Imagine seeing a bat the size of a bumblebee or a dinosaur-eating mammal or an animal that has a sixth sense to detect electrical current. How about getting up close to the largest land mammal that ever roamed the planet. Or crawling through the shell of a giant, ancient turtle-like mammal that weighed more than 1,100 pounds.
It's all part of Extreme Mammals, a special exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, which runs through the holiday season and remains open through March 27.
The touring exhibition, created by the American Museum of Natural History, focuses on what makes mammals both weird and wonderful. Visitors can get a closer look at giant claws, huge fangs and unusual snouts, for instance, and find characteristics that connects humans to Earth's more than 5,400 living species. The exhibit examines the diversity, ancestry and evolution of a variety of species.
Extreme Mammals is dense on graphics and text. But there are plenty of hands-on activities dotted throughout the exhibit to keep kids interested and learning during visits. You'll find fossils, reconstructions, models and a 15-foot-high model of the extinct Indricotherium, the largest known land mammal, which visitors are invited to touch.
"There's all levels of information," said Albert Ervin, who is in charge of the museum's special exhibits. "If you're interested, you can come back again and again. And, it has something for everybody."
When you go, look for the signs with the North Carolina map, which indicates that there's a connection to our state in the information or case. Kids will enjoy stopping at the Mammal Moment area, which features specimens from the museum's various collections. Kids can touch replicas of poop, pelts and paw prints to try and guess what animals they come from. Nearby, there's a magnetic board where kids can mix and match the heads, bodies and tails of various mammals.
Visitors can make some Mammal Music in a piece designed with the help of a museum staffer, who also is a DJ. Here, you can compose a wilderness track, looping in beats, nature and mammal sounds. Nearby, kids can climb on or through the giant replica of the ancient, turtle-like mammal called the Glyptodon. Or they can spin a dial and watch on big screens to learn how mammals - from dolphins to monkeys - move.
"We wanted something more tactile," Ervin said. "Touching is such an important part of learning."
While about 60 percent of the animals featured in the exhibit are extinct, many still roam the planet. The museum used the exhibit as an opportunity to highlight local destinations that are home to many of the living animals featured - the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro, the Conservators' Center in Mebane and the Duke Lemur Center in Durham. As you wind your way to the end of the exhibit, you'll find information about each of them.
Extreme Mammals runs through March 27. It's open daily. Tickets are $15 for adults; $13 for seniors, students and military with ID; and $10 for ages 3 to 12. Museum members are free.