Mural of Hadean, 3.8 billion years ago
By Dan Buckley

Eurypterid, or water scorpion, fossil
Eurypterus remipes
Paleozoic, Late Silurian (423-416 mya)
Cedarville, New York
Gift of Havemeyer Collection 121
Bruce Museum Collection FIC2010.09

Devonian Seas
By Sean Murtha

Coelophysis, fossil cast
Coelophysis bauri
Mesozoic, Late Triassic (235-201 mya)
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Elser
Bruce Museum Collection 2009.12

Coiled Ammonite, fossil
Mesozoic, possibly Jurassic (201-145 mya)
Gift of Charles Wilcox
Bruce Museum Collection 18205

Evolution of the Natural World: Highlights of the Bruce Museum Collection

June 19, 2010 - October 17, 2010

Stunning and significant mineral, fossil and animal specimens from the Bruce Museum’s collection highlight the development of novelty and complexity in the evolution of the planet and its living things. Large murals bring to life the long extinct animals and plants on display and help visitors understand Earth’s origins and how the diversity of life has changed over time.

Click here for Evolution-related programs and events.

The exhibition begins with an exploration of the increasing diversity of minerals on our planet. Although the Earth currently has over 4,000 mineral species, there were only a few hundred minerals during the early stages of our planet’s formation. The gallery spotlights a gem-like slice of a meteorite and more than 30 minerals including topaz, diamond, copper, gold and one of the oldest minerals found in any Earth material - zircon, grains of which formed 4.4 billion years ago.

With the advent of life, the land, seas and skies became populated with increasingly complex living organisms. Our knowledge of the history of life is largely based on fossils preserved in sedimentary rocks. Fossilization is rare, so the evidence may be spotty and skewed in favor of animals with hard parts and shells, but it has enabled scientists to piece together the sequence of change over time and the evolution of life on earth.

Evolution in the Seas
The seas are a rich source of life that is often hidden from our view. The fossil record, however, documents the wonderful diversity of sea life over time. This aspect of the exhibition spotlights major Eras of the geologic time scale by featuring fossilized and modern organisms in the marine environment, from trilobites, sponges, corals, and brachiopods to skates, sunfishes and dolphins.

Invasion of the Land and Skies
The variation of species on land and in the skies is represented in the exhibition by focusing on plants, dinosaurs, birds and mammals. Visitors can compare skeletal similarities between a six-foot tall ostrich and Coelophysis, a dinosaur that lived about 200 million years ago. The evolutionary history of the horse family is explored through a series of skulls and leg bones. Taxidermied mounts of a modern beaver and swimming otter show remarkable similarities to the reconstructed image a 164-million-year-old swimming, fish-eating mammal whose fossil remains were only recently discovered in China.

Just as species evolve, they also vanish. There have been six mass extinctions: they punctuate Earth’s geological time periods, which are then followed by explosions of organismal diversity. Surviving animals evolved, competing and adapting to fill the ecological niches left open by those who died out. A black bear, one of the newest additions to the Museum’s collection, is an example of one of the few large mammals that survived the most recent ice age as well as the arrival of paleohumans in North America some 12,000 years ago. As species compete for fewer resources in more restricted habitats, generalists such as black bears, which utilize a wider variety of food sources, have the advantage over animals who adapted to a narrow niche. “The End of the Line” is the theme for the final section of the exhibition that spotlights a few modern animals that are either extinct or endangered. The passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, heath hen, and golden toad have all vanished from our planet. Now threatened, the wolf’s vital role in ecosystems is becoming clearer as their populations decline.

Evolution of the Natural World is supported by the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund and a Committee of Honor under the leadership of Sue Baker.