About the Exhibition

Part of the Life at the Limits exhibition.

Promotional poster for the Life at the Limits: Stories of Amazing Species exhibit.

Imagine holding your breath for an hour and a half. Enduring temperatures above 300° F and below -458˚ F. Or seeming to cheat death by repeatedly cloning yourself. Life at the Limits: Stories of Amazing Species explores the diverse and sometimes jaw-dropping strategies animals and plants employ to find food, fend off predators, reproduce, and thrive in habitats many would find inhospitable, even lethal. 

The exhibition, overseen by Curator John Sparks, an ichthyologist, introduces visitors to bizarre mating calls, extraordinary examples of parasitism and mimicry, and other amazing means of survival, using specimens, videos, interactive exhibits, and models, including a climbable Hercules beetle. 

Live animals on display include the surprisingly powerful mantis shrimp; the jet-powered nautilus; and the axolotl, an entirely aquatic salamander that breathes through external gills. Life at the Limits tells the stories of these and many more creatures across the tree of life—and their unusual approaches to the challenges of living on Earth.

About the Curator

Dr. Sparks is curator-in-charge of the Department of Ichthyology and a principal investigator in the Museum's Institute for Comparative Genomics. His research focuses on the evolution and biogeography of freshwater and marine fishes. His recent work has explored the role that bioluminescence and biofluorescence play in the diversification of both shallow reef and deep sea fishes. Dr. Sparks curated Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence and The Exosuit.