun and intriguing opportunity to learn about how life evolved, why ,animals may, despite sharing some key characteristics, look and behave so differently from one another, and how there can be such extraordinary diversity within a single group."

The exhibit examines how some lineages died out while others diversified to form the groups of well-known mammals living today. Highlights include taxidermy specimens--from the egg-laying platypus to the recently extinct Tasmanian wolf (also known as Tasmanian tiger)--and fleshed-out models of extinct forms, such as Ambulocetus, a "walking whale." There is an entire skeleton of the giant hoofed plant-eater Uintatberium, with its dagger-like teeth and multiple horns; the skeleton model of Puijila darwini, a newly discovered extinct "walking seal," from the High Arctic, with webbed feet instead of flippers; a life-size model of Indricotherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; one of the oldest fossilized bats ever found; and an impressive diorama featuring the once warm and humid swamps and forests of Ellesmere Island, located in the High Arctic, about 50,000,000 years ago.

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Through the use of dynamic media displays, animated computer interactives, hands-on activities, touchable fossils, casts, taxidermy specimens, and a colony of live sugar gliders--extreme marsupials from Australia--the exhibition highlights distinctive mammalian qualities and illuminates the shared ancestry that unites these diverse creatures.

"Mammals are old--as old as the dinosaurs, but all dinosaurs, except for the lineage that gave rise to living birds, went extinct 65,000,-000 years ago," explains Michael J. Novacek, curator of the Division of Paleontology. "Mammals survived this great extinction event and even further diversified, evolving into the wondrous and sometimes strange creatures that are still with us today. This exhibition not only brings us close to this great flourish of mammals present and past, it shows how mammals are powerful examples of evolution in action."

Adds "Extreme Mammals" curator John J. Flynn: "This exhibition highlights the striking array of living and fossil mammals, so our visitors can explore the remarkable diversity of species, anatomies, and ecological specializations that occur in mammals. Extinct mammals often are viewed with curiosity, awe, or admiration because they are so different from familiar living organisms. In 'Extreme Mammals,' such unusual taxa are compared to their ancestors, closest relatives, or contemporaries to document and explain what is 'normal' and what is 'extreme.' The exhibition focuses on the extraordinary qualities of extinct and living mammals, revealing them to be much more than just furry, warm-blooded animals that nourish their young with milk."

The exhibition is divided into nine sections: Introduction; What is a Mammal?; What is Extreme?; Head to Tail; Reproduction; Mammals in Motion; Extreme Climates; Extreme Isolation; and Extreme Extinction. …