A Visit to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science

June 17, 2014
School is out and summertime is here, providing you with an opportunity to work with summer science camps, teacher training, or other adventures. It's also a great time to explore your local museums to see what they have to offer your classes through field trips for the coming school year.
The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science

We visited our local science museum in Jackson, Mississippi, and were amazed at what they have to offer students of all ages. Upon our arrival to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciencein Jackson, we were welcomed by our good friends Charles Knight, Museum Director; Angel Rohnke, Assistant Director; and Megan Fedrick, Museum Education Coordinator. We began our visit with a brief history of the museum.Founded in 1932 as a part of the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission (now the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks), the Museum of Natural Science is the legacy of Francis “Fannye” Cook, advocate of the Game and Fish Commission and author of the state’s first game laws. As a biological researcher, her passion for Mississippi’s natural world made her the natural choice to be the museum's first Director.

Throughout the years, the efforts of the Museum have helped prevent the extinction of several species and have assembled vast scientific collections which are housed in their onsite research facility. Consisting of over 1 million specimens, the museum’s biological collection is the largest single reference of Mississippi fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates, plants and fossils.Natural Science museums are, arguably, the best! After all, where else can you learn about the natural world that surrounds you each day, in just a few hours?

Our first stop was at the museum’s stunning aquarium to witness a “diver feeding”. An all-time favorite for all ages, a diver feeds different species of fish and turtles while interacting with the audience. The presentation gives an up-close look of how different species of fish capture and eat their food – often evidenced by the manner in which the diver offered food to them. Some fish ate food that was simply dropped and floating; others ate from the bottom where it landed. Still, others ate right out of the diver’s hand. The entire 100,000-gallon aquarium network is home to over 200 living species.

We were amazed at the diversity of living animals and the realism captured in the non-living displays and dioramas. Students get a true sense of the animals’ habitats, while learning about some of their characteristics.The museum isn’t just displays and dioramas, though. They also offer live observation and interaction for school groups. After the diver feeding, we were guided to the education room to see some of the live animals kept for observation and for student education. We were introduced to Pete, a Gopher Tortoise, who was a hit with everyone there as Megan took him into the hallway to meet some new friends.

As museum visitors approached to pet Pete, Megan encouraged them to feel his shell as she explained interesting facts, like how Pete is attached to his shell, and how he uses his elephant-like hind legs and chiseled front flippers to dig into the soil.Afterward, Charles, Angel and Megan took us into a secure area of the museum which houses over a million specimens. Tours of this area are reserved for older student groups and professional researchers due to the depth of the information and studies.

The specimens and samples housed here are collected by biologists in the field, wildlife professionals, conservationists, and regular citizens to help support the museum. Rows and rows of storage cabinets are categorized, labeled, and organized by each type of specimen so they are easy to find when needed. Specimen collection for the museum began in 1935, and many of those specimens still exist today.While we may think of a museum as a place of displays and artifacts, the Museum of Natural Science is also a research facility. Beyond the static specimen collection, we were surprised by an impressive collection of DNA from various indigenous species. DNA is labeled and kept in a large freezer as part of the museum’s effort to provide a continuous picture of the environment and the evolving biodiversity.

The dedication of the staff at the Museum of Natural Science is what keeps the museum’s exhibits fresh, entertaining, informative and enjoyable year-round. With a focus on the state’s natural wonders, it gives direction to environmental stewardship at every opportunity so that current generations may learn respect of the environments for the benefit of future generations... All impressive examples of the responsible work at the museum.

Stephanie Miller

With over 25 years experience, Stephanie serves as a senior copywriter, social media director, and senior editor for Science Scene. Stephanie is always on the lookout for new educational and STEM-related opportunities and technology.