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Perot Museum’s new exhibit has animal attraction

A visitor carefully examines the inside of a tree to see what helps it   withstand the extremes of wind and water in nature.
A visitor carefully examines the inside of a tree to see what helps it withstand the extremes of wind and water in nature. Jean Lachat

The new exhibition at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science has serious animal attraction.

The museum’s main summer exhibit, “Amazing Animals: Built to Survive,” provides visitors with an up-close look at the natural engineering that helps living things move, grow and thrive.

Colleen Walker, the museum’s chief executive officer, has a degree in structural engineering and says she is particularly excited about how “Amazing Animals” ties together engineering and science. She says that the exhibit “blends nature and science together” and can encourage young people to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers.

Here is a closer look at what to expect in the seven sections of “Amazing Animals.”

Built for strength

The first section focuses on bones, shells and other strong elements. Observe seashells, bird eggs, animal bones and a human skull in a large display to discover how their shape makes them strong. Take a closer look at each of the materials to learn how they are unique.

Individual displays demonstrate how two natural materials inspired technology that humans use daily. Learn how Velcro was created to imitate burrs and how a special type of rubber is like the joints of an insect. Play games on two monitor screens to test what you learned through strength games.

Going with the flow

This section is all about the heart and lungs. The central attraction here is a life-size giraffe model with a cutaway to reveal its circulatory system. Learn how a giraffe’s body pumps blood all the way up its long neck. Use your hands to pump the heart and try to get the blood all the way to the top of its head.

Surrounding displays feature the systems of animals and plants. Learn how insects breathe without lungs and take a closer look at a beetle under a microscope lens. Learn how worms use fluid to move through the ground and how a spider uses fluid — not muscles — to move its legs.

Discover how trees move water to upper branches by looking at tree rings under a microscope lens. Observe model hearts and compare different animals to humans.

Surviving the elements

This section is all about insulation and radiation — maintaining body temperature in hot or cold climates. The centerpiece here is a case with stuffed animals, including a duck and a fennec fox. Panels explain how the duck can swim in cold water without losing heat and how the fennec fox can keep cool in the desert.

On the side, a display compares deer of varying sizes and species in different climates. Learn how the size of the animal directly relates to the temperature where each species lives. Look through a microscope lens at a butterfly and learn how some animals have black coloring to reflect heat and keep cool.

Walk through a tunnel to the next area or sit down and watch a brief video on how humans and animals maintain body temperature around the world. On the other side, a monitor reveals the temperature throughout your body on a heat map when you stand in front of the camera.

Built to move

The focus of this section is muscle movement. Test your hand strength and compare it to the average for children, adults and a chimpanzee. Squeeze the tube with one hand and see where your strength falls on the scale.

Watch a video clip of a mantis shrimp, whose punch can break glass. Turn the dial to watch the video in slow motion or to speed it up. Use levers to open and close the jaws of three types of fish.

On the other side of the fish display, see a life-sized metal model of the prehistoric sea creature Dunkleosteus. Watch a video demo of scientists re-creating the bite of this enormous animal.

Look closely and compare the skull shape of a few birds, fish, mammals and even a Tyrannosaurus rex. Adjust a lever to control arm and jaw movements on a display that demonstrates how both are types of levers.

Crossing the landscape

Here, the lesson is all about legs and springs.

The most notable figure here is a stuffed cheetah. Below the display, watch a video clip of a cheetah running. Use the wheel to slow down or speed up the film. Nearby, learn how a flea jumps farther than many larger animals by winding a spring and pulling a lever.

Learn how modern technology can replicate the movement of human legs and feet through prosthetics and robotics. See a carbon-fiber prosthetic leg and compare it to a natural one.

Watch a video demonstrating how a human-sized robot can be programmed to imitate human running.

Launching into the blue

This section focuses on leaving the land with wings and fins. The main attraction is an opportunity to fly with wings.

Sit in a chair and hold a large wing. As you flap the wing, the chair will rotate. The two different wing shapes demonstrate how two bird species fly differently.

The surrounding area includes displays of wing sizes and shapes. Learn about the paradise flying snake, which flies using an unusual method, and a tiny parasitic wasp. Rotate a fluid tube and study the shapes inside to discover how larger animals can swim more easily than small ones.

Built to discover

The last section covers eyes and ears. Learn how sea turtles can swim from Florida to the Cape Verde Islands by using magnetic fields as a GPS. Learn how birds use sounds to navigate flight and insects use antennas to find a mate.

Use the giant touch screen to build a virtual eye, choosing the details. Learn how curves and mirrors affect what an animal can see and discover what type of creature has the eye that you designed.

The final display is a life-sized digital adult and child. The screen shows how all of the systems you learned about in the exhibit work together for movement, circulation, development and survival.

Build It! Nature

After seeing “Amazing Animals,” visit the room next door for “Build It! Nature,” open through Aug. 16. This DIY space provides young kids with hands-on time with engineering and design activities.

Children can build a nature-inspired structure using plastic straws, design an animal mask, construct a derby-style race car to test on the ramp, and build a bird wing to test in the wind tunnel. Kids can also build tiny nature sculptures to display at the exhibit or participate in workshops.

The subject varies daily but will include ideas like making a paper dinosaur mask or a paper-clip butterfly.

New films

The Hoglund Foundation Theater showtimes vary, but films are screened daily. Tickets are $5-$8 and can be purchased with or without museum admission. New films include:

▪ Walking With Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Planet 3D, which stars animated characters. Watch a Pachyrhinosaurus family grow and live based as closely as possible on fossil evidence and modern animals. (20 minutes)

▪ Deepsea Challenge 3D, which takes viewers under water with James Cameron into the Mariana Trench. (40 minutes)

▪ Meerkats 3D, which gives viewers an inside look at the life of a meerkat family in the Kalahari Desert. (20 minutes)

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

▪ 2201 N. Field St., Dallas

▪ 214-428-5555; www.perotmuseum.org

▪ 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday

▪ Admission $11-$17 (members free); “Amazing Animals,” an additional $6-$7 (members $4-$5); Build It!, an additional $5 ($3 members)

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