Extreme Animals - Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Denver Museum of Nature and Science

2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205

Phone: 303-370-6000
Website: Click to Visit

Fri., December 30, 2016


What's an Extreme Mammal?

There are more than 5,400 mammal species alive today, and most share familiar traits. They give birth to live young, and have hair, four legs, a tail, and sharp front teeth. But not every mammal fits the bill. Extreme mammals have features or behaviors that deviate from norms. From tiny bats to egg-laying carnivores, find out how adaptations make mammals extreme.

  • Life-size models show the largest land mammal ever, the 15-foot-tall, 20-ton extinct Indricotherium,and the smallest extinct mammal ever, the shrew-like Batodonoides, which weighed about as much as a dollar bill.
  • The skeletons of Uintatherium, the first giant mammal to evolve after the dinosaur extinction, and an opossum and a human, illustrate the range of mammal qualities.
  • The sail-backed Dimetrodon fossil shows a mammal once classified as a dinosaur.


Head to Tail

Horns, tusks, noses, brains, body armor, and tails have come a long way. The purposes of these traits include self-defense, recognizing kin, or attracting mates.

  • The skull of an Indonesian babirusa pig (Babyrousa babyrussa) shows how its teeth grew through the bones and skin at the top of its snout for display and fighting.
  • Younger guests can crawl into a model of a glyptodont shell, a car-size relative of the armadillo.
  • A life-size model of Macrauchenia features a body like a camel, a neck like a giraffe, and a nose like an elephant trunk. 
  • From the Denver Museum's collections, an Irish elk skull with a gigantic set of antlers shows an extreme example from the Pleistocene.
  • An exploration station shows many examples of extreme mammals of Colorado, such as a bighorn sheep, bison, and mountain lion.


Mammal Makeover

An activity area gives guests a chance to dress up as their own extreme mammal and envision how the animal would behave and where it would live. 

  • More than 50 costume pieces can be mixed and matched, including tails, fins, antlers, tusks, ears, paws, claws, and wings.
  • Tips show how different extreme mammals use their adaptations to move, eat, attract mates, and survive.
  • Forest, savanna, and ocean scenes bring your mammal to life. Mimic extreme behaviors, take photos, and share the experience with #MammalMakeover.



Giving birth to live, well-developed offspring is normal for most mammals, but more than 300 species of living extreme mammals do things differently.

  • Platypus and echidna specimens show the features of monotremes, a handful of mammals that lay eggs.
  • The skull of the biggest marsupial to walk Earth, Diprotodon, shows the diversity of mammals with pouches.
  • A spectacled bear specimen shows how some placental mammals also give birth to unusually immature young. 



Whether they move around on land, in water, or by air, mammals have developed amazing features to get from one place to another.

  • A life-size relief model of Ambulocetus natans, the extinct walking whale, vividly depicts the transition between modern whales and their extinct land-living ancestors.
  • The skeleton of Glossotherium chapadmalense, an extinct ground sloth from South America, shows the giant, slow-moving knuckle walker.
  • A cast of the skull and partial skeleton of Puijila darwini, or walking seal relative, has otter-like limbs and a seal-like head.
  • Onychonycteris finneyi, a spectacular 52-million-year-old bat fossil, represents the most primitive bat species known to date.


Extreme Climates

An intricately detailed diorama of Ellesmere Island, 600 miles from the North Pole, provides an insightful glimpse of this area 50 million years ago. At that time, Earth was significantly warmer and the island was mostly covered with forests.

  • Models include Vulpavus, a carnivore that had a long thin body and tail, well-suited for quick movements both in trees and on the ground; Coryphodon, a short-tusked hippo-like wader; and Thuliadanta, an extinct tapir that had a flexible, trunk-like snout.


Extreme Isolation

How do new species evolve? One way is when a population of animals is completely cut off from others and they can no longer interbreed. Madagascar, Australia, and South America existed as isolated islands and continents for tens of millions of years, leading to the evolution of an exclusive diversity of mammals.

  • Fossils of the extinct plant-eaters Scarrittia and Astrapotherium illustrate the appearance of similar features in distantly related organisms living in similar environments.
  • A scientist-at-work video explores the unique mammalian forms that existed while South America was an isolated continent during most of the past 90 million years.
  • The earliest known complete monkey skull ever found in South America was perfectly preserved in volcanic ash.


Extreme Extinction

Mass extinctions have occurred at least five times over the past 500 million years, with the possibility of a sixth occurring today. Climate change, hunting by humans, a comet impact, and disease are among the possible causes of the permanent disappearance of many large mammal species about 12,000 years ago.

  • Fossils of Smilodon fatalis, a massive saber-toothed cat, and Canis dirus, the dire wolf, show animals that roamed North America and died out at the end of the last Ice Age.
  • An amazing replica of one of the last-known Tasmanian wolves tells the story of a species that went completely extinct as recently as the mid-1930s.
  • Local research conducted by Museum scientists provides a deeper understanding of Earth's last major extinction and potential insights for the future.
  • Scientists have found hundreds of previously unknown species of mammals in the last few decades, such as the tube-lipped nectar bat from Ecuador and a striped rabbit from Laos and Vietnam. Even with 25 percent of living mammals threatened by extinction, there are many more species of mammals to be discovered.


Finish your experience at the green screen and take your photo with some extreme mammals, which you may purchase or share!


9 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Museum is open seven days a week year-round, except December 25. 
The Guest Services line is open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at 303.370.6000, except December 25.

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FEATURED EVENT: Fri., December 30, 2016
Extreme Animals - Denver Museum of Nature and Science »