The Nature Exploration Center opened in 2000 as the newest home to a natural science collection that dates all the way back to 1879. Exhibits in this building reflect North Carolina’s diverse and beautiful natural habitats and inhabitants, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, from prehistoric beasts to amazing arthropods. The list below includes just a few of the highlights—you’ll have to visit to see them all.
Natural Treasures of North Carolina
The Natural Treasures exhibit offers a glimpse into a world that is at once rare and common, strange and beautiful. Some of our natural treasures, like Venus’ Flytraps, are native to nowhere else on Earth. Others are now extinct, but not forgotten, like the Carolina Parakeet. Still others are widely distributed, but fascinating nonetheless.
Take a trip to the beach without leaving Raleigh! Learn about the many habitats found on our coast, including barrier islands, saltmarshes, maritime forests, dunes, and even the open ocean. Incredibly detailed dioramas, mixed with aquariums filled with live fish and invertebrates, show NC’s coast in a way you’ve never seen it before.
How close have you been to a Blue Whale? At the Coastal NC Overlook, you can view one of the most impressive whale skeleton collections on display in the US. It includes a massive Blue Whale, a rare True’s Beaked Whale, and our signature Sperm Whale named Trouble. Also on view is Mayflower, the remains of an endangered Right Whale collected in 1874, whose bones have been on public display for more than 100 years.
You’ll forget you’re in the heart of downtown Raleigh as you wander through the Mountains to the Sea dioramas. Trees tower overhead. Fish swim in streams and ponds. A turtle snaps and dives. Which animals are aliveor created by an artist’s hand? That’s for you to figure out as you explore these life-like exhibits. Find habitats like the ones in your own backyard, but enhanced and explained like never before.
Established in 1879, our Museum is the oldest in the state, with a long and storied history. Learn more about our past, along with some insights into our future, in this jam-packed exhibit. See artifacts from NC that were displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. View a preserved Ocean Sunfish caught in 1937. Meet Ms. Kagawa, a Japanese friendship doll that, unlike others around the country, remained on display during the Second World War.
Did you know that NC was home to the first gold rush in the US? That ours is the only state where all four major gemstones—emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds—have been uncovered? In the Underground NC exhibit, view beautiful gems and minerals, including some that are found in few other places in the world. You can also learn more about creatures living underground, how soil is formed, and what makes NC a great state to study geology.
Designed with our youngest visitors in mind, the Discovery Room will get you up close and personal with natural science. Engage your senses by touching fossils, feeling bird wings, smelling tropical scents, watching the beehive, and more. Try on costumes, play with puppets, and find hidden animals in our dead tree critter hotel. This is an ideal area for intergenerational learning. Click here for schedule.
Say hello to Acro, the Acrocanthosaurus — or, as we like to call him, the Terror of the South. Ours is the only real Acrocanthosaurus skeleton on display in the world (though a cast of our specimen can be seen at the American Museum of Natural History in New York). In this compelling exhibit, learn how Acro hunted his gigantic sauropod prey, and how his septic bite could bring down even the mightiest foes.
Take a trip in our time machine all the way back to the beginnings of life in North Carolina. See the prehistoric predators that we all know and love, and meet some new friends, like Willo, a Thescelosaurus with remarkably well-preserved tendons. Dive into prehistoric seas in our tunnel through the Eocene Era. Meet our Giant Ground Sloth, a specimen that’s more than 1.5 million years old, discovered near Wilmington, NC.
North Carolina may be temperate, but we have many ties to the tropics. Animals like hummingbirds and butterflies migrate through North and South America, feeling at home in both hemispheres. Meet live Emerald Tree Boas and Poison Dart Frogs, and learn more about how biodiversity binds us all together.
In the secretive mountain coves of NC, you’ll see some plants and animals you know well, along with a few you may never have met before. Some prefer the cover of darkness—either hiding under logs or venturing out only at night. Others are too small or too well camouflaged to catch your eye. Be alert for salamanders, spiders, owls, and all things that thrive in our mountain habitats.
Sssssssnakes! They may strike fear into some hearts, but they have a permanent place in ours. NC boasts nearly 40 species of snakes, most of which are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans. In fact, they’re often beneficial, clearing our backyards of rodents and other pest animals. Even if you don’t like snakes in your yard, you can view them here behind the safety of glass.
What’s an arthropod, you ask? Just the most common type of animal on Earth! You may call them bugs, but we call them fascinating. The arthropod group includes everything from praying mantises to horseshoe crabs, and lots of things in between. Filled with live animals and larger-than-life models, this exhibit is sure to get you buzzing.
You’ve heard of rainforests, but have you heard of a tropical dry forest? Come see our recreation of this unique habitat and meet some of its most fascinating inhabitants. As tropical butterflies flutter overhead, get a glimpse of turtles, fish, and even a two-toed sloth. These animals like it hot and humid, so you’ll feel like you’re taking a tropical vacation without ever leaving the city. Click here for schedule.