Nature's Superheroes: Must-See Exhibit for Animal-Crazed Kids in Boston

Kids get an up-close look at all the parts of the Hercules beetle. Photo courtesy of author
Kids get an up-close look at all the parts of the Hercules beetle. Photo courtesy of author

Surely you've heard (or seen the giant billboard on the Pike) about the newest Museum of Science exhibit, Nature's Superheroes: Life at the Limits. Or, if you have an animal-crazed nature nut like my seven-year-old son, you haven't stopped hearing about it since learning the traveling exhibit was Boston-bound in 2019. My son and I checked it out the day after it opened, and weren't disappointed: From a micro-animal that could survive temperatures on Pluto to lizards that squirt blood out of their eyes, the fascinating, strange, and downright gross creatures we learned about are excellent kid-conversation fodder. Here's a preview if you decide to make a February staycation outing or winter day trip out of it.

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This life-sized elephant seal sure looks real. Photo courtesy of Museum of Science, Boston

Before You Go...

On loan from New York City's American Museum of Natural History, Nature's Superheroes: Life at the Limits is open from February 14, 2019 through May 22, 2019. To me, it's the perfect time to go to a nature-based museum exhibit: With weeks-old snow still crusting the ground, my outdoorsy kid was especially psyched to roam a place that mimicked habitats spanning from caves to coral reefs. 

Thankfully, this special exhibit is viewable with a Museum of Science general admission ticket, so unlike the Butterfly Garden and special shows, there was no extra cost to visit. You'll find it on the second floor, next to the Hall of Human Life (my children's favorite permanent MOS exhibit).

Must-See Highlights

Those things hanging from the ceiling are some of the hardiest animals alive. Photo courtesy of author

Approaching Nature's Superheroes, we were immediately pulled in by a glimpse of giant, glowing, bug-like critters hanging from the ceiling just inside the exhibit. "Water bears!" exclaimed my son. I was doutbful, but it turned out he was right: With the ability to survive both boiling and freezing temperatures, Tardigrades (a.k.a water bears) were the first animals to be exposed to the vacuum and cosmic rays of space, making them a pretty suitable introduction to an exhibit about amazing animals.

Lots of kids were recognizing creatures from the exhibit. With Wild Kratts topping many DVR lineups—and note, a hands-on, preschooler-oriented Wild Kratts: Ocean Adventure exhibit is also on temporary display at the MOS through May 22!—children are becoming experts on interesting animals. But note: Kids coming to see live animals might be a bit bummed that save for a few tanks of very cool mantis shrimp, the critters were all models (most very realistic and some supersized). Some of the most interesting things about the exhibit need to be read (or read aloud to) children from display signs and cases. Still, there were plenty of really fascinating looking replicas and enough interactive elements that even preschoolers walking around the exhibit seemed intrigued.

Most of the rest of the maze-like exhibit was divided up into sections that highlighted different "superpowers"—from super-sight to scary spikes—that animals (and some plants) use to adapt and survive. Here are some highlights to look out for and things we learned:

  • In a display devoted to animal courtship rituals, kids can press buttons to hear "love sounds" from various animals, from bats to crickets.
  • The southern elephant seal, a model of which hangs from the ceiling, is not only enormous; with three times as much blood pound for pound as a human, it can hold its breath underwater for two hours.
  • With cool colors and super-vision, mantis shrimp—displayed here live, in tanks—literally punch their foes at speeds of 50 miles per hour.
  • The Hercules beetle is one of the biggest flying insects on the planet, and here, kids can literally climb on (a replica of) one, getting up-close look at its giant signature horn.
  • What's it like to live in the dark? In the cocoon-like cave section, there are models of leeches, snakes, and even birds who echolocate like bats to find their way around.
  • A diorama of hydrothermal vents from the very bottom of the ocean show how tube worms can withstand (and thrive in) superheated, chemical laden ocean water.
  • Through Microsoft Kinect technology, children can stomp on bugs and pet skunks in interactive animals "encounters."

Good to Know...

With a child who's engaged, it will take about a half-hour or so to make the rounds through the exhibitAfterward, if you have time, it's a great idea to check out the Wild Kratts exhibit, especially if you have little ones; but also the Hall of Human Life, to see how our own "powers" compare to those of the animals we learned about moments before. "Why are we in charge of all the animals if they can do so many more cool things than we can?" my son wondered aloud. It's a fair question, after seeing all that nature's superheroes are capable of.

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