"Nature is a revelation of God; Art, a revelation of man." Longfellow.
At the present time this hall of the American Museum of Natural History contains a varied assemblage of animals, but in the main is devoted to a series of groups of reptiles and amphibians which for composition, detail and exactness are not excelled in any museum.
In the immediate foreground, dominating all others, is a mounted specimen of "Tip," an Asiatic elephant who was the main attraction in Central Park Menagerie for many years. In 1894 it became necessary to kill him be-cause of his treacherous disposition. In the east wall cases are many species of seals. Other conspicuous mammal specimens or groups are those of the sea elephant, the largest of the earless seals and now nearly extinct; an exceptionally well mounted white rhinoceros; Bactrian camel; tigers; Chinese takin, a clumsily built animal with yellowish-brown hair and curiously curved horns, and black rhinoceros. For want of space many of these specimens are only temporarily arranged.
Quite naturally the visitor's attention will be drawn to the group of king penguins on the north side of the hall. In this case is an actual reproduction of a penguin breeding ground or rookery on South Georgia Island, Antarctica. These grotesque but gorgeously colored birds are shown in various stages of growth. The two central birds, solemnly examining one of their eggs, and one on the right hand, illustrating the method of feeding by regurgitation, are especially attractive.
Arranged in rectangular form in the center of the hall of reptiles and amphibians is a series of groups which include the Texas, timber and diamond-backed rattlesnakes, a copperhead den, the Gila monster, iguana, pine snake, deadly moccasin and harmless water snakes. All are mounted in careful detail, each group in surroundings like those in which they are found in life."
Interest centers, however, in the groups on the south-westerly side of the hall illustrating the life habits of certain North American reptiles. The Museum's artists have here emphasized the character of the work required in the reproduction of groups, intended to represent the natural haunts of the reptiles, by a technique so fine as frequently to cause the observer to wonder which portion is real and which artificial. For the best effect the visitor should stand well back from the groups, when the foreground and back-ground will blend as in a vista in nature.
The giant salamander is most frequently encountered in the streams of western Pennsylvania. In this group the river is represented as flowing toward the observer, in order to show the nests and eggs under the rocks. Salamanders are seen molting, eating crayfish and watching their eggs; there are also young salamanders.
Bullfrogs in the next group of reptiles and amphibians are seen in a typical lily pond and in the various stages of life from egg to adult. Certain individuals are casting their skins, swimming, breathing under water and in air, croaking and catching insects, birds and snakes.
Adjoining is a group of lizards as they might be found on a Lower California island. Desert life is pictured in striking contrast to the other groups in this series.
The last group, that of the toad, represents a typical scene in New England in May. Here have been incorporated oak, maple, hornbeam, shadbush and tall blueberry trees and shrubs, and pendent from the new leaves are the glistening water drops from a recent rain. The combination of natural specimens with the work of the taxidermist is so perfect that the question arises in the visitor's mind which is the work of nature and which that of the artisan.
In another part of the hall of reptiles and amphibians are specimens illustrating the distinctive habits of some of the animals, for instance, an enlarged model of the bullfrog, showing the peculiar construction of its tongue which enables it to catch insects, the various processes of shedding skin, the "spring peeper" with its vocal sacs inflated, the poisonous bushmaster with its eggs, and the Surinam toad which carries its eggs in the soft tissues of its back where the young are hatched. The perishable parts of many of these animals have been cast in wax from life, thus utilizing in the model only the hard or indestructible parts. This method brings out in detail the principal features, thus doing away with the objection-able and unsatisfactory exhibition of specimens in jars of alcohol.
Suspended from the ceiling is a skeleton of a North Atlantic right whale.
Lack of room has again made necessary the installation, in the lobby adjoining on the south, of casts of certain pre-historic sculptures from Mexico and Central America which ordinarily would be found in the Mexican Hall of the American Museum of Natural History, in the section devoted to the Maya and Nahua cultures. Enter the
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