I like to avoid southern California’s scorching heat by doing my traveling indoors.  What better way to explore than to visit the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles where they currently have a special exhibit called Extreme Mammals. Given such an intriguing title, how could I resist?

As usual, there was so much to see and learn.  It was difficult to leave!  I thought I would give a brief rundown as to what I found to be most unusual or impressive.

1. Extreme isn’t the same as Extinct

While most of the signage promoting this exhibit depicts mammals from millions of years ago, there are many extreme examples still living.  I did like the gigantic creatures that took over after the dinosaurs and the exhibit starts with some of those.

Indriotherium is one of the first animals in the Extreme Mammals exhibit

Indricotherium is one of the first animals in the Extreme Mammals exhibit

Indricotherium is the largest land mammal ever discovered.  Lack of habitat probably led to its extinction.  The biggest mammal these days in the blue whale.  Speaking of whales, the front flipper of a gray whale was on display.  This is an extreme example of bones similar to those in your hand.

Flipper of a gray whale on display at Extreme Mammals

Flipper of a gray whale on display at Extreme Mammals

2. Several traits make mammals distinct from other animals

As near as I can recall, I learned that animals are mammals because they nurse their young.  During my visit to Extreme Mammals, I discovered there are several things that are distinguishing features.  Just to name a few: three middle ear bones, molar-like chewing teeth, and hair. I never really gave much thought to hair before.  I like how they gave the Indricotherium fuzzy ears.

The fuzzy ears on the indriotherium

The fuzzy ears on the indricotherium

3. Some mammals lay eggs!

Monotremes lay eggs.  There aren’t many examples of monotremes and echidnas.  Probably the best known is the platypus.

Platypus on display at Extreme Mammals. Photographed by Halley Sanchez

Platypus on display at Extreme Mammals.       Photographed by Halley Sanchez

There are three mammal groups:  Monotremes, marsupials, and placentals.    Examples would be the platypus, the possum, and people!  (I couldn’t resist the alliteration)

4. Horns and antlers aren’t the same

There was much to say about horns, antlers, and ossicones.  While they are all based on bone tissue, they are also quite different.  Antlers usually fall off annually.  Horns are permanent.  Ossicones are permanent but not hard like a horn.  Think about the knobs on a giraffe’s head.  Those are covered by skin and fur.  Those are ossicones.

Horns on display at Extreme Mammals

Horns on display at Extreme Mammals

Tusks, on the other hand, are teeth.  There were several examples of extreme teeth but I preferred this “horn.”

Narwhal tusk at the Extreme Mammals exhibit.

Narwhal tusk at the Extreme Mammals exhibit.

The male narwhal has two teeth, one of which grows into this long spiral tusk.  And it is long, about eight to ten feet!

5. Humans are Extreme

Did that surprise you?  We’re unique in that we walk upright on two legs.  Other mammals get about one two legs, but they usually hop or skitter.  We consistently walk. This walking ability goes back a long time.  Scientists can trace the differentiation in pelvic bones back to Australopithecus.

A cast (?) of Lucy's pelvis on display at Extreme Mammals

A cast (?) of Lucy’s pelvis on display at Extreme Mammals

I put a question mark in the caption because I’m not certain about these bones.  I thought the original bones had been returned to Africa.  Nonetheless, the point is that with this example from 3 million years ago, one sees a marked difference in the shape of the pelvis.  It is no longer elongated as it is in apes.

6. Bigger isn’t always better

Not all extreme animals survived.  The Saber-toothed cat and the American lion were extremely large predators.

Saber-toothed cat, American Lion, Scimitar-toothed cat, Pleistocene North American Jaguar, and the Moutain Lion

Saber-toothed cat, American Lion, Scimitar-toothed cat, Pleistocene North American Jaguar, and the Moutain Lion

Of the five cat skulls shown above, only one is still living.  The smallest and nearest, on the right-hand edge, is a mountain lion.

A mountain lion, so common these days in southern California

A mountain lion, a protected mammal in California

So those are just a few of the things I discovered during my latest visit to the museum.  I highly recommend this award winning exhibit.  It has been traveling the country visiting Denver, Chicago, and North Carolina to name a few.  I don’t know where it’s heading next.  I do know it will be in Los Angeles through September 10, 2017.  Hope you get a chance to see it!

To view more of my photos from Extreme Mammals, please click here.

Your thoughts?