Hurry Over to Survival of the Slowest at the Museum of Nature & Science

Survival of the Slowest at Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Survival of the Slowest at Denver Museum of Nature and Science Alexander Elmore
Survival of the Slowest — a traveling exhibit about animals with "counterintuitive adaptations," or things that seem disadvantageous but actually aid in their survival — opened today, October 22, at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The main attraction? Flash, the two-toed sloth.

Del Niedzialek, one of the animal handlers who travels with the exhibition, says that on the second stop of the tour at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, a naming contest was held for the sloth, who was born and raised in Florida. The winning name is a reference to a character in the animated film Zootopia.
click to enlarge Flash the two-toed sloth eats a sweet potato stick. - ALEXANDER ELMORE
Flash the two-toed sloth eats a sweet potato stick.
Alexander Elmore
Survival of the Slowest was produced by Little Ray's Nature Centre, an animal conservation organization based in Ottowa with several nature centers in Canada and exhibits throughout North America. Niedzialek has been with Little Ray's for twelve years. This particular exhibit was created about four years ago and is a self-guided experience with an open-floor design.

Although Flash is definitely a star of the show — as evidenced by a child in attendance wearing a sloth onesie — Niedzialek points out that the majority of the exhibit's educational value comes from the inclusion of other, less culturally exotic animals, because misconceptions about more "normal" animals likes snakes and spiders generally lead to longer and more informative conversations with their handlers.

"My favorite animals are actually the ones that people have the biggest misconceptions about, the animals for which the distance between reality and public perception is the greatest," he says.

Little Ray's uses animals from its centers as the main attraction in its exhibits, though the collection itself varies. (Survival highlights eighteen types of animals, from reptiles to mammals, invertebrates to insects.) There will be "one or two star animals or birds," but the rest won't be of that type — something that reflects the animals that Little Ray's cares for across the continent, explains Niedzialek.

Most of the animals at Little Ray's centers are either surrendered by owners once they're no longer able to take care of them properly, or supplied by animal control entities looking for a more permanent home for rescues.

"We're not selecting animals specifically for exhibits. The vast majority of animals we take in are dropped off at our door," Niedzialek elaborates. "I have no idea what our animal collection is going to look like a year from now compared to now."
click to enlarge This iguana lives in an area with a turtle and three boas. - ALEXANDER ELMORE
This iguana lives in an area with a turtle and three boas.
Alexander Elmore
Survival of the Slowest features spiders, snakes, turtles and tortoises, iguanas, geckos, a bearded dragon and a hedgehog, among other creatures. There are also several bronze-colored statues around the room of animals that are relevant to the exhibit but are not included, such as alligators and a medium-sized sloth.

Niedzialek points to the latter statue, which is about the size of a compact automobile. "The largest sloths that ever lived weighed four tons and were twenty feet long," he says. "They lived with people very recently, pretty much yesterday. It was only ten thousand years ago."

The selection of exhibit animals is also determined by state and city laws, as well as what diseases are on the forefront of public-health concerns at any given time. West Nile virus, for example, was a reason for not including any birds of prey in exhibits a decade or so ago, notes Niedzialek. So the animals included in Denver won't necessarily be in every other stop along the way.
click to enlarge A snake handler gives a presentation about the reptile. - ALEXANDER ELMORE
A snake handler gives a presentation about the reptile.
Alexander Elmore
The Museum of Nature & Science is including Survival of the Slowest with its general admission as a thank-you to Denver residents for their patience and continued patronage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, says Maurilio Tapia, a support specialist in the communications department.

After closing for several months in 2020, the museum reopened that June with the traveling LEGO exhibition The Art of the Brick. Still, limited capacity, safety precautions and general unease about the state of the pandemic prevented the usual crowds from attending, Tapia says. Fortunately, 2021 visitor numbers are already on their way to matching 2019's two million mark.

Handler Niedzialek notes that Survival of the Slowest has a habit of breaking attendance records at almost every museum it visits.

Survival of the Slowest is on view through January 9, 2022, at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Boulevard. Tickets can be purchased at the museum box office or on the DMNS website. For more information on Little Ray's Nature Centre, visit the organization's website.
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