The Houston Museum of Natural History is the most-visited museum of any kind in the southwestern US, and the 9th-most visited museum in the country, with over two million visitors a year. It offers exhibits on nearly every aspect of the natural world, including impressive collections of dinosaur skeletons and gemstones, as well as a planetarium, an IMAX theater, and the Cockrell Butterfly Center.
If you grew up in Houston, you’ve almost certainly been here— it’s a standard field trip for local schools— but it may be different than you remember. Although the Museum has been in this location since the 1960s, most of it has been added or renovated since the 1990s. In 2012, a new paleontology hall doubled the size of the Museum.
Dinosaurs tend to be the stars of the show at natural history museums, but in Houston, butterflies have given them some serious competition. The Butterfly Center, which was built in 1998 and renovated in 2007, is a three-story glass structure that allows visitors to get surprisingly close to living butterflies in a lush, rainforest-like environment complete with a waterfall. This striking space is not only a favorite place to learn about entomology; it’s become a favorite venue for marriage ceremonies.
While the permanent collections are impressive, much of the museum’s popularity is due to its special exhibitions and programs. The recent exhibition "Death by Natural Causes” explored the many poisons in the animal, plant, and mineral worlds, while debunking some myths and taking a deeper look at what words like “toxic” mean. To honor the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the museum recently unveiled “Moon” by artist Luke Jerram, a 23-foot illuminated globe displaying a photorealistic map of the moon’s landscape.
Cover image: Wolfgang Manousek, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.