Located in Lawrence, Kansas on the campus of the University of Kansas, the University of Kansas Natural History Museum is a facility of the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute, offering a variety of museum exhibits and public educational programming related to natural history and biological sciences. The University of Kansas’ natural history collection dates back to 1864, with the implementation of a stipulation within the university’s charter mandating a compiled cabinet dedicated to natural history research.
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Early museum collections were curated under the leadership of director Francis Huntington Snow throughout the late 19th century, eventually growing large enough to merit the creation of a new permanent campus facility for the collection. Funds allocated by the Kansas State Legislature led to the construction of Dyche Hall in 1903, named for famed University of Kansas naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The museum was expanded in 1963 and again in 1993, adding a wing for ethanol-preserved collections, a laboratory, and additional office space. In 2003, the university’s Biodiversity Institute was created to oversee museum operations, research, and student programming related to natural history and biological sciences.
In addition to all museum programming and operations, 13 research divisions within the university are overseen by the Institute today, including archaeology, botany, herpetology, invertebrate zoology and paleontology, and ornithology. More than 10 million living and fossilized biological specimens are held by the museum, along with approximately 1.5 million archaeological artifacts pertaining to the natural and biological sciences and the cultural history of the Great Plains area. The facility is considered one of the leading international institutions for collection-based studies of evolution, paleobiology, and biodiversity modeling and is staffed by more than 100 research scientists and graduate students conducting ongoing research.
Four floors of exhibit space is offered within the Dyche Hall museum, offering more than 350 individual interactive exhibits for visitors to explore. The museum’s most notable exhibit is its 360-degree Panorama of North American Wildlife, which was displayed within the official Kansas Pavilion at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition and showcases mountings of North American mammals within their natural environments. The taxidermy of Comanche, Captain Myles Keogh’s famed horse from the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn and the United States’ only animal survivor of the battle, is also displayed at the museum in an exhibit on the fourth floor.
A variety of interactive live animal, taxidermy, and fossil exhibits are showcased throughout the museum, featuring elements such as DNA samples, skeletons, animal tissue, and audiovisual material. Live animal exhibits include the museum’s Bee Tree live bee colony, installed in 2014, which offers views inside the hive courtesy of a live feed bee cam, and the Bugtown exhibit, which showcases insects such as the giant cave cockroach and the blue death-feigning beetle. Live snakes, including black, king, and rat snake specimens, are also on display in an exhibit on the museum’s sixth floor.
Fossils and taxidermy of native Great Plains species may be seen throughout the museum, ranging from Cretaceous Period species such as mosasaurus and xiphactinus to modern-day great horned owls, red foxes, and prairie falcons. A special exhibit also showcases 40 types of mammal skulls, encouraging visitors to learn about species identification from fossil characteristics. Several exhibits showcase microorganisms using interactive digital technology, including Exploring the Microbiome and The Faces of Parasites. Biodiversity and evolution principles are highlighted within several exhibits, including Explore Evolution, which presents current Institute research related to natural selection and DNA evolution. The fossil preservation process is also showcased at the Cleared and Stained exhibit.
The museum’s gift store, Fossilogics, offers nature and science-themed toys and souvenirs, including affordable options for families. Children must be accompanied by adults at all times within the gift store, including student groups on field trip tours. The Grub’s Diner restaurant within the Bugtown exhibit also offers light fare for museum visitors.
Ongoing Programs and Education
More than 40,000 students have participated in the museum’s educational programming over the past decade, including curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school students in grades K-12. School workshop programming is also offered, with a variety of programming related to the natural and biological sciences available for classroom rental during the fall and spring. Public educational programming is also offered throughout the year, including the Professor Dyche’s Biodiversity Emporium mobile museum, which appears at local events and public spaces, and the annual Explorers Dinner event, which serves as the museum’s main fundraising event. Drop-in Discovery Day events are also offered periodically for families, featuring hands-on activities and interaction with the museum’s specimen collections.
1345 Jayhawk Blvd, Lawrence, KS 66045, Phone: 785-864-4450