Located in Gainesville, Florida as part of the University of Florida campus, the Florida Museum of Natural History is the official museum of the state’s natural history, housing a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits focusing on the area’s geological history and biodiversity from the prehistoric era to the present.
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The museum’s roots can be traced back to the formation of the Florida State Museum in 1891, which began with collection holdings by Frank Pickel, a natural science professor at Lake City’s Florida Agricultural College. Pickel’s collections were transferred to the University of Florida when the Florida Agricultural College was closed in 1905, and were expanded into a display room in the basement of the University’s Flint Hall sciences building. In 1917, the museum was recognized as the state’s official natural history museum, as defined by Chapter 240.515 of the Florida Statutes. In the 1930s, the museum’s collections were moved to the downtown Seagle Building, and in 1968, construction on a new permanent facility on the University of Florida campus began, following a grant from the National Science Foundation. In 1988, the museum’s name was officially changed to the Florida Museum of Natural History, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, several new facilities were added to the museum, including Powell Hall, the Randell Research Center, and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the museum’s permanent collections contain more than 25 million holdings, primarily housed at its Dickenson Hall facility. The museum’s ichthyology collections are particularly of note, having been named as second most important fish specimen resources in the country by the National Center by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. 2,150,000 specimens represent over 7,000 fish species, with an internationally-significant collection of western Atlantic reef fishes. A mammalogy collection contains more than 30,000 preserved specimens, including a marine mammal collection of more than 310 dolphins, whales, and manatee, and a macology collection ranks among the five largest mollusk taxa holdings in the United States. A Florida Herbarium focuses on vascular flora native to Florida and the Southeastern United States, and significant herpetology and ornithology holdings showcase the region’s amphibian, reptile, and bird species. Vertebrate paleontology holdings are divided into several collections, including the University of Florida Collection, the Florida Geological Survey Collection, and the Pierce Brodkorb Collection, and archaeological holdings include significant holdings of pre-Columbian artifacts from the Caribbean. 10 million butterfly and moth specimens, one of the largest collections of its type in the world, are also held at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.
Eight permanent exhibits are featured at the museum, highlighting the state’s flora, fauna, and natural topography along with current environmental research and discussions. The prehistoric history of the state is showcased in the 5,000-square-foot Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land exhibit, chronicling 65 million years of the area’s geologic history and biodiversity from the Eocene through the Pleistocene epochs. More than 500 fossils are featured in the exhibit, including an exhibit of shark jaws of species such as the giant Megalodon. At the South Florida People and Environments exhibit, the history of the Calusa indigenous people is documented through several replicas, including a mangrove boardwalk and a traditional leader’s house, structured to mimic a fishing village common to the area before the arrival of Europeans in North America. A Fishing Heritage Gallery inside the exhibit chronicles 6,000 years of fishing practices in the area and contains a 1,000-year-old canoe paddle and fishing net. The history of the area’s waterways is also on display in the Northwest Florida Waterways and Wildlife exhibit, which features recreations of the ecosystems of a hammock forest, seepage bog, and northwest Florida cave.
For a separate admission fee, the McGuire Center’s Butterfly Rainforest showcases more than 80 free-flying butterfly species in a recreated tropical rainforest environment, with feeding stations for visitors to observe butterflies up close. An Indoor Butterfly exhibit features a three-story wall of butterfly specimen, along with observable rearing and research labs. Current University research is highlighted at the Exploring Our World exhibit, and the Our Energy Future exhibit offers tips and information related to renewable energy resources. For younger visitors, the Beverly and Jon Thompson Discovery Zone offers interactive science-themed activities.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Guided and self-guided field trip opportunities are offered for grades K-8, with activities tailored to Florida curriculum standards. A Museum on the Move program also allows educators to bring one of five custom Inquiry Boxes into their classrooms, highlighting the state’s reptiles and amphibians, butterflies and moths, and indigenous Native American cultures. Themed homeschool day events are offered throughout the year, and a Student and Scientist Partnership program, Project Butterfly WINGS, is aimed at students in grades 4-8, encouraging scientific curiosity through investigation of butterfly species.
A weekly Butterfly Plant Sale is held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with proceeds benefitting the Butterfly Rainforest’s research and initiatives. An annual ButterflyFest in October features native butterfly releases, workshops, and family-friendly activities. In January, a Collector’s Day event offers conversations with collectors of objects ranging from classic cars to Pokemon memorabilia, and in March, a Can You Dig It? festival features hands-on geology-themed activities for all ages.
3215 Hull Rd, Gainesville, FL 32611, Phone: 352-846-2000