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Frost Science's "Nature’s Superheroes" Focuses on the Superhuman Abilities of the Natural World

This ten-foot model of the microscopic tardigrade, an animal that enters a low-metabolic state to endure stressful environmental conditions, is 6,000 times life-size.
This ten-foot model of the microscopic tardigrade, an animal that enters a low-metabolic state to endure stressful environmental conditions, is 6,000 times life-size. Photo © AMNH/R. Mickens
On a Saturday afternoon in October, the temperature has dipped below 90 degrees and the warm winds have a tinge of fall air, as families flock to the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in downtown Miami. It’s hard to tell whether the museumgoers are drawn more to the science or the scenic bay view.

But if you can tear yourself away from the view of Government Cut and go inside, you'll encounter the museum's latest exhibition, "Nature’s Superheroes: Life at the Limits," which focuses on the superhuman abilities possessed by all manner of mammals and reptiles.

Housed within the Hsiao Family Special Exhibition Gallery, "Nature’s Superheroes" welcomes guests with a larger-than-life replica of a wild rhinoceros beetle. Through the large black doors, visitors immediately encounter odd-looking, smushed-faced creatures known as tardigrades — or, as scientists sweetly nicknamed them, water bears — hanging overhead.

Considered to be one of the toughest guys in nature, the tardigrade can withstand six times the pressure of the deepest regions of the ocean and are known to survive for years without water — they curl up into a ball and lie dormant until a bit of water revives them.

Craziest part? Tardigrades are about 1.5 millimeters long and can only be seen with a microscope.

The exhibition only gets more intriguing as you continue to walk through it. The next display to catch your eye is a life-size replica of an Indonesian plant called the titan arum. This tall drink of water is nice to look at, but when in bloom, she smells like rotting flesh.

You’ll quickly realize us boring old homo sapiens can’t hold a candle to some of the animals featured in "Nature’s Superheroes."

“'Nature’s Superheroes' is an exhibition that showcases the amazing adaptations living organisms have developed through evolution,” explains Skip Uricchio, senior director at Frost. “Abilities such as seeing, hearing, and sensing are all examples of traits that have been incredibly adapted by each specific organism to help them survive and thrive in the wild, even under extreme conditions.”

On loan from the famed American Museum of Natural History in New York, this exhibit opened earlier this month and runs through April 11, 2021.
click to enlarge
The southern elephant seal spends two months living on land in Antarctica and the rest of the year hunting for fish and squid in the frigid Southern Ocean.
Photo © AMNH/R. Mickens
Uricchio, who oversees Frost’s permanent setups and chooses traveling exhibitions, says the museum chose "Nature’s Superheroes" because of the way it showcases the diversity of the natural world.

“It’s also a really fun way of exploring the amazing traits and abilities organisms have adapted through evolution,” he adds.

Guests will learn about mating rituals of different species, the hearing abilities of owls, and plenty more about extraordinary creatures, via displays and life-size models tucked into corners or hanging from the ceiling throughout the exhibit floor.

Uricchio recommends taking a selfie next to the 20-foot southern elephant seal.

“Aside from his impressive size,” he says, “the large seal has the spectacular ability to hold his breath for up to two hours while diving in search of food in the deepest parts of the ocean.”

Inside the shrouded dome at the center of the space, a young girl can be heard declaring, “Ew, I don’t like it!” as she and her mother make their way through the dark, cavernous structure. But a moment after emerging from the dome, she's bouncing over to the next display and pointing excitedly at the hanging winged bug high above her head, her eyes sparkling in wonderment.

Similar expressions of fascination, as well as laughter and chatter, emerge throughout the dark space, among families and groups of friends as they gawk at the displays.

“This exhibition has so much information on plants and animals that I know our guests will leave in awe of the incredible diversity on display as well as fascinated by the natural ‘superpowers’ many people wouldn’t know these organisms have,” Uricchio promises.

"Nature’s Superheroes: Life at the Limits." Through April 11, 2021, at Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, 1101 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-434-9600; Tickets cost $29.95.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.