My Virtual Museum Home
Put on your Nature Eyes and #MuseumFromHome in an all-new way with Animal Crossing
Synapsids, aquatic reptiles, oh my! While sheltering in place, you may have picked up a hobby or twenty. If you’re anything like me and thousands of other people out there, one of those hobbies may be Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest installment of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series that reminds us that learning can be as fun and engaging, for all ages.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or “ACNH” for short, is a life simulation video game where you, the player, travel to a deserted island and explore every way possible - gathering and crafting DIY items, catching insects and fish, and even digging up fossils! As the game takes place in real time, you’re tasked to steadily develop the island into a thriving community, complete with anthropomorphic animal neighbors and local shops, all orchestrated by an ambitious business mogul named Tom Nook (an apt name for the character who is also a “tanuki”, or Japanese raccoon dog).
But where do all of the natural discoveries go? The island’s museum, of course! Blathers, the museum’s owl Director, not only assists in assessing fossils, but serves as a walking encyclopedia when it comes to fish, insects, and art alike. That said, one might wonder, “just how accurate are the facts presented in this fictional islandscape?”
Let’s tackle a few findings encountered during gameplay and weigh them against the knowledge of NHM’s own scientists:
Catching the coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) is an achievement with satisfying results — while NHM itself doesn’t have an aquarium, our on view specimen shares its tank with a megamouth shark on Level 1 of the museum. ACNH describes the coelacanth as, “a deep-sea fish that has been around since the age of the dinosaurs, long thought extinct.”
True or false? Dr. William Ludt, Assistant Curator of Ichthyology, discusses:
Slightly Misleading — While the two known currently-living species of coelacanth are generally found in deeper waters, and while there is a rich coelacanth fossil history extending back to the time of dinosaurs, that doesn't mean these two living species were around when the dinosaurs were. However, it certainly is true that scientists thought all coelacanths were extinct until an ichthyologist came across one in 1938 while looking at local fisherman landings in South Africa.
These sea creatures also served as the inspiration behind the Creature from the Black Lagoon, seen above in last season’s Natural History of Horror exhibition! Learn more about the species here:
ACNH or ACNHMLA? The island museum not only bears some striking resemblances to NHM, but also houses 73 distinct fossils! How do we measure up, you ask? Our iconic Dinosaur Hall alone has 20 mounted skeletons of dinosaurs and aquatic creatures alike, with over 300 fossils on display. Many of the digital specimens on view can also be found at NHM, such as Parasaurolophus, Plesiosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and of course, T. rex.
While ACNH requires as few as three parts to complete any one of these skeletons, the real deal may just blow your mind. Dr. Nate Smith, Associate Curator of the Dinosaur Institute, confirms that while the exact number in any of these species will vary, it’s safe to say that they'd have over 200 bones.
Imagine digging up all those in-game fossils! Can’t get enough dinosaurs? Take a Virtual Tour of NHM's Dino Hall.
Contrary to popular belief, this Ice Age mammal was in fact not closely related to the tigers of its well-known namesake depicted in the game. However, the saber-toothed cat did hunt large herbivores such as bison, young mammoths, and perhaps even giant sloths, all famously found at the La Brea Tar Pits dig site.
According to ACNH,
“It could open its jaws incredibly wide, allowing it to tear into thick hides."
"It went extinct about 40,000 years ago during a period when humans lived.”
True or false? Bit of both.
Dr. Emily Lindsey, Assistant Curator and Excavation Site Director at La Brea Tar Pits, weighs in:
"It could open its jaws incredibly wide.” True — Smilodon could open its jaws to ~120 degrees—that’s about twice the angle that most modern large cats can manage.
"..Allowing it to tear into thick hides.” Misleading — The canines of Smilodon are actually not that strong (they’re long and narrow and susceptible to breakage). Smilodon likely relied on its powerful forelimbs to hold prey in place while it opened its mouth wide to deliver a killing bite with its knife-like sabers.
“It went extinct about 40,000 years ago.” False — Smilodon became extinct around 11,500 years ago, at the same time as most of the rest of America's Ice Age megafauna (mammoths, mastodons, horses, camels, dire wolves, American lions, giant ground sloths).
“..During a period when humans lived.” True — This extinction event coincided both with the spread of human populations across the Americas and with rapid climate changes at the end of the last Ice Age.
Chew on that, tiger!
If your island is located in the Northern Hemisphere, happy Scorpion Season! ACNH is known for its ornate detail to the most unsuspecting things and this predatory arachnid is no exception — pincers, venomous stinger and all.
Despite their striking features, Blathers states, “All scorpions are venomous, you know! Though I understand that only a few kinds are truly deadly.” True or false?
Mostly True — While scorpions have a venomous sting, only about 25 species are known to carry venom capable of killing a human.
At Bugtopia, located within NHM’s recently remodeled Discovery Center, future visitors can see an emperor scorpion (Pandinus imperator) fluoresce under ultraviolet light!
Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing
In-game, one might see these gigantic butterflies flapping their wings about during the daytime. Described as a “behemoth butterfly”, a Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing apparently sports a foot-long wingspan whose larvae alone grow to more than 4 inches. On top of all that, they’re also poisonous! True or false?
Mostly True — Forest Urban, Live Invertebrate Animal Exhibits Manager, shares, “The birdwing is toxic to predators, not poisonous to people.”
While these may look like a 12,000 bell payday to some players, oarfish (Regalecus glesne) are rarely seen near the ocean’s surface, usually found at depths up to 3,000 feet. Thankfully for NHM visitors, seeing a real oarfish is as easy as visiting its exhibit tank located on Level 1 of the museum. ACNH describes these slender sea specimens as “long, eel-like fish that can supposedly reach up to 36 feet in length” that have appeared in “myths about massive, ship-crushing sea serpents”.
True or false? Dr. William Ludt, Assistant Curator of Ichthyology, explains:
Mostly True — Oarfishes are indeed the longest bony fishes currently living on our planet, and there are some visual estimates of specimens getting as long as 50 feet. However, the majority of specimens in museums are less than 30 feet long. These long, slender fishes are thought to inspire old sea serpent tales, but are harmless to people. ACNH accurately depicts how these fishes have been documented in the wild, where they are found nearly motionless in deeper waters with their heads pointed towards the surface feeding on small organisms in the water column.
If you’re all about ichthyology, be sure to follow Dr. Ludt’s fabulous Planet of Fishes on Instagram!
While breeding hybrid colored flowers may seem like wild fiction, the truth may not be so far-fetched. Dedicated ACNH players have gone as far as creating spreadsheets to perfect the process of producing unusual colors of various in-game flowers — windflowers, lilies, pansies, hyacinths, cosmos, mums, tulips, and roses — that simply can’t be bought, making them far more unique and carefully crafted than almost anything else in the game. But is it possible in real life?
Carol Bornstein, Director, Living Collections, explains:
We’ve had cosmos and pansies at times in the edible garden (these are annuals), and we have roses in several locations. All of the roses are the result of breeding programs, except our native California species that's in the Urban Wilderness and behind the NHM willow house (please note the willow house will be closed for renovations beginning January 3rd). Breeders have been tinkering with roses for centuries, seeking bigger flowers, double flowers, new colors, disease resistance, repeat blooming, less water demand, etc. Even pansies and cosmos are distant cousins of their wild relatives, having also been hybridized for decades, if not longer.
Long story short, it is not fiction, but fact that creating unusual flower colors has been done by humans for centuries. Oddball flower colors occasionally pop up in wildland areas or even in a garden setting and if some observant botanist or horticulturist notices, she/he may try to propagate it for commercial purposes. Extending this discussion to edibles, just about every food plant we eat these days is the result of a breeding program.
While the thought of cultivating a fictional island from the weeds up might sound less than appealing for some, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, proved to be a pleasant surprise for me not only as a casual gamer, but also as a museum aficionado! Science doesn’t stop nor does discovery, and ACNH perfectly pairs both while allowing its players to connect with friends and family worldwide in a whole new way, safely at home. So if you’re feeling cooped up, miss your local museum, or need an island getaway...I know a guy. He might also be part raccoon.
But wait—there’s more! Download your very own in-game NHMLAC t-shirt by visiting your island’s Able Sisters tailor shop and input code MO-17CQ-RTMW-L2DN into the kiosk. Just like that, you’re part of the digital Museum Family.
How are you recreating your #MuseumAtHome? Share your in-game recreations and screenshots by tagging @NHMLA on social media, or even tell us what ACNH versus NHMLA comparisons you’d like to see!
All in-game images © 2020 Nintendo, provided by Diana Kou.