What's In Your Shell Collection? - Mollusks at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

As most school-aged children in the area know, the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge is a great destination for families with kids who are fascinated by animals, dinosaurs, insects, sea creatures and birds. Its exhibits, informative displays, and special programs make it a fun place to explore.

There's a new reason to visit the HMoNH: Mollusks: Shelled Masters of the Marine Realm, which looks at the world of snails, clams, squid and other invertebrates of the marine world.

The exploration of the second-largest group of animals on the planet is a colorful, informative exhibit chronicling mollusks’ evolutionary history. Any child who has brought back bags of shells from a trip to the ocean will be able to relate to what they see. And who knows - they may even find their future profession! Professor Gonzalo Giribet, whose team's research is featured in the exhibition, says his fascination with mollusks began at the ripe age of eight, when he started collecting shells on the beach.

Mollusks is a small exhibit, situated between the Arthropods and Africa Gallery. Hands-on activities even the youngest of children can enjoy include using magnifying glasses to see the tiniest mollusks, exploring larger shells that are available for touching, and watching several videos about these creatures.

The “educational” elements of the exhibit are clearly explained so there’s plenty for older children - parents, too! - to take in. Visitors learn about the ecology of local bivalves such as oysters or clams, discover the diversity of snails of the genus Conus, which are some of the most beautiful, but also some of the most deadly, and see some of the largest specimens known (like a two-foot long shell). There are also some newly restored glass models of an octopus and other mollusks, created by the makers of the museum’s famed Glass Flowers.

And for even more about mollusks, be sure to check out the octopus video and Cuban land snails exhibit in the Language of Color exhibition.

It had been a couple of years since we had visited the HMoNH, and I was interested to see the restorations that have been taking place. New England Forests - a brand-new (2011) permanent exhibit - is an eco-system that most children will recognize. Here they can learn about their own back yard, look for hidden tadpoles and flying squirrels, and see a giant moose.

Next door is the Great Mammal Hall, which was renovated in 2009 to its original (1872) look and feel, while using new scientific information for re-classifying some of its inhabitants and green materials and technologies. Animals have been well restored where necessary, including the long-time kid favorite, the giraffe with the damaged neck. He looks great today!

Mollusks: Shelled Masters of the Marine Realm is on view through February 2014. Free with admission.
Harvard Museum of Natural History
26 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Admission: Adults $9; Children (3-18) $6. Admission is free on Sundays (9am to noon) and Wednesdays (3pm to 5pm, Sep-May) for MA residents.

Hours: Open daily 9am to 5pm (closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).

Photo: Checking out the Giant Clam, by Olga Tkachenko, Harvard ’12

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