Day Twenty Eight: Natuurwetenschappen

Or the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, I should say. I took my six year old self to the museum armed with a student ID, an empty afternoon, and my camera. Let me just tell you. GAH I fell in love with their little Arctic display. I’ll show you. Warning, tons of pictures. Too late, you’re already here. Here’s a peek.

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First let me explain why I went. A few months ago I came across this little youtube channel called The Brain Scoop. A grad student in Montana, Emily Graslie, talks all about ecology and evolution and why animals are the way they are. She worked in the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum at her university, including helping to prepare animals for their collection. Taxidermy! What makes her story so amazing, besides the whole women-in-science-girl-power-thing, is that her little vlog blew up big time. She just landed a job at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (big leagues!) as their cultural ambassador. Smart, smart museum they are. Her videos have changed my outlook on museums, especially for natural history. I had to go and see how the Belgians did it! I wanted to ask a million questions about their animals, where the whale bones came from and why did someone donate a tortoise and what happens when their elephant finally falls apart. I didn’t know how to ask in French, and seeing as only the first floor of the museum had english translations, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to understand the answers.

REGARDLESS. I loved this quirky little museum.

They’re really big on iguanodons, as there was a major discovery of them in a Belgian mine.

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look at those plates! and spikes! you’re so odd, evolution

I played with an interactive, attacks-you-when-you-move dinosaur, and I got to draw my own Jurassic creature. (He was kind of ugly, but I’m okay with it.) Instead of going up one flight of stairs like a normal person, I scooted all the way up to the top because I too excited for the hall of WHALES. They’re the best. The skeletons were massive of course.

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And they had this quirkly little diorama/book of whale facts. I took a picture of every page.

But it turns out that the whale room was not even my favorite. To get there, you had to walk through the section on the Arctic and Antarctic. You know those aquariums with tunnel tanks? The ones you have to walk through and you’re surrounded by fish and reefs and anemones? Well it looks like that was the original intention but someone realized that stuffed animals require far less maintenance.

Behold! The life-size Arctic diorama.

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I didn’t know whether to laugh at the earnestness of it, or just soak it in as art. I nearly teared up at any rate. NARWHALS, guys. And there were polar bears and walruses and penguins and puffins and an intimidating looking leopard seal. (This section in particular I wanted to ask about the background of the inhabitants.) This little vignette was one of my favorites – don’t go towards the light little dude!

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Back downstairs, I wandered through the biodiver-city exhibit. Urban ecology was one of my first exposures to environmental studies as a career field, and the backyard-biologist thing is great for kids.

There was a hall dedicated to shells too, but the light was a little wonky for picture taking.

The only no-talking room in the museum was full of tarantulas and cockaroaches. I imagined them trading stories about the obnoxious tourists that wouldn’t shut up. This one had a really messy room.

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I would love to learn more about this process, too: the museum had a little corner dedicated to what animals WILL evolve into, fifty million years from now. This was a capybara in the future. He looks straight out of the Avatar set.

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This little stick was one of the earliest indications that humans could do math! It’s like an early ruler, sort of. I wonder if they hated math as much as we seem to now.

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The mascot of the museum was their beloved elephant, a former resident of the Brussels Zoo He was stuffed in the 19th century (!) and restored in 2007, so he’s got quite a patina, shall we say?

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All in all, I learned a lot and am happy to check this one off my Brussels Bucket List. Thanks R-BINS!

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