The big problem for kids in love with prehistoric animals is that sure, the American Museum of Natural History has a fantastic display of life-size fossils, movies and interactive exhibits, but no matter how terrific it is, nothing on that floor is coming alive, and the odds of you bumping into a dino in the wild are nil (no matter what those Jurassic Park movies may depict). That’s why NYC families are particularly lucky that that same museum just launched the brand new Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World.  It’s got all the history and science of the famous dinosaur exhibit, but also: living specimens! Plus tips on what you should (and shouldn’t) do if you ever come face to snout with one.

Image by AMNH

photo: AMNH

Did You Know?

  • Crocodiles have been living on earth for over 200 million years. Which means the largest ones were, in fact, contemporaries of the dinosaurs, and both belong to an animal group called archosaurs, which also includes modern birds.
  • Their ancient relatives encompassed galloping land predators, jumping insect-eaters, herbivores and dolphin-like animals that hunted in the open sea.
  • Though they are considered interchangeable with alligators by laymen, crocodiles and alligator are about as biologically related as humans and bats. (You can tell crocodiles from alligators by their teeth. Crocodiles look like they have an overbite.)
  • Crocodile blood is immune to a variety of infections, and researchers are working on a way to synthesize those unique properties for treating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses in human beings. Meanwhile, their stem-cells are being studied for the secret to re-growing lost teeth.

Image by Alina Adams

photo: Alina Adams

You Will See:

    • A life-size diorama of a 15-foot-long Estuarine saltwater crocodile, the largest living crocodilian,  which is found in the coastal regions of Southeast Asia and Australasian. This particular model is based on a fellow named “Gomek”, the longest “salty” ever exhibited in the Western Hemisphere, and is accompanied by a video telling the story of how he got from his homeland to the United States. (Don’t worry, contrary to urban legend, it was not through the New York City sewer system. According to Evon Hekkala, a research associate at the museum, that urban legend is pure myth. As far as she knows….)
    • A life-size diorama of a four-foot long Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, the smallest living species of crocodilian from the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America.

Image via AMNHphoto: AMNH

  • A live specimen of a Siamese crocodile, one of the most endangered crocodile species from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Remember the scientific advances being made above thanks to the study of crocodiles? That’s the most compelling reason for keeping these creatures alive.
  • A live specimen of the Central African slender-snouted crocodile, so you can get up close and personal (through glass, of course) and observe for yourself how the animals’ unique facial and tooth features are different from the alligator’s.
  • Multiple live specimens of American alligator hatchlings. They’re tiny and cute, and their sex is not determined at conception, but by the temperature at which the eggs the reside in are incubated. Eggs developed at 90 degrees Fahrenheit turn into males; higher or lower temperatures of incubation produce females. Surprise: Global climate change is predicted to mess with the traditional gender ratios.

Image via AMNH

You Will Do:

  • Kids can test their strength against a crocodile’s “crunch capacity” by pressing down on a machine similar to those “strength” and “love” meters at county fairs. Only, in this case, it should confirm that no, if faced with a snapping crocodile, you should not try to hold their jaw open. You will fail.
  • Learn to “speak croc” by listening to the variety of sounds the reptiles make and attempt to reproduce them. (Does not satisfy high-school foreign language requirements.)
  • Touch a skull replica to get a sense of just how big a croc’s head is – and then imagine the rest of it.
  • Watch videos of crocodile evolution and learn which species used to prowl the beaches of… present day New Jersey.
  • Poke an interactive screen and put together the crocodile species of your choice, from skeleton to muscles to hide.

Image by Alina Adams

photo: Alina Adams

Good to Know Before You Go:

  • The exhibition hall is dark and may be scary for smaller visitors. Older kids may be a little creeped out by the mounted newspaper headlines touting 12-year-olds being attacked by crocodiles. Or they may think it’s really cool.
  • Admission is timed so make sure you note and don’t miss your scheduled entry
  • Strollers are permitted in the museum

For families wanting to make a day of it, a companion exhibit, Dinosaurs Among Us, is running concurrently, highlighting the unbroken line between the crocodiles’ relatives, dinosaurs and birds.

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
Upper West Side
212-769-5100
Admission: $22 Adult; $12.50 Children Ages 2-12
Online: www.amnh.org/

Are you ready to take a bite? Let us know in the comments below!

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— Alina Adams