Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Karlsruhe

imgp2391My recent trip back to the UK included a very quick tour of southern Germany and I was able to visit some old friends and colleagues and get back to a few museums. I know the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde (State Museum for Natural History, their website is only in German I’m afriad) in Karlsruhe quite well as both the ‘home’ of my student Ross Elgin and domain of the irrepressible Dino Frey, in addition to a horde of excellent pterosaur specimens from Germany and Brazil.

However, it is the public part of the museum that I want to talk about today (having already covered the Fukui Dinosaur Museum in and the Tokyo Museum for Science and Nature in Japan and the Museo del Desierto, and Museo de los Aves in Mexico – this could become another feature by the time I cover the IVPP, BSPG and BMNH x 2). Karlsruhe is a fairly small city in the south west of Germany close to the Black Forest and the French border, and so it is a bit of a surprise that the place can afford to maintain such a large and well run museum, and that is certainly to their credit.

The upper floors were undergoing a fairly extensive upgrade while I was there for a new exhibit, so I can only really describe about half the upper floor and the ground floor. There is nothing especially new here, and I don’t mean that as a discourtesy, but pretty much all good natural history museums cover the history of life, evolution, diversity, the fossil record, modern animals and then issues like ecology, or man’s effect on the environment or whatever. As a result there’s only so much you can say without being repetitive or showing the same photos of exhibits of the origin of life or the Cambrian explosion (probably now the Cambrian ‘explosion’) or stuffed lions or peppered moths evolving.

imgp2341There are excellent dioramas of stuffed animals on the ground floor featuring European wildlife in natural settings and again on the upper floor with African mammals and birds. Down one wing of the ground floor is a superb collection of living animals (mostly reptiles and fish, both freshwater and marine) in a series of aquaria and terraria that any zoo would be proud of and with a display on the water cycle and the oceans. I’ll cover some of this in a later post as obviously I got some great photos if interesting living animals. In itself this is an odd thing to do given that the museum is just a few minutes walk from the zoo, and you would think that the two might compete and of course it’s expensive to keep live animals well, let alone in large numbers, but both seem to do well out of it.

imgp2342I certainly think that more museums would benefit from adding live animals to their displays. I’m not advocating a zebra or macaw in each room but where it is pertinent and relevant it can be relatively cheap, simple and provide a dramatic example of the point one wants to communicate. A tank of cichlids can show off their diversity of size and colour despite the constrained bauplan and they often engage in behaviours like courtship and brooding which are excellent. A colony of ants can show off the different castes. Some mice or rats can show how different colours are inherited. A python or tree frog can show camouflage, or a chameleon how animals display and communicate. A few cycads or ferns or mosses can show what early plant life looked like. No need to go mad on costs or maintenance, and no need to compete with zoos or aquaria, just an edge in communicating a few points. Right, back to the museum.

imgp2347The second wing of the ground floor covers the history of life, the Earth and so on (and includes this fantastic geode [above], I’m not normally a big fan of rocks, but I do like crystals). At the rear is a small hall showing off the evolution of the horse (pictured) and other aspects of mammalian evolution since the KT.

imgp2344In between these two is the main hall which covers the huge diversity of vertebrate life with fossils, paintings and life reconstructions. This includes a massive whale skeleton and other cetacean skulls, ammonites, crocodiles and other marine reptiles, and casts of mammals from Messel, amongst much else. There’s loads here and for no obvious reason I only took about three photos, so not much to show you.
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Finally, what you have obviously waiting for – the pterosaurs. There are some nice specimens on display like Ludodactylus but far better is hanging over the staircase to the upper floor a series of life-size reconstructions of several large taxa. Sadly the backlighting from the skylight at midday made my photos come out pretty poorly, but I do have this nice one of their superb Tapejara imperator.
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Overall it’s a great museum and well worth visiting if you happen to be in the area (though I think I have all of one regular German reader, who has probably already been there). They do have money to spend on the exhibits and spend it well – every time I go one of the galleries or exhibits seems to have been renovated or upgraded. I should add that Karlsruhe itself is a beautiful city and I love going there whenever I get the opportunity, but have sadly never really had the time to explore properly let alone get out into the surrounding countryside.

4 Responses to “Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Karlsruhe”


  1. 1 Bodo Mordek 01/07/2012 at 3:34 am

    Suche contact with the department of entomology. Have found a insect, on photo and video with an eye other than normal. It appears to have one central and one radial pupil, rotating on the rim of the eye.


  1. 1 Karlsruhe living collections « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 01/05/2009 at 9:38 am
  2. 2 Tapejara navigans skull « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 30/05/2009 at 8:07 am
  3. 3 The most German pterosaur ever « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 14/12/2010 at 7:53 am
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