How an Exhibition is Made

Months before an exhibition opens, preparators are hard at work creating scientifically accurate models and dioramas in the American Museum of Natural History's Exhibition Studio. Take a look at some of the work that goes on behind the scenes.

To create a remote Colombian forest for The Power of Poison, which opens on November 16, Museum preparators began by crafting thousands of leaves.

Below, volunteer Marty Paige and preparator Andrea Raphael trim leaves.

How an Exhibition is Made

Artist Stephen Quinn drafts murals that will appear in the exhibition.

How an Exhibition is Made

Senior Principal Preparator Karl Matsuda works on a model of an eyelash pit viper, Bothriechis schlegelii, a venomous snake that tracks a variety of small animals, including frogs, lizards, bats, and rodents, using the heat-sensing pits between its nostrils and eyes. Its venom is a mix of nerve poisons, muscle-destroying poison called myotoxins, and blood poisons, or hemotoxins. Bites from this species are rarely fatal to people−but, like most snakes, the eyelash viper is best treated with respect.

How an Exhibition is Made

Senior Principal Preparator Jason Brougham works on a model of a Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus, that shows the bird "anting"—that is, wiping its feathers with ants.

How an Exhibition is Made

Senior Principal Preparator Rebecca Meah works on a pair of howler monkey heads for The Power of Poison. Nearly all animals eat plants, and those plants very often contain toxins that range from bitter-tasting substances called tannins that interfere with digestive enzymes to poisons that can cause illness, even death. That's why many plant-eaters, including howler monkeys, have come up with surprising ways to break up plants' chemical defenses.

How an Exhibition is Made

Howler monkeys, seen here in the exhibition gallery, eat a leafy diet full of plant toxins. They also eat clay from termite mounds, perhaps to eliminate those toxins. Minerals found in certain clays bind to toxins and carry them out of animals' systems. One standard treatment for food poisoning in pets is to administer kaolin, a special type of clay, to coat the stomach lining.

How an Exhibition is Made

The exhibition team installs finished plants in the gallery in preparation for the opening on November 16. Land plants, which have been around for about 450 million years, have evolved an amazing array of chemical defenses. In fact, there are 100,000 or more chemical compounds involved in plant defense.

How an Exhibition is Made

See even more behind-the-scenes images here or learn more about The Power of Poison.

Images (c) AMNH/R. Mickens and D. Finnin