A Historic Visit to the Florida Museum of Natural History By Laurel Swiderski

Nature on Display

Up Close and Personal with Beautiful Butterflies

No exhibit in the FMNH brings you as close to seeing nature on display as the Butterfly Rainforest. Being a Gainesville native, the first time I ever went to this exhibit was when I was little and it was first opened. I remember then being instantly struck with how amazing it was to be able to interact and observe beautiful butterflies and moths up close, or even on your hand if lucky. Going back to the museum as an adult, the feeling still remains. What I love about the Butterfly Rainforest is how tranquil and true the exhibit is. What I mean by tranquil and true is that the entire area feels like a true rainforest -sans the rain- with beautiful lush planets, birds, and sounds of waterfalls, all of which create a sense of calm and being one with nature. Instead of seeing recreations of butterflies or specimens tacked onto the wall, you are able to come directly in contact with these beautiful creatures and get a sense of how they should be living out in the wild. The exhibit and its caretakers document how these creatures are beautiful but also meant to be wild, untouched by man, fluttering wherever and whenever. You go in expecting to see a few butterflies and maybe get chosen by one as a resting place as if it were some spectacle in a theme park, and come out with full knowledge of the beauty that nature is possible of conveying and a desire to keep that fragile bubble of nature present for years to come. An example of this in action truly helped me realize what I love about this exhibit the most. A little girl, no older than six, was following nearby myself with her grandmother holding her close. She was excited to be there, but kept having to be told by her grandmother to not touch any of the butterflies, but to let them come to her instead. We rounded one of the last corners, and right when she was about to pout about not getting to touch a butterfly, the beautiful green one I posted in a picture above came and landed right on her shirt. Her eyes absolutely lit up. When I was expecting her to freak out and potentially hurt the butterfly, she surprised me by instead carefully letting it walk onto her finger and then placing it back onto a leaf nearby. Her grandmother asked her why she let it go, given her history of complaining about it the whole time through the exhibit, and the little girl told her that it 'belonged in its home, not on her shirt'. That story sums up why I love the Butterfly Rainforest exhibit so much: humans get to come to a better understanding and appreciation for even the smallest of nature's creatures.

The little girl bringing the butterfly back to its 'home'. (Grandmother consented to photo)

Nature & Ethics

Wall of Science/Nature/History Quotes

When I came upon this nook before entering a history of the early world's now extinct creatures exhibit, I felt drawn to this one quote by John Muir out of all the others on the wall. I feel as if it summed up what was to come, and Leopold's ideology, the best. As I said before, I have been to this museum plenty of times. Usually, I pass by this because beyond it I get to see huge shark jaws, giant sloth skeletons, and a gator skeleton suspended in mid-air. However, when I actually stopped to look for meaning, I was able to notice this wise saying and gain a whole new perspective. While those around me were skipping past the exhibit's knowledge to simply see the skeletons, I started to question what led these animals to become simply skeletons in a museum, and what sort of state of this world they experienced while alive. I read more of the descriptions of the creatures, stopped to listen to the little audio info-sessions set up to document different periods of climate change and animal existence provided as the exhibit progressed, and pieced together the exhibit as a time puzzle instead of collection of various skeletons. These writings allowed those who read them to connect in an emotional and narrative sense, instead of only in a visual sense. By the end of reading and traveling the exhibit, I felt a Leopold-like call to make sure that animals today could be appreciated while still here on Earth, instead of only after they become skeletons. It made me want to do more to ensure more animals did not end up in the same fate as those I passed, extinct and existing only as memories. I wanted to do more, not see more. I no longer can go through that exhibit without thinking about the stories and paths that led those animals to be there.

Nature and the Human spirit

By Native American Exhibit / Bamboo outside the Museum.

The Florida Natural History museum is a wonderful place to escape your normal life. It acts in my opinion as an informative time travel experience. What I mean by this is that when we go to the museum, we are shown what everything we have come to know and love and believe in our humble state came from. We can learn about the nature that surrounds us, both in the form of the animals we see and the lands we use, and how the world has changed to give us those things now. We can learn about past Native Americans who paved the way for our civilization today. We get to see how they made our home their home, and learn truly how similar and yet unique they are to us in present-day Florida. We get to see the actual footprint we have on nature over the course of time, something we as humans struggle with in terms of our future. Through seeing all of these displayed before us, we are able to better see where and what we have come from and come to an idea of our personal selves. Once we understand how we got to where we are today, we are able to fully understand and appreciate the world around us. By acknowledging what it has given us through touring the museum, we are able to come to a better knowledge of the world.

Created By
Laurel Swiderski

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