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'Extreme Mammals' comes to the Natural History Museum of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Once upon a time — about 23 million years ago — there lived a mammal that was 18 feet tall and weighed 20 tons. She was an Indricotherium, the largest land mammal on earth, and her name was Peggy.

Twenty-seven million years before Peggy, the Batodonoides vanhauteni was the smallest mammal on the land. At about an inch and a half long, including the length of its tail, and weighing a little more than a dollar bill, this mammal was small enough to climb up a pencil.

Both of are part of the Natural History Museum of Utah’s new "Extreme Mammals" exhibit.

“This exhibit is really about the incredible diversity of mammals,” said Lisa Thompson, an exhibit developer for NHMU. “We are mammals. We think we know mammals, but this exhibit will blow your mind. The thing that is most exciting for me about this exhibit is the sense of surprise.”

"Extreme Mammals" was put together by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The exhibit opened Feb. 7 and will run through July 26.

Guests who enter "Extreme Mammals" are greeted by a full-size reconstruction of Peggy. They can then observe how tiny the Batodonoides vanhauteni was.

Next, they can learn what makes humans extreme mammals by standing in front of a mirror and noticing everything that makes us extraordinary — namely, our brain size, the fact that we walk on two legs and that we have opposable thumbs.

“We’ve called out throughout the exhibit animals that live or have lived in Utah,” Thompson said. “That way, you can really get a sense of the extreme mammal story here.”

Guests can observe mammals from head to toe as they walk through the exhibit, including horns, head structures and different types of teeth.

“One of the things that really sets mammals apart is the diversity of our teeth,” Thompson said.

Next to the exhibit of extreme teeth is a giant mirror where kids can compare their pearly whites to the massive mouths of all sorts of mammals.

Part of the exhibit focuses on brains. Although humans' 3-pound brains are miniscule compared to the 11-pound brains of some of our fellow mammals, compared to our body size, humans have some of the largest brains.

One hands-on aspect of the exhibit is the display of a Glyptodont, a distant relative of the armadillo, which allows visitors to feel the texture of the shell and crawl into a life-size reconstruction. There are other interactive displays scattered throughout the exhibit, and guests are allowed to touch some of the fossils on display.

The exhibit also shows how various mammal mommies take care of their babies, from egg-laying mammals to marsupials to placental mammals. Skeletons of marine mammals are suspended from the ceiling.

“In a nutshell, this exhibit is telling the story of mammals,” said Paulmichael Maxfield, the gallery programs coordinator at NHMU. “And there really are some amazing stories.”

If you go ...

What: "Extreme Mammals" exhibit

Where: Natural History Museum of Utah, 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City

When: Through July 26

Online: nhmu.utah.edu