The Australian Museum

For over 180 years the Australian Museum has been at the forefront of Australian scientific research, collection and education. Discover the exhibitions at the Australian Museum that inform and amaze its visitors.

By Australian Museum

Lord Howe Island diorama

The Lord Howe Island Diorama is the oldest diorama in Australia. It recreates a scene of nesting seabirds that was documented during a scientific visit to Lord Howe Island in 1922. 

There are 44 bird specimens, and over 24 eggs in the display, which were arranged using photographs and sketches of the nesting site for accuracy.

Bone Ranger and articulated Mammal Skeleton case

These skeletons are known as ‘The Bone Ranger’ by museum staff and visitors – and depict a person riding a horse rearing up on its hind legs. Horses were essential to farming, industry, and travel in Colonial Australia...

...and are important in many stories about Australia – from travelling in the bush to sport, and racing. The horse skeleton displayed here is that of Sir Hercules, one of the greatest thoroughbred stallions in Australia.

Although he never raced, Sir Hercules sired many big race winners – including The Barb, the winner of the 1866 Melbourne Cup. After his death in 1865, Sir Hercules’ skeleton was presented to the Australian Museum, and it has been on display here since 1873.

The Wild Planet exhibition

Wild Planet is a display of over 400 of the amazing and diverse animals which share our planet. Here you can discover how they are all connected, and how humans have affected their future.

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

The Leopard you can see here has a Guinea Fowl in its mouth. Leopards feed off many different kinds of animals, and often haul their prey into trees to avoid it being stolen by other animals.Leopards are found in more parts of the world than any other of the large cat species...

...and are found especially in Asia and Africa. They are threatened as a species because humans have destroyed their habitat. Leopards sometimes prey on animals as large as antelopes, which can be two or three times their size.

Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)

Giraffes are the tallest living animal in the world, reaching up to 6 metres in height. This means that their bodies have to have many special features to cope with their height. Their hearts have very thick walls, and the ligaments of their legs and neck are very strong...

...to make sure that blood can easily reach their brains, which are three metres away from their hearts! Giraffes are not endangered, and live on the grassy plains in Africa.

Despite their long necks, giraffes have seven neck bones, just like all other mammals, including humans!

Tapir (Tapirus terrestris)

Inside this glass case is a specimen of a tapir – a very unusual-looking animal, related to horses and rhinoceroses. Tapirs are found in South America and Asia. Tapirs have very flexible and sensitive trunks, which they use to grasp food, such as leaves, flowers, fruit and bugs.

Tapirs are solitary creatures, and they are threatened by habitat loss, hunting and disease.

All species, both living and extinct, are connected. Scientists compare their physical and genetic features, to place species on the Tree of Life and show these connections. 

Wild Planet explores this Tree, revealing our ancestral histories and relationships to other animals, and explaining how it helps us protect and conserve diverse kinds of life.  

...so their blood is sometimes used to test if medical equipment is sterile and safe to use.

Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus)

Despite its name, the Horseshoe Crab is more closely related to spiders and scorpions than true crabs. It has hard, curved armour that protects its soft body from predators. It is a good example of a ‘living fossil’, because it has not changed...

much in the 450 million years that it has existed on Earth. The number of horseshoe crabs in the wild has decreased recently, mostly because of pollution of their habitat and hunting.Horseshoe crabs have copper-based blood that clots when it comes in contact with bacteria...

Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Platypuses are monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs. Monotremes have been around longer than any other group of living mammals, but are now very rare – they are only found today in Australia and New Guinea.

Platypuses have webbed feet and waterproof fur, as well as distinctive, duck-like bills, which they use to find food on the bottom of rivers. They are very common throughout eastern and south-eastern Australia, but Platypuses are increasingly threatened by the degradation of their habitat by humans.

Tree of Life Wall Diagram

The Tree of Life is a diagram showing the evolutionary relationships of all life forms. The length of each branch shows how unique each species is – for example, the Aardvark sits alone on its branch and has no other relatives within its order.

If we lose branches on the Tree of Life, we lose history and evolutionary diversity. Branches can be broken through human causes such as climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and hunting – all of which put animals at risk of extinction. 

The Wild Planet exhibition (cont.)

Life is all around us – in the air and water, and on and under the ground! 
Every single one of Earth’s millions of species are unique in the way they look, live and contribute to the planet, and all of them are connected.

Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

The Black Rhinoceros is one of the most endangered animals in the world, because land clearing has destroyed much of its habitat, and it was hunted for many years for its horn.

Almost of the remaining Black Rhinoceroses are found in sanctuaries and protection zones so that they can be kept safe. The name rhinoceros means ‘horned nose’. Rhinoceroses are one of the biggest animals in the world.

Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)

Tigers are the world’s largest living cat – they sometimes weigh more than 300 kg. They are now at risk of extinction because of illegal hunting for their skins, bones and teeth, as well as habitat loss. 
Fun fact – tigers are very strong swimmers, unlike most other cats!

You are related to all the animals here, no matter how big or small! Those you share more features with are more likely to be your close relatives and so will be closer to you on the Tree of Life.

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

The American Black Bear is the world’s most common bear. Bears are very intelligent animals, and they have better senses of smell and hearing than humans. American Black Bears eat berries, nuts, insects, fish and other smaller animals.

They tend to avoid humans, but they can still be very dangerous – so people often hunt them for sport and protection. In winter, bears spend three to five months hibernating in their dens, and during this time they do not eat or drink!

Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

Elephants are the largest living land animals – they weigh six tons, about as much as a school bus! The elephant skeleton you can see here came from an animal named Jumbo, who used to give rides to children at Sydney’s first zoo in the 1890s. An elephant’s trunk contains over...

...150,000 muscles, which means it is very flexible, and can be used for all kinds of things – including breathing, eating, showering and even snorkelling. Elephants are sometimes hunted for the ivory in their tusks...

which are actually very large teeth. Because of this, and the destruction of their habitat, they are endangered animals.

Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus)

Armadillos have a tough shell made of bony plates covered in scales, and they roll up into a ball when they are threatened, so that these plates can protect them. This armadillo, however, is a Giant Armadillo, a species that cannot roll up like this.

Instead, it has long front claws, which it uses to dig a small hole to hide in when it is in danger. The Giant Armadillo’s claws also allow it to tear open termite nests and find food.

Bison (Bison bison)

American Bison are the largest animals in North America. They have very thick fur which shields them from the cold weather of their habitat. There are now only about 500 bison in the world, because they have been heavily hunted for their meat and skins.

Animals play a significant role in many cultures, as sources of food, medicine and clothing, as inspiration in art and design, and as spiritual beings. 

Kangaroo and Ring-tail Possum paintings

The paintings here use a cross-hatching technique that you can see on the back of the kangaroo to depict the different cuts of meat that the animals can produce. Both of these paintings come from Croker Island in the Northern Territory

Wedge-Tailed Eagle (Aquila audax)

The Wedge-Tailed Eagle, the large bird in this case, is one of the biggest eagles in the world. It is Australia’s largest bird of prey. It is named for its long, wedge-shaped tail, and has strong legs that are covered in feathers right down to its claws.

People used to believe that Wedge-tailed Eagles could carry off and kill sheep and cattle, and so they were encouraged to shoot and kill them. But the eagles mostly eat much smaller animals!

Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor)

The taller, brown wallaby in this case is a Swamp Wallaby - an animal that lives in forests and woodlands, not swamps! Some people think that it is named for its thick, swampy smell, rather than its habitat.

The Swamp Wallaby has large teeth, which allow it to eat very tough plants, including the stems of bushes and shrubs, and the sharp leaves of native plants.

The Surviving Australia exhibition – “Icons of Australia”

The Surviving Australia exhibition at the Australian Museum explores the secrets and surprising lifestyles of some the beautiful and bizarre animals that call Australia home. It explores how they have adapted and evolved to survive over the last few million years.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)

The Koala is one of Australia’s most iconic animals – and it is famous for spending most of its time asleep! Some people believe that they are sleepy because they’re drunk on eucalyptus, but they are really just conserving energy. Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves almost exclusively..

...and even get most of their water from the plant – the name koala comes from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘no drink’. Koalas have specialised digestive systems that can break down the toxins and fibres in the leaves...

...and have a low metabolic rate and body temperature – both of these also help them to save energy.

Short-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bruijni)

The Short-beaked Echidna is one of only two species of monotreme found in Australia. Monotremes are unusual because they are mammals, but they lay eggs – the other Australian monotreme is the Platypus. Echidnas are highly successful survivors. They live in many different habitats...

...from semi-arid deserts to the Snowy Mountains and Tasmania. The hard, sharp spines covering their backs are actually modified hairs, and are used for defence. If they are attacked, echidnas dig into the ground or roll into a ball, so that only their spikes are exposed.

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

The Emu is a large, flightless bird found only in Australia. Emus live in a variety of environments and regions right across Australia, and often travel hundreds of kilometres to find suitable conditions for living and mating. After the female Emu lays her eggs...

...the male is left to incubate them for eight weeks. During this time, they become dormant, conserving energy by lowering their body temperature so that they don’t need to eat or drink.
The Emu appears on the Australian coat of arms alongside the Red Kangaroo.

It has been suggested that both animals were chosen because they cannot walk backwards, but this is not true – both animals can move backwards when they need to!

Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus)

The wombat is the largest plant-eating and burrowing animal in Australia. Wombats spend about two-thirds of their lives in their burrows, and only come out to graze after sunset, when the temperature drops. They always return to their burrows when...

...the sun rises. When a wombat is threatened, it will run into the nearest burrow, or hole, and block the entrance with its rear-end – just like you can see here! This is because a wombat’s bottom has a solid, square bone, which is an effective shield against predators.

Surviving Australia; “Vanishing Giants”

Giant animals – megafauna – roamed across Australia a few million years ago. These included enormous wombats, and many other large-scale relatives of today’s animals.

Here you can discover fascinating animals, such as the extinct Tasmanian Tiger and ‘Marsupial Lion’, and learn about their unique features, and the strategies they had for survival. 

Diprotodon (Diprotodon optatum)

Diprotodon looks a lot like a giant wombat, but it is actually a member of an extinct family of animals, the diprotodontids. Diprotodon optatum is the largest known marsupial of all time and the heaviest of Australia’s megafauna – they weighed up to 2,700 kilograms! 

Diprotodons also had a backward-facing pouch, like wombats and Koalas – if you look closely, you can see a baby Diprotodon inside the pouch of the animal here! Diprotodons were widespread across Australia when the first people arrived, and co-existed with humans for thousands..

...of years before they became extinct about 25,000 years ago. Their extinction was due to human impact and climate change, which affected their habitat and food sources.

Thylacoleo ‘marsupial lion’ (Thylacoleo carnifex)

Thylacoleo and its relatives are nicknamed ‘marsupial lions,’ but they are not related to lions, or to cats at all! They are marsupials – most closely related to wombats and Koalas. Thylacoleo was the largest of the ‘marsupial lions’, and had enormous slicing cheek teeth and...

...opposable thumbs with large, curved claws. These features made it a feared predator, but may also have been a factor in its extinction – Thylacoleo was adapted for hunting large, slow-moving megafauna, but was too bulky to run down the fast and agile animals that remained once the megafauna started dying out. 

Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

The Tasmanian Tiger looks like a dog, but it is actually a thylacine – a carnivorous marsupial closely related to a kangaroo. Both male and female Thylacines have pouches – unlike most other marsupials. The Tasmanian Tiger was once widespread across Australia, but...

...is now believed to be extinct. Its population on the mainland was wiped out due to competition with the dingo, which was introduced about 3000 years ago. The Tiger survived in the wild in Tasmania until the 1930s, and the last known specimen died, tragically, in captivity in 1936.

The Dinosaurs exhibition – Prehistoric Giants

The Australian Museum’s popular Dinosaurs exhibition is special because it contains mostly dinosaurs from Gondwanaland – the ancient landmass that Australia was once a part of. It has 10 complete dinosaur skeletons and eight life-sized models, and gives you the chance to look...

...listen and learn about the fascinating creatures that ruled the world until 65 million years ago. The dinosaurs and fossils you can see here come from Lightning Ridge, a mining town near the border of western NSW and Queensland. Many rare and beautiful fossils have been found...

...in this area, because its sandstone rocks were once silt on the floor of an ancient sea. This silt protected the bodies of plants, animals and dinosaurs from decay, and caused them to become fossilised over time.

Fulgurotherium (Fulgurotherium australe)

Fulgurotherium australe was a small two-legged herbivore from the Early Cretaceous period, between 120–110 million years ago. It is one of the first Australian dinosaurs ever discovered.

During the Early Cretaceous period, Lightning Ridge was close to the Antarctic Circle, so Fulgurotherium must have been able to survive in very extreme conditions!

Dromaeosaur (Dromaeosauridae)

Dromaeosaurs are a group of dinosaurs also known as ‘raptors’ – the dinosaurs that starred in the movie Jurassic Park – although the species you can see here is much smaller than the Velociraptors you would have seen in the film. They lived in the Cretaceous Period, between...

...110–66 million years ago, and were intelligent predators, with large brains, sharp, serrated teeth, and retractable, hook-shaped claws on their feet for seizing their prey.

Dromaeosaurs are the most bird-like of dinosaurs – they had feathers, a wishbone, hollow bones and flapping forearms. Recent research indicates that birds are actually dinosaurs!

‘Eric’ (Umoonasaurus demoscyllus)

‘Eric’ is a very special fossil, displayed in the glass case that you can see here. His fossilised bones are made out of opal, although what you see here is mainly a colourless form of opal known as ‘potch.’ Although he is displayed beside dinosaurs, 'Eric' is not a dinosaur...

but a Pliosaur – a carnivorous aquatic animal that lived in the Early Cretaceous period, from 120–110 million years ago. ‘Eric’ was discovered in South Australia in 1987, and became part of the Museum’s collection in 1993 after donations were raised for his purchase by the school children of Australia and the sale of Akubra Hats!

Muttaburrasaurus (Muttaburrasaurus)

Muttaburrasaurus was a large, plant-eating dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period, between 112–100 million years ago. Muttaburrasaurus had a strangely-shaped skull, with a rounded snout that had a hollow chamber inside it. 

This chamber may have allowed it to make very loud calls, or heightened its sense of smell. Muttaburrasaurus could walk on four limbs, but probably balanced on two legs to reach food in trees.

Dinosaurs – Carnivores

These sharp-toothed, ferocious dinosaurs are collectively known as theropods, and they range from the size of a chicken to the size of a bus. All of the carnivorous dinosaurs belong in the theropod group, although not all theropods are carnivores!

Carnivorous dinosaurs only made up about one per cent of the entire dinosaur population. The exhibition includes some of the most famous of this type of dinosaur – Giganotosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor – and also examines the features that helped them hunt, eat and survive.  

Giganotosaurus (Giganotosaurus carolinii)

Giganotosaurus was one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs, and lived in the Late Cretaceous period, between 73–66 million years ago. Its name means ‘giant southern lizard’ and because of its size, Giganotosaurus had to eat about 200 kg of meat each day.

T-Rex (Tyrannosaurus rex)

Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the best known of the dinosaurs due to its size, ferocity and popularity in movies and games. Its name is derived from the Greek words for ‘tyrant lizard’ and ‘rex’, the Latin word for king.It lived in the Late Cretaceous period, between 68–66 million years ago.

T. rex’s short arms are odd in appearance, but they helped balance its extremely heavy head and tail. In this display you can see a cast of a T. rex brain. This shows that T. rex had a very large olfactory lobe – the part of the brain responsible for smell – so this sense must have been important to the species.

Dilophosaurus (Dilophosaurus wetherilli)

Time period: Early Jurassic, 195–190 million years ago. Dilophosaurus wetherilli had two prominent head-crests that may have been used for courtship displays or to help identify other members of the same species. This is how it gets its name – which means ‘two-crested lizard.’

Dilophosaurus lived in the Early Jurassic period, 195–190 million years ago, and was one of the most fearsome carnivores of this time. Living in small groups, Dilophosaurus would hunt together, allowing them to bring down larger prey with their long arms and strong claws.

Footprint on wall

Fossilised footprints help scientists understand how dinosaurs behaved and moved – the length, width, shape and number of toes give important clues about the size and actions of the animal that made the print. It is also possible to work out from fossil footprints whether a dinosaur was walking or running, and if it was moving on two or four legs.

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