Rediscover Martinsville’s Museums: Virginia Museum of Natural History
Did you know that Martinsville – Henry County is home to six museums plus several exciting exhibits? These museums and galleries will encourage your mind to wonder into your past and spark your creativity.
In this series, we will let you in on a few secrets and lesser-known facts about some of these award-winning facilities and inspire you to rediscover our museums.
We begin with the Smithsonian-affiliated Virginia Museum of Natural History. Now you may be saying to yourself, “oh yeah, the dinosaur museum,” but they are that and much more!
As the state's museum of natural history serving the entire Commonwealth and beyond, VMNH has award-winning exhibits, ground-breaking scientific research and collections, and innovative educational programs for all ages. With its outreach education programs, online resources, and traveling exhibits and displays, the Virginia Museum of Natural History is truly an institution without walls. So, to jump right in, below you will find some behind-the-scenes information:
- The VMNH stromatolite - a petrified, 500-million-year-old algal mass on exhibit inside the museum's Harvest Foundation Hall of Ancient Life - was collected in Bedford County, Virginia and is the largest known intact stromatolite ever found.
- The lion scene inside the Lee and George Lester How Nature Works Gallery was commissioned by a private collector and previously adorned the great room of his home.
- The Ancient Seas display inside the Hermes Family Foundation Fossil Overlook contains a predatory fish called Xiphactinus which swam the oceans during the time of the dinosaurs. The skeleton was prepped from rock solely with volunteer help at VMNH. Volunteer Alicia Lantz labored for many hours in the paleontology lab to liberate the fossil bones from the rock matrix they were contained within.
- The museum's curators support research programs in the areas of paleontology, invertebrate zoology, earth sciences, archaeology and mammalogy. They are often visited by researchers from universities and other museums who need to examine portions of the museum 10+ million specimens the curators house and care for.
- The whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of the Harvest Foundation Hall of Ancient life is a reconstruction of a fossil first found in the 1990s in Virginia. The 14-million-year-old whale skeleton was discovered about 30 miles north of Richmond and the original fossils are housed in the paleontology collections of VMNH.
- VMNH has begun a survey of the ants of Virginia. To date, 168 species have been recorded, but large areas of the state remain unsurveyed. Ants are important soil-dwellers that aerate and enhance the nutrition of forest soils. Some wildflower seeds won't germinate without proper "processing" by ants. Dr. Kal Ivanov, the museum's entomologist, counted 900 ant specimens in the VMNH collections when he began work here in 2014, and now the museum holds over 27,000 specimens of ants (about 25,000 of them are part of the Virginia survey). You can learn more about ants in the Suzanne Lacey Education Center located at the lower level of VMNH.
Upcoming Events/New Exhibits:
A new exhibit that you’ll want to add to your “must-see” list is the Wild About Cats (Special Exhibit). This opens Saturday, January 25, 2020 and is included in the cost of general museum admission. The newest special exhibit at the museum features an extraordinary variety of taxidermy mounts that represent cats living throughout our planet, including lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars, leopards, lynx and more! Visitors will learn all about these amazing animals, including why different species of cats have different sized spots, how far cats can jump, and just how similar these wild cats are to our domesticated feline friends.
Also, be sure to mark your calendars, another Ice Age Festival is being ushered in at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville on Saturday, January 25 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.! Remarkable displays and fossils of long-extinct animals of the Ice Age will fill the museum! Interact with paleontologists and other Ice Age experts as you marvel over their collections! Children will have a blast taking part in Ice Age themed games and crafts throughout the day, as well as face painting and balloon animals! This is sure to be an event you do not want to miss.
Hours of Operation:
Open Monday - Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Sundays, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day
For more information on VMNH, please visit our website www.visitmartinsville.com Be sure to tag us on Facebook during your visits to the area museums using #VisitMartinsville.