One of the greatest rewards of travel for me is being able to return to a place or attraction I loved. I had that experience in July, 2017, thanks to Orvel and Jo Anne. We met these friends from Texas in Vancouver, BC and took them to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC). This visit was even better than our first one because the 4 of us took a tour with Nancy, an astute student who knew the collection well and was gifted at explaining it to others. Thanks to her, I’ve seen a passenger pigeon, an elephant egg, and a cone snail.
The first museum of its kind in Canada, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum opened in 2010. 95% of its collection is available for inspection. Named for UBC alumnus Ross Beaty, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum has collected more than 2 million natural history specimens and organized them into 6 collections. One Best of Vancouver list called it the “Best Collection of Weird Things in Drawers”. After you’ve been there, this description will seem especially apt.
Getting To Beaty is easy. There are several parking structures on the UBC campus, and 2 of them are close to Beaty. If you don’t mind a short walk and asking for directions, you’ll have no trouble finding it. A campus map helps. One professor told us to look for a whale. An unmissable 150 ton blue whale skeleton equal in size to 33 adult elephants hangs in Beaty’s lobby and becomes the first of over 500 ongoing exhibits.
Passenger pigeons used to darken the skies of North America. It’s estimated that there were 5 billion living examples of them. Now extinct, the last one, Martha, died in 1914. Elephant birds, also extinct, were once found on the island of Madagascar where they laid the biggest eggs in the world. The largest avian species that ever lived, the elephant bird resembled a kiwi, its closes living relative. A living elephant bird has not been seen since the 17th century. After you read what follows, you’ll wish the cone snail was extinct. It’s not. The National Geographic calls it the “World’s Weirdest Killer”. Inhabiting an innocent looking, easy-to-step-on shell found in tropical seas, the cone snail’s harpoon causes muscle paralysis in humans. If treatment is quickly given, it’s no longer a guaranteed cause of death. 20 to 30 people, some recently, have died from its sting.
Burgess Shale, part of earth’s biodiversity is on view at this museum as are fungi, fossils, fish, etc. The Beaty Biodiversity Museum is one of those places that enchants children while adults spend hours opening drawers and staring with fascination at what’s in them.