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North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences logo.png
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Established 1879
Location Raleigh, North Carolina
Type Natural history museum
Visitors 1.2 million (annually)

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS) is located in Raleigh, North Carolina as the oldest established museum in North Carolina and the largest museum of its kind in the Southeastern United States. With about 1.2 million visitors annually, as of 2013 it was the state's most popular museum or historic destination among visitors.

The museum has five facilities on four campuses: the Nature Exploration Center and Nature Research Center on Jones Street in downtown Raleigh, the Prairie Ridge Ecostation satellite facility and outdoor classroom in northwest Raleigh near William B. Umstead State Park, the former North Carolina Museum of Forestry in Whiteville, and the former Grifton Nature & Science Center in Grifton. In 2020 a new facility, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Greenville, was announced and is set to be completed in 2021. NCMNS is a division of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.


Former logo

The North Carolina State Museum was created in 1879, by combining two existing state-owned collections of geologic and agricultural specimens. The museum was originally housed in the Briggs building on Fayetteville Street. The museum's collections, outreach and education programs, and status grew over the next 60 years under the stewardship of H.H. Brimley. As part of the Department of Agriculture, the State Museum moved in 1887 to a former hotel on Edenton Street across from the Capitol building. An annex was added in 1899, but the entire facility was replaced by a purpose-built building in 1924. The facility was later renamed the North Carolina State Museum of Natural History.

In the 1950s and again in the 1990s, shifts in education further expanded the museum's holdings as universities donated their collections to the state. In 1986, it became the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences.

A new building opened later and NCMNS became the largest natural history museum in the Southeast. Also in 2000, the museum expanded with a new location: the Museum of Forestry in Whiteville was added as a satellite campus; this facility was later overhauled and reopened in 2015 as the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville. Another location was added in 2004, with the opening of the Prairie Ridge Ecostation for Wildlife and Learning. The museum expanded its downtown campus in 2012, with the adjacent Nature Research Center.

The collection now contains more than 1.7 million specimens of amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, mammals, invertebrates, invertebrate and vertebrate fossils, plants, geology, and meteorites.

NCMNS is administered by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Nature Exploration Center

First floor

Nature Exploration Center (NEC) front entrance
  • Natural Treasures of North Carolina contains dioramas of various wildlife and artifacts pertaining to nature in North Carolina.
  • Coastal North Carolina includes exhibits of fish native to North Carolina's coast and inland waterways.
  • WRAL 3-D Theater3-D films are shown daily in this 250-seat venue.
  • Box Office

Second floor

  • The North Carolina: Mountains to the Sea exhibit displays North Carolina's natural habitats from the western mountains through the central Piedmont and on to the Coastal Plain highlighting the interrelationships between them.
  • Underground North Carolina features gems and minerals of North Carolina, as well as ground, soil, and seismic displays.
  • The Nature's Explorers exhibit covers the museum's beginnings, showing the tools and techniques naturalists used 100 years ago to collect and preserve specimens.
  • The Discovery Room is a family-oriented hands-on exhibit for exploring the natural world using a combination of natural, live, and human-made objects.
  • Special Exhibition gallery.
  • A bridge to the museum's new building, which also has a timeline on display.

Third floor

Giant ground sloth
Eremotherium fossil in Prehistoric NC section.
NC Museum of Natural Science Dinosaurs
Dinosaur displays at North Carolina Museum of Natural Science
  • Prehistoric North Carolina chronicles prehistoric life in the state and throughout the southeastern United States.
  • The Terror of the South exhibit features fossil skeletons, including an Acrocanthosaurus.
  • The Tropical Connections section is anchored by a large interactive globe which allows visitors to highlight the climate regions of the Earth. This exhibit focuses on environmental issues.
  • In the Windows on the World theater, museum volunteers and employees give frequent demonstrations and talks, and share live animal visits with museum visitors as well as remotely to classrooms throughout the state.
  • Two Curiosity Classrooms spaces
  • Another bridge
  • A dinosaur short film in a room

Fourth floor

  • Arthropod Zoo – Live and static exhibits of the insects, crustaceans, arachnids and other arthropods in North Carolina.
  • Living Conservatory NC
    Butterflies in the living conservatory.
    Living Conservatory – A dry tropical forest exhibit with various live plants and animals, including butterflies and a two-toed sloth. A windowed chamber preceding the exhibit displays chrysalides of developing butterflies, and butterflies that have recently emerged.
  • Acro Café

Nature Research Center

Nature Research Center
Iconic globe is a 3-story multimedia theater on the museum interior

The Nature Research Center (NRC) is an 80,000 sq ft (7,400 m2), four-story wing across the street from the Nature Exploration Center. The NRC and NEC are connected by a breezeway. The April 20, 2012, opening lasted 24 hours and drew 70,000 visitors.

The NRC provides hands-on activities and visitor-viewing of scientists working in the NRC's four research laboratories. The museum also makes use of distance learning to broadcast lessons and virtual field trips to classrooms around the state.

First floor

Interior of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Research Center, 22 Apr 2012.
Nature Research Center
  • SECU Daily Planet Theater – Inside the globe, a three-story theater hosts science presentations and scenes from nature.
  • Our Changing Ocean – A 10,000 US gal (38,000 l) aquarium replicates a typical hardbottom habitat off the North Carolina coast.
  • Investigating Right Whales – Visitors can see and touch the skeleton of "Stumpy", a North Atlantic right whale whose death led to laws that require slower cargo ship speeds in whale migration routes.
  • Exploring the Deep Sea – A model submersible takes visitors on a virtual dive 2,000 ft (610 m) to the ocean floor off the North Carolina coast.
  • Exploratory Gallery – Presents projects and breakthroughs in engineering, health and modeling.
  • Citizen Science Center – Exhibits on getting involved in scientific research and being a citizen scientist.
  • North Carolina's Green GemsEmeralds discovered in North Carolina, including North America's largest cut emerald, the 64.8-carat Carolina Emperor.
  • Giftshop
  • SECU DinoLab - Announced in 2020 and set to be built by 2022, the SECU DinoLab is a planned exhibit meant to house the Dueling Dinosaurs, a scientifically important specimen of a Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops locked in combat.

Second floor

  • Researching Weather displays methods used to study the weather.
  • Window on Animal Health – Visitors can view veterinary staff, students, and interns working on real medical procedures. The Window is equipped with 2-way audio between visitors and staff and offers video for visitors to view close-ups of microscopic images and medical procedures. Patients include species such as reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, small mammals and invertebrates.
  • Naturalist Center – Features some of the museum's 20,000 education specimens ranging from fossils and bones to preserved reptiles and birds. This exhibit also showcases audio and video of certain specimens at two interactive tabletops.

Third floor

  • Unraveling DNADNA replication and model organisms.
  • From Dinosaurs to DNA – new tools and techniques that are helping scientists study the natural world.
  • Postcards from Space – collection of meteorites.
  • Ice Age Giants – An exhibit showing that, although glaciers never reached North Carolina, climate changes may have spelled doom for the Ice Age animals that roamed the state.
  • Early Life Explosion – Displays of Ediacaran fossils representing some of the earliest complex life on Earth (542-635 million years ago).

Investigate labs

The Nature Research Center's three investigate labs are open-to-the-public hands-on educational spaces.

  • Natural World Investigate Lab (second floor) – Visitors can use a variety of tools to observe and study the natural world.
  • Micro World Investigate Lab (third floor) – This lab focuses on the future of biotechnology and microbiology, from protozoa to genetic engineering.
  • Visual World Investigate Lab (third floor) – Modeling and simulation technologies that help scientists visualize nature in new ways, including how a robot works and classes in electronics and computer programming.

Research labs

The Nature Research Center's four research labs are part of the museum's Research and Collections department. These spaces (normally reserved for behind-the-scenes work) have transparent glass walls through which the public can observe firsthand as research scientists do their work. The atrium is home to the LCD sculpture Patterned by Nature.

Satellite facilities and branches

Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Prairie Ridge Ecostation (45 acres (180,000 m2)) is a satellite facility and outdoor classroom located 6 miles (9.7 km) from the museum's downtown Raleigh locations. It includes Piedmont prairie, forest, ponds, a stream and sustainable building features integrated with a wildlife-friendly landscape.

Prairie Ridge furthers the museum's mission of enhancing public understanding and appreciation of the natural environment by providing an outdoor learning space while acting as a model for renewable and sustainable energy.

The facility opened a Nature PlaySpace Saturday, September 28, 2013.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville, formerly known as the North Carolina Museum of Forestry, is a satellite facility of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences located in Whiteville, North Carolina. Its mission is to celebrate the natural history and cultural heritage of North Carolina's forests through interpretive exhibits, educational programming and the preservation of natural and man-made materials that demonstrate the ongoing relationship of forests and people.

Displays and interactive exhibits include an outdoor Tree Trail and Fossil Dig Pit, and the museum offers educational program experiences and special events.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Contentnea Creek

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Contentnea Creek, formerly known as the Grifton Nature & Science Center, is a satellite facility and outdoor classroom located in Grifton, North Carolina. It features hiking and paddling trails centered around Contentnea Creek, along with an observatory and outdoor classroom.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Greenville

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Greenville, formerly known as A Time For Science (ATFS), is a satellite facility of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences located in Greenville, North Carolina. It and the Grifton Nature and Science Center were acquired through a partnership between NCMNS and ATFS. The center is set to be renovated with new exhibits being added, and is set to reopen in 2021. The Museum at Greenville will largely be based on the Raleigh facility, but with more exhibits focusing on subjects relevant to northeastern North Carolina such as pirates and pollinators, and will also include resources from East Carolina University.

Notable annual events

NCMNS hosts many special events through the year. The most notable are:

On Groundhog Day, February 2, Sir Walter Wally makes his annual prediction for the arrival of the upcoming spring. Sir Walter has a 58% accuracy rating, which has earned him nationwide recognition for his prognostication ability.

BugFest, held in mid-September every year, is a free day-long festival devoted to insects. This event attracts more than 35,000 visitors per year. A smaller version of the festival, called BugFest South, is held at the Whiteville facility in May or June.

NCMNS participates in First Night Raleigh each year on December 31. In 2012, First Night drew 80,000 people to the blocks around the museum.

Acquisition of the Dueling Dinosaurs

The Dueling Dinosaurs is an extremely well-preserved and scientifically important specimen from Montana of a Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus possibly locked in combat. First found in 2006, there were unsuccessful attempts by the fossil's finders to sell it to museums or private collectors for over a decade until the NCMNS reached out in 2016, prompting negotiations to purchase the fossil, with funds being raised by the nonprofit Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Legal issues significantly slowed these negotiations until they were resolved in 2020, leading the museum to announce its acquisition of the fossils as part of its permanent collection. The fossils are set to be put on display in the Nature Research Center in 2022.

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