The Houston Museum of Natural Science was first established in 1909 in downtown Houston. Twenty years later, it relocated to a facility within the Houston Zoo. Its current home was constructed in 1969 across the street from Hermann Park and now serves as an anchor for the Museum District. The museum has had an extensive education program for over 65 years. In just the program’s second year, it was already serving over 12,000 children per year.
The museum also currently operates the Wortham Giant Screen Theater, Burke Baker Planetarium, and the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the main museum,satellite facilities in Sugar Land, and the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park.
Activities and Opportunities-
At 2 million visitors per year, it is one of the most visited museums in the country, for good reason. It offers a tremendous variety of exhibits including the new Hall of Paleontology which includes more than 60 large skeleton mounts of reptiles and mammals representing over 150 million years of Earth’s wildlife diversity. The Hall of Americas contains Native American artifacts dating back thousands of years ago.
The Weiss Energy Hall offers interactive displays of petroleum geology and oil drilling techniques. There are two large wildlife exhibits. The Hall of African Wildlife displays several animals found across Africa. Several African species look very similar to ones commonly found right here on the Texas coast. A couple of examples are the African Darter and Egyptian Goose. The African Darter is an anhinga found in African marshlands and closely resembles it’s American relative, the American Darter (mostly referred to as simply anhinga in the Americas). The Egyptian Goose, native to Sub-Saharan Africa, have been spotted in Texas in recent years (check out this article from Gary Clark for more information).
For wildlife enthusiasts, the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife is a must see. Types of wildlife are separated by biologic provinces across Texas including exhibits on the Attwater Prairie Chicken and water birds in Galveston Bay. Examples of gulls, herons, ibises, roseate spoonbills, and brown pelicans provide an up close look of these birds and really let visitors see details that are found on each bird. The exhibit offers brief explanations of why the birds look the way they do and why they are an important part of the Texas coast. An exhibit featuring upland forests of the Big Thicket is adjacent to the water birds and also provides an up close look at the habitat that make up a significant portion of east Texas.
A larger wildlife exhibit depicts marsh swamps typically found along the Texas coast. In this one exhibit alone, visitors can find over 20 different types of wildlife and all of them being found on Anahuac NWR at one time. Black-Bellied Whistling Tree Ducks, red-winged blackbirds, nutrias, anhingas, King Rails, and alligators are all commonly found in the coastal marshes at Anahuac NWR. Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Cranes have been spotted at the refuge, but are typically found further south down the Texas coast.
Raptor exhibits are also available and help explain how conservation efforts have helped restore population in recent years. The Peregrine Falcon, for example, was once an endangered species because of pesticides, but through governmentlegislation and protection tactics, this bird is now common once again.
For the emerging Lepidopterist out there, the Cockrell Butterfly Center is also a must see. It includes several exhibits about butterflies and other insects. It includes a three-story glass structure that is filled with butterflies found all over the world. As soon as you walk in, butterflies are floating past your face. It is a unique experience and a must do for those visiting the museum.
Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?-
As I was looking at the Texas marsh wildlife exhibit, I couldn’t help but notice the curious eyes of two young children who were asking their father what each of the animals were. The sight was incredibly encouraging because it shows that kids, no matter how many video games they play or how much television they watch,are still captivated by nature.
The National Wildlife Refuge System strives to protect and restore animals, plants, and their habitats so they can benefit future generations. Locally, Anahuac NWR and FOAR continue to support youth education programs through our reading programs, summer day camp, hosting school field trips, and always inviting families to participate in volunteer projects on the refuge. Unplug from technology for a day and go outside to see the original “angry birds” game that happens in nature every day. Visit YOUR Houston-area National Wildlife Refuges. MJ