Houston Museum of Natural Science
At the northern edge of Hermann Park lies one of Houston’s most popular attractions. Founded in 1909, it was originally named Houston Museum and Scientific Society, a name it had until a decision was made in 1960 to rename it Houston Museum of Natural Science. Not long after, construction began on a new facility and the renamed museum opened the doors of its current location in 1969.
Morian Hall of Paleontology
Since 1969, there have been several additions made to the museum. The most recent is the Morian Hall of Paleontology, which more than doubled the size of the museum. The sight of over 60 skeleton mounts is really quite impressive. Not only do the skeleton displays offer visitors a very visceral sense of scale, many of the displays are also staged as predator and prey action scenes. Behind several of these hunting scenes are some beautiful lit-from-behind artwork pieces that show the scene in what appears as a very real picture of the hunt. It’s a clever way of showing more than one aspect of these ancient animals.
Cockrell Butterfly Center
Another area popular with visitors is the Cockrell Butterfly Center. A three-story, glass-domed structure allows visitors to walk among tropical plants and hundreds of fluttering butterflies. As anyone who has ever tried to get the perfect picture of a butterfly knows, it can be a very frustrating experience. Inside this warm and humid environment, designed for optimal butterfly contentment, your odds of capturing a good shot go way up. If necessary, locate a feeding station and you’ll likely get what you want.
Brown Hall of Entomology
If you exit the butterfly center on the uppermost level, you’ll enter the Brown Hall of Entomology. Here, you’ll find a number of display cases containing live insects and some cases containing preserved butterflies and beetles. There’s one really interesting case containing some serious masters of camouflage. After staring at leaf litter and sticks for a while, beginning to tire of the idea that there’s even anything in the case, suddenly your eyes learn to look at things differently and you find they’ve been sitting right in front of you the whole time. Things are definitely not always what they seem.
Some of the most fascinating cases in the entomology hall are those that contain the chrysalides of many species of butterflies. If you’re lucky, you might arrive just in time to see a butterfly emerge from one. If not, you could still spend a long time here just analyzing the differences in color, shape and size.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science maintains a number of permanent exhibits. I must admit to the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals being my favorite. Although I’ve visited it many times, I still find myself in front of those glass cases feeling absolutely stunned by the beauty within. In addition, I enjoy the Strake Hall of Malacology, which houses a beautiful collection of shells. With enough time on my hands, I also like to go for a wander in the Welch Chemistry Hall. Depending on your own interests, you may find other areas that will draw you in the same way. Who knows, exploring the museum may lead to new passions.
Every year, visitors can look forward to special exhibits arriving at the science museum. Some of our favorites over the years have been a mummy exhibit from Egypt, the Terra Cotta Warriors from China, and the Body Worlds exhibits.
Plan to Watch a Movie
There are two separate areas for watching documentaries. The Wortham Giant Screen Theater is appropriate for both digital and 3D movies and will usually have a choice of several different documentaries on any given day. The Burke Baker Planetarium, with its domed roof and reclining seats, is optimal for space documentaries.
Lectures for Anyone With an Interest in Science
The planetarium is also often used for the museum’s evening lecture series. On Tuesday evenings, usually starting at 6:30, the museum will regularly schedule various interesting people from the world of science to come and speak. We’ve attended a number of these lectures and they’re always informative and interesting. The speakers selected are experts in their fields and represent many nationalities. If you’ve not attended one of these, I would recommend giving it a try.
This story will be the first in a series of museum visits I’ll be scheduling this summer. It’s my ingenious way of being active while getting out of the summer heat. The next museum to be featured will be The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.