REVIEW: KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum [History Tour]

The Kansas City area is somewhat lacking in having a well-established natural history museum. Yes, there is a small collection of dinosaur bones at The Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, Kansas (a future installment of this series), but that is more of a kid’s education center and lacks the sort of oomph that a dedicated museum would have. Luckily, Lawrence, Kansas is just a relatively short drive away, and their KU campus holds exactly what I was looking for – a dedicated museum crammed full of dinosaurs, mammoths, dodo birds, and all sorts of other cool stuff you can’t see anywhere else. The KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum is a renowned institution dedicated to the exploration and preservation of natural history and the world’s biodiversity. The facility is split between housing research areas for students that are off-limits to the general public and a fairly large collection of museum items.

KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum; Lawrence, Kansas

The museum boasts an extensive collection of specimens and exhibits that span a wide range of scientific disciplines, including paleontology, zoology, botany, geology, and anthropology. Visitors can explore immersive displays that showcase the wonders of evolution, animal behavior, world class specimen preservation, and human diversity. I would have to say that THE highlight of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum is its paleontology section. In addition to that, the zoology exhibits offer lifelike dioramas depicting various ecosystems, observing animals in their natural habitats. Informative displays provide insights into animal adaptations, behavior, and conservation efforts aimed at protecting endangered species.


According to their official website:

“The Biodiversity Institute’s worldwide collection of over 10 million specimens and 2 million archaeological artifacts encompass the study of archaeology, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, mammals, plants, fungi, parasites, insects, and fossil plants and animals. More than 100 research scientists and graduate students in the institute study biological species, ecosystems, evolution and cultural artifacts. They use this information to model and forecast environmental phenomena that are critical to human well-being, including threatened and endangered species, the potential spread of diseases and pest species, the effect of climate change on Earth’s biodiversity and habitats and more.

The KU Natural History Museum, part of the Biodiversity Institute, is home to four floors of public exhibits including the historic Panorama, live snakes and insects, a unique living Paleo Garden, vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, the flora and fauna of the Great Plains and more. The museum provides content-rich, hands-on informal science learning for school groups in grades K–12, KU student programs and a wide range of public programs and events for all ages.”


In the giftshop, I purchased American Serengeti – The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains by Dan Flores. There were a number of books that I could have gone for, but I figured reading about how the prairie ecosystems in kansa swere before European colonization would be a nice change of pace.

“America’s Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, or the veld of South Africa. Pronghorn antelope, gray wolves, bison, coyotes, wild horses, and grizzly bears: less than two hundred years ago these creatures existed in such abundance that John James Audubon was moved to write, “it is impossible to describe or even conceive the vast multitudes of these animals.” […] Written by an author who has done breakthrough work on the histories of several of these animals—including bison, wild horses, and coyotes—American Serengeti is as rigorous in its research as it is intimate in its sense of wonder—the most deeply informed, closely observed view we have of the Great Plains’ wild heritage.”

The Trip:

Once you get into the museum building itself, be prepared for upwards of six floors of things to explore. While the site does not have any gigantic T-Rex or sauropod skeletons, what they do have is a vastly diverse selection of artifacts from all periods of Earth’s natural history. Below are just some of the things to look out for. Any information in quotes are taken from the above listed website. This is by no means all that the museum has to offer, but a selection of the things that interested me the most.

Things to look out for:


“The KU Natural History Museum is the home of Comanche, a horse ridden during the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, in 1876. The horse was later was cared for by the 7th Cavalry. After the horse died in 1891, it was given to Lewis Lindsay Dyche by the Cavalry to be taxidermied and it has remained at the museum to this day.”


“Explore this exhibit on the museum’s 6th floor. Have you ever wondered what an elephant skull looks like in comparison to that of a mouse? This exhibit features 48 different types and sizes of skulls. What we learn from skulls, including shape, teeth and eye sockets, helps us identify species of mammals and their way of life.”

The Bee Tree

“The KU Natural History Museum is home to a live bee colony, housed in the model of a tree. Visitors can watch the bees come and go from the hive, from an exit and entry tube on the east side of Dyche Hall. During the winter, the bees will mainly stay inside the hive. Peer inside the exhibit — you just may find the queen.”

Paleo Garden

“Explore the evolutionary history of plant life in our garden of fossil plants and their living relatives. View fossils from hundreds of million of years ago such as giant horsetails, clubmoss trees, ferns and more while learning what these diverse groups look like today. “

The Faces of parasites

“Parasites of sharks and rays are on display along with large scale colorized electron microsope images to show parasite morphology (characteristics) in a dramatic manner. All specimens in the exhibit are part of a research project by KU Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, Dr. Kirsten Jensen. Jensen studies the host associations and geographic distributions of parasites in marine ecosystems – especially the tapeworms of sharks and stingrays.”


“Explore the many fossils on display to learn more about mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, Xiphactinus and other Cretaceous period animals. You can touch the fossilized femur of Camarasaurus, learn about the evolution of plants, discover invertebrate fossils, see our T. rex, the Kansas dinosaur Silvisaurus, mammoths and more. Here are a few highlights on view in the museum.”

The only known Kansas Dinosaur

Dinosaur bones are hard to come by in Kansas, most likely due to the fact that there was a huge sea smack dab in the middle of the area that would later become North America. “The only dinosaur known to have lived in what is now Kansas, Silvisaurus condrayi, was designated the official state land fossil of Kansas, thanks in part to a Kansas rancher and a Goddard schoolteacher and his sixth-grade students.”

For more info, click HERE

North America during the Late Cretaceous

Overall, the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum provides a captivating and educational experience for visitors, combining scientific discovery, immersive exhibits, and a commitment to preserving and understanding the natural world. It serves as a valuable resource for both the local community and visitors from around the globe who seek to deepen their appreciation for the wonders of nature.

See More:

For more content like this, check out my History Tour page HERE


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