Museum of Natural Sciences is full of hidden gems

By in Culture

Chelsea Powrie

Culture Editor

The Museum of Natural Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan is an undervalued attraction well worth an in-depth exploration.

Many students are familiar with the museum from passing through it on their daily trek to class. It is housed on the ground floor of the Geology Building and its iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton makes it memorable. But the museum has a lot more to offer than what first meets the eye, and a thorough visit beyond perfunctory glances in the few minutes between class reveals its true treasures.

The main section of the museum functions as a timeline through the history of evolution. Tanks full of fish and amphibians graduate to enclosures housing reptiles and birds, all of which are accompanied by informative panels explaining at which point in earth’s history  these types of animals appeared.

The animals also have signs providing details about their specific care and story. For example, Sammy the rat snake was an accidental hitchhiker inside of a shipment of produce from Kansas, U.S. She was discovered and saved, and then made her way to the U of S. She now lives in the Museum of Natural Sciences, where visitors can watch her be fed on Wednesday mornings or marvel at all six feet of her shedded skin.

Another notable feature of the fish and reptiles section is the koi. Patrons can stand at the edge of the open-air pond and peer down at these surprisingly large Japanese carp. They have intricate coloration and amusing habits: they swim to the surface and gulp hopefully for snacks when they have visitors.

Following the koi, the exhibit changes its focus. An impressive fibreglass cast of a Stegosaurus skeleton marks the end of the reign of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals. Using a horse as an example, the exhibit illustrates evolution through a series of skeletons ranging from a tiny prehistoric horse ancestor with several toes to a large modern horse with hooves. It is a simple yet highly effective way of communicating the amount of change that evolution has caused and information panels accompanying the displays are complementary and thought provoking.

After visiting this main section, patrons may feel they’ve seen it all, but the museum has more to offer. The natural science focus includes earth science and the museum’s collection of minerals is extensive. In the main lobby, a large case  in the central area displays impressive specimens with a wide range of colors and crystal structure. Taking the time to stop and look closely at each of them is worthwhile.

This display is the most obvious, but it is not the only one. Off the beaten path down the hallway are more glass cases filled with rocks and minerals. A particularly fascinating case houses a large number of quartz crystals, demonstrating the vast range of coloration that can manifest.

On the wall opposite of the display cases hang a series of informational panels. They cover basic geological history, briefly explaining Saskatchewan’s current makeup. One panel explains the prevalence of potash in the province, which is particularly interesting given its importance to the economy.

The information panels in general are the strength of the museum and are all too easily missed during a brief visit. Patrons are guaranteed to learn something new if they take the time to read. The panels are concise and well-written, and include photographs and maps. They range in topic from the local to the cosmic, including a section on meteors, which is fascinating to the viewer.

Other highlights of the museum include the adorable degus, which are small brush-tailed rats, and the tropical fish tank, which houses fish in all the flashy colors of the rainbow. The museum is chock full of interesting visuals and information.

You may think you’ve seen everything it has to offer, but a closer look will undoubtedly reveal more. Best of all — it is completely free!

The Museum of Natural Sciences is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photos: Katherine Fedoroff