The Natural History Museum is always a winner, but this summer’s new exhibit takes the fun and learning to the extreme. Extreme Mammals teaches kids (and parents) a thing or two about our favorite furry kin. Mammals have swum in the ocean, flown in the sky and lived with (and devoured) the dinosaurs! Read on to learn more about the coolest mammals to roam the earth, and the exhibit that brings them to LA.

What Makes a Mammal a Mammal?
Your budding biologists probably know the basics when it comes to these creatures: warm blooded, hairy bodies and, in females, mammary glands for that beloved mama’s milk. But “Extreme Mammals” takes the notion a bit further.

Mammals, and their ancestors, have been around for over 200 million years and while some of them easily fit the bill, others have extreme features that your little Darwins may not expect. Did you know that some mammals lay eggs? And marsupials, who finish their gestation in their mother’s pouch, are also mammals.

Are You Extreme?
Begin the journey by introducing yourselves to the ancient Indricotherium that will tower over the entire family. Its middle toe was larger than a human femur (thigh) bone, which is on exhibit for the family to view. Once inside take the time to watch a short video that will give the family a clear (and brief) rundown on what makes a mammal a mammal and the surprises that lie therein. While you’re at it, be sure to visit the “extreme human” wall and learn what makes us typical and extreme. While we may have a steady, warm body temperature we also happen to have an exceptionally large brain. (Your kids will totally remember that fact!)

Survival of the Fittest
Next, take a tour of all the evolutionary features that have helped mammals survive for all of these millions of years. Extreme mammals has a host of antlers, horns and shells on display. Be sure to read about the Glyptodont who roamed the earth covered in a 1,100 pound shell of armor. And while you’re reading, antsy pants tots can have a romp inside of a replica shell courtesy of NHM. After the kids remove their armor, make sure they check out the “Super Teeth” wall where they can open wide and compare their chompers to some of the fiercest mammals known. Don’t miss the replica of the now extinct Ambulocetus—a crocodile-like whale that walked on earth to take in its prey. Yep, they were mammals, too.

Get Hands (Claws?) On
In classic NHM style, there is plenty to touch to get the your little paleontologists interested. Reach in to touch a porcupine quill, skunk hair or a giraffe hoof. Right next door is a quiz wall where the family can look at an image of an animals fur and take a guess what they are looking at and then turn the wheel to find out.

Inspire Another Visit
As you walk toward the exhibits exit, you’ll see several preserved skeletons on display from the ice age—saber tooth cats and ancient horses just to name a few. These treasures, of course, were discovered right at our very own La Brea Tar Pits. We’re lucky that we live here; if Extreme Mammals has sparked enough interest, you just may want to drive across town to the Page Museum and Tar Pits to keep learning…

But Wait, There’s More Museum
After your visit to “Extreme Mammals” be sure to check out the rest of the museum. The Nature Lab is on the same floor and your explorers can learn all there is to know about the wild creatures that currently roam right in our backyards. From rattlesnakes to cockroaches to rats, NHM has you covered. Just outside is also a beautiful play area complete with a wood thatched “house” and compost bins for getting dirty. And, of course, there are they obligatory mammal and dinosaur halls which are always a treat.

If after a morning of indoor voices your kids gotta run, there is a great playground on the other side of Bill Robertson Lane (next to the parking lots) that will do the trick. r take your picnic lunch out into the Rose Garden, where kids can run free and you can rest in the shaded gazebo, smelling the scents of summer.

Tickets are $10-$22, including general admission to the Natural History Museum.  Tickets are not timed, and you may visit on any date.  Members are free, and LA County residents can save $2/ticket if you visit Monday-Thursday. Extreme Mammals is only in Los Angeles through September 10, so be sure to check it out this summer!

The Natural History Museum
900 Exposition Blvd.
Exposition Park

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—written and photos by LeTania Kirkland Smith