A Journey Through Nature's Wonders IUF1000

Florida: the hot, humid, swampy, sunny land we all call home. Whether you were born here or are just visiting, the state's nature plays a huge role in its identity. From plants to animals to people, visitors of the FLorida Museum of natural history truly get in touch with Florida's wild side.

Nature on Display

Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land

Any encounter with a Florida Gator necessarily calls for the Chomp.

Of all of the exhibits currently housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History, I found the Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land to be the most unique and engaging in terms of its design. The exhibit follows a chronological timeline of the evolution of Florida's wildlife and environment throughout its history, lending itself to a natural sort of flow. When entering the exhibit, visitors are immediately taken back to the dawn of Florida's existence 65 million years ago, and they continue to follow a path through history that leads to how Florida appears today. The exhibit boasts dim lighting that both highlights the variety of fossils (real and recreated) of past and present flora and fauna species and creates an intimate setting in which Floridians can truly get in touch with their state's history. While the lighting made for tricky picture-taking (as one can see from my not-so-high-quality images), it did its job of casting a spotlight on all of the fossils the exhibit had to offer.

A giant 15 foot tall sloth skeleton! Can you imagine seeing one of these walking around the woods today?

While any museum display would constitute a visual learning experience, this particular exhibit excels at recreating scenery that a Floridian would have seen if they were walking around some millions of years ago. Many of the fossils on display are composed in such a way that compares their different shapes and sizes. In addition, these visuals clearly define just how large certain animal species were in the past. It might be easy to imagine what a 200 pound armadillo would have looked like, but being able to see the true magnitude of its skeletal frame provides visitors a much more meaningful look into our state's natural history. Rather than including computer-generated images of what these organisms would have looked like, the museum took to life-sized skeletal representations to showcase these animals in their full glory.

Florida Gators: 18 million years strong!

To accompany three dimensional representations of Florida's fauna are informational boards that provide a roadmap on visitors' journey through the past. These guides also help to fill in gaps by allowing viewers to learn about organisms beyond those immediately on display. Coupled with the fossil representations, these boards round out the truly comprehensive look at Florida, past to present.

any visitor to the Florida Museum of Natural history quickly learns that natural history is not limited to just animal life, rather, it encompasses the state's land and people.

Nature and Ethics

South Florida People & Environments

An important message for all visitors.

It's no secret that a variety of indigenous peoples have had a significant influence on Florida throughout its history (sadly, the Seminole population continues to thrive today *go gators*), but their presence and control of the state has changed and/or diminished during recent centuries. At the Florida Museum of Natural History, visitors are given a unique opportunity to learn about a lifestyle that is perhaps very different from their own by literally walking through the various habitats that past and present South Floridians call home. Along the way, viewers have the chance to learn about the tricks and the trade of being a indigenous individual in our state by observing tools, clothing, a model home, and other artifacts that are on display throughout.

The irony of going to a museum to see what many of us already have access to in our own backyard.

The journey into our peoples' past begins with a trip over a boardwalk on which visitors walk through a recreation of a typical Florida landscape in order to understand the land more deeply. While this scene is likely familiar to any Florida resident, the exhibit reminds people of the true beauty of the state's unique ecosystem and encourages them to appreciate and preserve it for future occupants to enjoy. The display also provides a view of how each plant, animal, and insect species live together harmoniously to create a balanced and well-functioning natural system. By allowing visitors to get up close and personal with their environment (without any risk of mosquito or snake bites), they are able to gain a better understanding of the environment that we share not only with other people, but with the hundreds of species that also call this habitat home. The exhibit also encourages viewers to embrace the importance of land conservation and to truly value what nature has to offer before it is too late. As Leopold put it, walking along the boardwalk reminds Floridians to "love, respect, and admire" their home.

In addition to indoor displays, this exhibit boasts excellent outdoor exhibitions, rounding out visitors' tour of the Natives' way of life.

Following the nature boardwalk is a series of displays demonstrating how the various Native American communities thrived in Florida for generations. Visitors are able to see the ways these people dressed, what they ate, and what cultural and religious traditions they practiced, along with other aspects of their day-to-day lives. One caveat of this exhibit however, is its exposure of the events that led to the decline of many of these Native tribes. From territory loss to expulsion to disease, these groups unjustly encountered many obstacles as the non-Native population began booming. While much of the Natives' way of live has long-been forgotten, many of their traditions and heritage continue to live on through current populations. As visitors learn more about these individuals' lives, they learn the importance of sharing the land and its resources with others in order to protect their lifestyles for generations.

And alas, the moment we've all been waiting for: The UF-famous Butterfly Rainforest.

Nature and the human spirit

The Butterfly Rainforest

Am I in Gainesville or a tropical rainforest? The world may never know.

As one walks through the doors of the Butterfly Rainforest exhibit, they are immediately transported from the stresses and responsibilities of every day life to a world of majesty and flight. Instantly, visitors emerged in a lush environment of green trees and vibrant flowers, and are able to come in direct contact with hundreds of butterflies spanning a variety of sizes, colors, and species. While every single butterfly is different, they are all equally beautiful and graceful as they flutter around in the warm Florida sunshine.

"Hmm, I think we should try some Krishna lunch next week. What do you guys say?"

The true beauty of this exhibit, however, is not in the butterflies themselves, but in the ability of a 6,400 square foot screened-in room to make wanderers forget about whatever is burdening them to take in the joy and simplicity of nature. Despite having visited on a colder day during which the butterflies were much more dormant than usual, my friends and I were able to get up close and personal with the butterflies, observing them while they were uncharacteristically still. Nevertheless, I look forward to returning in the warmer months in order to watch the butterflies in full flight.

A lonely chrysalis hangs peacefully amongst a rich green backdrop.

As I was heading towards the exhibit's exit, my friend noticed the above chrysalis hanging humbly from a branch. Although not yet a butterfly, I observed the chrysalis--a caterpillar in the midst of a life-changing metamorphosis--to be no less beautiful. I instantly connected with this little cocoon, thinking about how I, as a current college student, am going through a similar transformation. While I am no longer in my childhood years, I am not yet the person who I will ultimately become. By making the decision to attend UF, I too have wrapped myself in a envelope, which I will emerge from only when I am ready.

I have never in my life seen butterflies behaving so calmly. Can you say "photo op"!

Overall, my trek through the Butterfly Rainforest reminded me of how truly wonderful and magnificent nature is. By being able to physically immerse oneself in such an environment, one learns that mankind is no greater than nature, and that the natural world is one to be preserved for not only the enjoyment of those living today, but for future generations to see.

*NOTE: All photos are original content of Melinda Szabo


All photos are original content of Melinda Szabo

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