Academy of Natural Sciences

The Academy of Natural Sciences, located at 19th and the Ben Franklin Parkway across from Logan Circle, is the oldest natural science museum in the Western Hemisphere. Founded in 1812 when Philadelphia was the center of a new nation on the edge of vast, unknown territory, the Academy opened to the public in 1828. Famous explorers such as Stephen Long and Ferdinand Hayden organized expeditions and brought back new species of plants and animals to form the early collections in the museum, which were catalogued in Latin and Greek. Additions to these collections through gifts, purchases, and exchanges resulted in the necessary expansion of the Academy three times in 60 years. It moved to its present location in 1876, where it maintains a vast collection of over 17 million biological specimens and an extensive library.

The collections and research departments include the Botany herbarium of 1.5 million specimens, some dating back to 18th and 19th century explorations; an Entomology collection of over 3.5 million insects, and a Herpetology department that represents the collections of former Academy scientist and “Father of American Herpetology,” John Holbrook, and Edward Cope, a leading herpetologist of the 19th century. In addition, there is a vast collection of marine and freshwater fish in the Ichthyology department, and Paleontology has one of the oldest mammology collections in the America’s. Many well-known ornithologists such as Audubon, Nuttall, and Wilson are represented in the bird collections at the Academy.

As the world opened its doors to further exploration, many new plant and animal species were discovered in Africa, Asia, the Arctic, and Central America. These specimens can be found in the 37 large dioramas in the Academy; the majority of these were created in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The dioramas on the main floor include the North American bison, bears, and mountain sheep; the second floor features animals from Africa and Asia such as lions, gorillas, pandas, and yaks, while the third floor dioramas display several bird collections. The educational value of these discoveries and research was quickly recognized, and the Academy introduced natural history classes to students in Philadelphia. Long before preservation and conservation held much significance, the Academy established an Environmental Research Division in 1948.

One of the main attractions at the Academy is the permanent exhibit of Butterflies, a tropical garden of plants and exotic species from around the world. The exhibit includes interactive computer stations with games, trivia, and information on habitat, body parts, and behavior patterns, as well as a live pupae chamber and a kiosk of insects and frogs in stages of metamorphosis. Dinosaur Hall, another popular exhibit, features the 8-ton, 42 foot long Giganotosaurus, considered the largest prehistoric animal found on earth. There are over 30 species of Mesozoic creatures, dinosaur eggs and footprints, skeletons, life size models, and a virtual video studio and screen in the Hall. Visitors can hunt for dinosaur bones in The Big Dig and view fossils collected from remote sites. Among these collections are the fossil teeth from the Judith River Formation in Montana, which were discovered in 1856 by the Academy scientist and “Father of American Vertebrate Paleontology,” Joseph Leidy. The skeleton of Hadrosaurus foulkii, the first dinosaur believed to have walked upright, was also discovered by Leidy in New Jersey and is housed in Dinosaur Hall. Other fossil exhibits include those from the collections of Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Ted Daeschler.

The Florence R. Foerderer Center on the ground floor of the Academy provides visitors with ceiling to floor glass windows for viewing the daily care of over 100 live animals and birds. Some of these were injured and brought to the Center, while the others were born in captivity. The animals and birds are featured in the naturalist shows in the auditorium of the museum – 20-minute shows, 2:30 p.m. weekdays; 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., weekends, holidays, and during the summer. Children enjoy the hands-on Outside-in activity center, where they can explore the forest or the seashore, look for fossil footprints, watch a busy beehive, or meet all sorts of strange and familiar animals and bugs. Located on the 3rd floor, open 10:00 a.m. — 4:00 p.m. weekdays, 10:00 a.m — 4:30 p.m. weekends. Other weekend activities and special events are held at the Academy throughout the year including safari overnights or slumber parties at the museum. These safaris are organized for kids 7 to 14, primarily Brownies and Junior Girl Scouts, and include spending the night next to the dioramas, meeting live animals, breakfast, and snacks. Cost – $35 to $45/per child.

The Academy of Natural Sciences is dedicated to education, research, and environmental awareness, providing visitors and residents with an unsurpassed facility for the study of science, its usefulness and relationship for people around the world.

Admission: $10.00 — Adults 13 and over; Children 3-12, seniors, military, and students with ID – $8.00. (Additional $2.00 for Butterflies exhibit.). Group discounts for 10 or more. Ph: 215-299-1060, Monday — Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Hours: Monday — Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, & Holidays — 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
Tours: 2-hour tours of all or specific collections of interest. Cost – $19.00/person, $9.50/student.
Ecology Café: Open Monday — Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Gift Shop on premises, handicap accessible.
Parking and transportation: Garages and street parking nearby. SEPTA bus routes.

(Note: Public transportation in Philadelphia includes Phlash trolleys — $1.00 a ride to most of the city’s main attractions; seniors 65+ and children under 5 ride free; all-day passes available. Service every 12 minutes, daily 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.)

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