I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work as a docent at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, one of my favorite museums. UMMNH is located on central campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and is an exceptional place to visit.
The Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building also houses the research museums of paleontology, anthropology, zoology, and the University Herbarium. Unfortunately, the research museums are not open to the public. The building was erected in 1928 and in 1929 a small zoo was built behind it. This zoo was home to native and non-native animals including skunks, badgers, black bears and even a wolverine. In 1962, the zoo was removed to make room for an addition to the Ruthven Building. The building facade bears the inscription “Go to Nature, take the facts into your own hands, look and see for yourself. – Louis Agassiz” and above the bronze doors is the inscription “Truth conquers by itself”, a quote attributed to Antonius or Epictetus.
Though most of the Ruthven Building is not open to the public, UMMNH packs quite a punch into its relatively small space. The rotunda houses rotating temporary exhibits ranging from water conservation and recycling to mite research. Currently the exhibit is ‘Race: Are We So Different?’.
The second floor houses Prehistoric Life and the Hall of Evolution. The Hall of Evolution is a favorite of many museum visitors, including myself. Exhibits on this floor include mastodons (the state fossil of the State of Michigan), Allosaurus, Deinonychus and one of the world’s largest fossil whale exhibits. ‘Back to the Sea’ includes replicas of Dorudon, Basilosaurus, and Maiacetus, as well as others.
The third floor houses Michigan Wildlife. Specimens of native birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and plants line the walls, as well as one non-native animal: the wolverine. Dioramas demonstrate the remarkable natural diversity of the state and a balcony gives an spectacular overhead view of the Hall of Evolution below.
The fourth houses anthropology, geology, the planetarium, and a temporary traveling exhibit. Currently the traveling exhibit is ‘Evolution & Health’, which allows visitors to learn about the significance of skin tone, lactose intolerance and a sweet tooth in our evolutionary history. Geology displays include rocks and minerals found in the State of Michigan and the anthropology exhibits include a genuine white pine canoe that visitors can climb into.
The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is free to the public ($6 suggested donation) and is open Monday-Saturday from 9-5 and on Sunday from 12-5.