A Parent's Review: Mythic Creatures at the Academy of Natural Sciences

Mami Wata heals the sick and brings good luck to her followers, but she also has a temper and will drown people who don’t obey her. Photo credit AMNH
Explore folklore and magical creatures at the ANSP

Prepare to enter a world of make believe and monsters. Venture into the abyss and enjoy the fun that comes from interacting with creatures you've only heard of in stories. Featuring dragons and mermaids, unicorns and monsters, the new exhibit at the The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns  and Mermaids, is an excellent demonstration of the way cultures all over the world have embraced many similar myths and fantasies. The question is "Why?" Did our ancestors really live in a world of magic or was it their way of explaining the inexplicable? I went with my daughter to learn the answer. Below is our review and a primer for your adventure to this fantastical exhibit!

The Academy of Natural Sciences has a regular rotation of new exhibits each year, making it one of those museums where you really do experience something new every time you visit. This spring, they've unveiled an exciting look into the myths that have guided folklore and continue to show up even in modern programming (ahem, Game of Thrones). With the new exhibit Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns  and Mermaids, on view through Sunday, June 9 2019, visitors gain an understanding of the inspiration behind some of the most pervasive cultural myths. And the exhibit reveals the role real animals or even fossils have played in the inspiration for these myths. Mythic Creatures features dozens of unique cultural objects that show how similar, and different, many of these ideas where and how they played a role in many different cultures. 

Big Takeaways:

We discovered the inspiration behind the unicorn. Not to sound like Buzzfeed, but the answer really will shock you. I also greatly appreciated the way the exhibit demonstrated how similar myths came to be across the globe. Did you know that dragon  legends date back thousands of years, or that mermaids in Europe, Africa and the Americas all carry combs and mirrors and were thought to be beautiful, seductive and dangerous?

Highlights of the exhibit include: 

  • Vibrant sculpture of the African water spirit Mami Wata.
  • Replica “Feejee mermaid” of the type made famous by showman P. T. Barnum, created by sewing the head and torso of a monkey to the tail of a fish.
  • A lifelike model of a European unicorn
  • A giant model kraken, whose tentacles greet you as you enter and appear to rise out of the floor (which, side note, was very scary to my little scaredy-pants two year old).

Getting interactive:

As always, the Academy of Natural Sciences makes interactivity a key component of their exhibits. Stations invite visitors to explore through video, dress up, arts, and more. Spending time in the space your kids will get to:

  • Make their own giant out of mammoth bones
  • Watch videos and learn about the significance of creatures in the lives of our ancestors, and gain a better understanding of how these myths came to be
  • Build a virtual dragon and watch it terrorize (or just fly) a virtual environment 
  • Dress up as dragons, unicorns, or kraken and explore the globe to discover where and how myths popped up. 


Dressing like a dragon


Chalk coloring, exciting for all ages!

Key Themes of the Exhibit:

The exhibit is organized by creature, featuring those with the most pervasive tales prominently. Expect to learn about sea monsters, mermaids, giants, griffins, unicorns, and dragons. While my daughter enjoyed the dress up and playing with the screens, this is definitely an exhibit for school-aged children who can appreciate the history and get excited to learn more about the creatures they may have heard about in bedtime stories.


Exploring Sea Monsters. Photo by AMNH

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
19103 Philadelphia , PA 39° 57' 24.9372" N, 75° 10' 16.0932" W
Pennsylvania