Florida Museum of Natural History By Susanna Yau

One of the many shark jaws exhibited by the museum and myself for size comparison.

Nature on Display

The Butterfly Rainforest is an interactive outdoor exhibit that features countless of butterflies and birds alike, not to mention an array of other types of animals such as fish. This exhibit is not only filled with a variety of beautiful animals but also wondrous flora.

A colorful assortment of flowers

The beauty of this exhibit is unsurprisingly the creatures that reside in it. In every nook and cranny, there lies an abundance of butterflies that are flying freely. Also, there are beautiful metal benches for visitors to sit and take in the environment. The exhibit also allows guests to get close to the butterflies and watch them enjoy eating fruit.

Butterflies feeding on grapefruit

What interested me in particular was the peaceful coexistence of the creatures residing in this habitat. The exhibit is large and diverse, yet the fauna and flora live in a beautiful harmony; it feels like a microcosm of society and of nature. This experience was especially enjoyable due to its peaceful and beautiful atmosphere; it is a breath of fresh air compared to the bustling life outside.

Myself and the flowers

Additionally, right outside of the Butterfly Rainforest exhibit is a butterfly nursery filled eggs, larva, pupa, and adults. Visitors can witness the life cycle of butterflies, known as metamorphosis. If one is lucky enough, one can even witness the hatching of a butterfly from its silky cocoon. This exhibit presents the beauty of nature and makes us reflect on the circle of life.

Newly hatched butterfly

Nature and Ethics

Although the museum promotes the conservation and protection of nature, it is hard to be comfortable around walls and walls of deceased creatures. Near the Butterfly Rainforest is the eerie section of deceased and pinned butterflies. Upon examining the collection of the lifeless butterflies, one would feel the unnaturalness of their preservation, which would then simulate a feeling of a giant sterile laboratory. On that note, the lab rooms towards the back of the museum only add to the feeling that it is just one big science project.

A collection of other insects

It is very possible that some of these displays are products of taxidermy. Some may view it as a method of honoring animals and showing them off, but others may see it as morally wrong for stuffing and posing a dead animal's skin for decoration. Although, it is the museum's intent to present the creatures as they appear in nature, to some visitors it can be seen as promoting animals as objects and our property.

A bald eagle figure found in a children's exhibit

There is a strange juxtaposition between the lifeless creatures we see on display at the museum versus the same creatures we witness elsewhere. Right next to the Butterfly Rainforest is the endless displays of butterflies inside the museum, and right outside the museum are the University of Florida Bat Houses full of thousands of lively bats not even a mile away.

A display of Florida bats

It is also difficult not to feel as if us humans are the "conquerors of the land" as these creatures are strung up around us as part of an attraction. Though in actuality, these creatures might not have been harmed in the process for preservation. Even though it may not seem like the most ethical way of presenting these creatures, it allows visitors to connect with parts of nature that might not be seen otherwise.

Nature and the Human Spirit

Personally, the mystery and majesty of the Universe is shown most by the skeletons of long deceased animals. The American Mastodon's and Columbian Mammoth's fossils were transformed into a skeleton by not only skeletal patterns from other creatures but also by the human imagination. We may never know or understand what life was like hundreds or thousands of years ago, but we can piece together information from such preserved artifacts and discover the past of our planet.

A glimpse into the Cambrian Period sea life

The museum allows us to travel to a time before our own existence to understand not only our past environment, but also aspects of our current reality. These fossils document past marine life so that we can witness the evolution of life in nature. It also allows us to reflect on our own developments and to assess the impact that humans and other animals have on the environment around us.

Do it for the scissor-tooth shark.


Artifacts and displays from the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, FL.

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