Extreme Mammals Review – They Don’t Look Like Mammals

Currently at the Field Museum, Extreme Mammals examines the ancestry and evolution of a vast array of species, living and extinct, and gives a fascinating look into the mammals we know today.  Wondering if this unusual exhibition would be appropriate for my associate’s grandchildren to see when they come to visit, Dorothie and I decided to check it out.  We turned this into a “Chicago Day”.  Because it was Make Music Chicago day our first stop the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s open rehearsal, where we enjoyed Music Director, Riccardo Muti’s humorous comments as much as the wonderful music.   We approached the Museum Campus from tiled tunnel under Michigan Avenue where skate boarders and picnickers were enjoying themselves.


The Field Museum was extremely busy when we entered and it turned out that some visitors were overflow from the “free day” at the Shedd Aquarium where there was a three-hour wait.  Visitors to Extreme Mammals’ were enthusiastic and fascinated as they viewed life‐like models of extinct animals, fossils, reconstructions and live animals, which are all part of the spectacular and vivid exhibit.  Organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada, Extreme Mammals examines the ancestry and evolution of a vast array of species, living and extinct, and gives a fascinating look into the mammals we know today.



As we entered the exhibition, we were rather startled by the size of the first mammal that caught our attention.  The Indricotherium (in-drik-oh-THEER-ee-um), the largest land mammal ever discovered would have been pretty hard to miss.  A fully-grown adult weighing up to 20 tons is the size of three or four adult African elephants, the largest land mammals alive today.  More information includes :Indricotherium lived in the forests of Central Asia between about 34 and 23 million years ago, it was a plant-eater and could stretch its long neck to nibble leaves high in the treetops and, without sources of the massive amounts of vegetation needed for its survival, as the central Asian forests gave way to open grassland habitats, this huge mammal went extinct. Its closest living relative is the rhinoceros.


Then there was the story of the blue whale, which is the largest known animal ever – mammal or otherwise. Blue whales can grow to nearly 200 tons – 10 to 20 times bigger than Indricotherium (the largest land mammal ever discovered, now extinct). Its tongue alone can weigh more than four tons, and its heart is the size of a small car.


We saw the smallest mammal that ever lived, the tiny, now-extinct creature named Batodonoides (bat-uh-duh-NOY-deez), so small, it could have climbed up a pencil. With an estimated body weight of just 1.3 grams – less than a 20th of an ounce – it weighed only about as much as a dollar bill. It lived approximately 50 million years ago and is related to modern shrews and moles. The smallest mammal alive today is the bumblebee bat, which is no bigger than a bee and weighs only about as much as a dime.


As you can see from the information above, there is a lot of information which was conveyed in different ways:  the exhibits themselves, large signs, small signs and in “fine print” detailed, specific information primarily for adults and/or experts. There were also buttons to push to bring up figures that moved on a large screen, circles to move to match a pattern to an animals’ skin and an armadillo model for small children to crawl through.  At the end there were two films that were very interesting.


Going through the various displays, questions recur such as, “What makes a mammal extreme, compared to what?”  “ Why is this a mammal?”  The exhibition examines how some lineages of mammals died out while others diversified to form the well-known groups living today. Highlights include taxidermy specimens – from the egg-laying platypus to the recently extinct Tasmanian wolf, and fleshed-out models of spectacular extinct forms such as Ambulocetus, a “walking whale.” Also on display are: an entire skeleton of the giant hoofed plant-eater Uintatherium, with its dagger-like teeth and multiple horns; the skeleton model of Puijila darwini, a newly discovered extinct “walking seal” from the High Arctic with webbed feet instead of flippers; a life-size model of Indricotherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; one of the oldest fossilized bats ever found; and an impressive diorama featuring the once warm and humid swamps and forests of Ellesmere Island, located in the high Arctic, about 50 million years ago.


This is a remarkable exhibition.  You have until January 6, 2013 to see it but time passes quickly. See it now.


The Field Museum is such an important part of a wonderful city.  As we left the exhibition and the museum, stepping out the back door, Chicago greeted us.


The Field Museum

1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605-2496

312.922.9410 (General Field Museum Information)


Tickets to Extreme Mammals are included in both Discovery and All-Access passes to the Museum and are priced $22-29 for adults, $18-24 for seniors and students with ID, and $15-20 for children 4-11. Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Visit fieldmuseum.org or call 866.FIELD.03. Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 15 or more. Group Sales office: toll-free at 888.FIELD.85 (888.343.5385).


Sponsor: Discover


Photos: B. Keer and Provided by the Field Museum



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