Harvard Natural History Museum

No trip to Boston would be complete without a journey across the Charles River to Cambridge (“our fair city”) and American’s oldest university:  Harvard (1636). What drew me to Harvard was the Natural History Museum. This museum was founded 362 years after the university in 1998 and was created out of three different research museums: the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard Mineralogical and Geological Museum, and the Harvard University Herbaria. With the price of admission you got three museums in one which also included the Peabody Museum of Native Americans.

I had come to sketch the superlatives, oddities, and extinctions of the animal world, and they were many specimens on display in the museum’s vast collections.

The Superlatives:

The wandering albatross has the distinction of having the largest wingspan in the bird world. It’s wingspan can reach 11ft 6in.

The largest falcon species is the gyrfalcon.

The smallest wren is the winter wren, which also sings one of the fastest songs in the bird world.

The capybara is the world’s largest rodent.

Harvard 2


The Oddities:

The duck-billed platypus is an Australian mammal that is poisonous and lays eggs (one of only five monotremes that currently exist).

The Coelacanth, an ancient fish that was once thought to be extinct, until it was rediscovered on December 22, 1938, off the east coast of South Africa.


The beautiful passenger pigeon was once the most numerous bird in North America but is was hunted to extinction. The last living bird,”Martha”, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.

The ivory-billed woodpecker is very close to being extinct with rare sightings in the southern swamps and Cuba.

The Thylacine or Tasmanian tiger once lived in Australia and Tasmania but the last individual died in the Hobart Zoo on September 7, 1936. Mysterious sightings are still reported.

Moas were large flightless birds endemic to New Zealand. The nine species of Moa were hunted to extinction by the Māori.  All Moas were extinct by the 15th century.

The Dodo has become the poster bird for island extinction. The dodo was endemic to the island of  Mauritius and was first encounter by Dutch sailors in 1598. The last report of a live dodo was in 1662. Why the dodo became extinct is unknown, with over hunting, habitat destruction and the introduction of nonnative species being leading causes.


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