You think you know mammals? You don’t know mammals. Those were the fighting words thrown at me by the Academy of Sciences with their invitation to the media preview of “Extreme Mammals,” a furry, live-birthin’ romp of a good time that opens up to the public Sat/3. The invite also promised a look into the museum’s famed dead thing vault, typically only accessible to swashbuckle biologists and moneybanks VIP tour guests. I saddled up and rode out to Golden Gate Park to investigate the goings-on. Only thing was, the event was structured around “live blogging.” I asked around the Guardian office, but none of us really seemed to know what that was, so I just wrote down what my cell phone clock for each note I took. I find the numbers made everything look more scientific, enjoy.
2:10 Arrive at museum. Holy hell, there’s more families here than there will be at the Embarcadero when the zipline comes!
2:16 Greg Harrington, executive director of Academy, welcomes junketers. “You’re on the edge of extreme. As we know, anything extreme today is totally cool and totally exciting.” Museum folk, though not the hippest songs on the album, are adorably enthusiastic.
2:17 Shout out to the indricotherium, the biggest land animal. He’s 20 tons of love.
2:22 Enter exhibit. Four legged mega-muppet with floppy nose greets us as only a lifelike recreation can. He’s the reproduction of an animal discovered by Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle and looks like a big, brown Gonzo. Carol Tang, director of the mueseum’s public programs, tells us for all we know, he could have been purple in real life. Extreme!
2:26 A fossil with it’s skin and stomach content still intact? Extreme!
2:30 Unicorns! Oh wait, just a narwal’s modified skull tooth. Extreme.
2:31 Per tour guide’s suggestion, I “engage” with a mammoth’s tooth. Very rippley.
2:32 Kitty skulls galore.
2:33 “People are the most extreme of all!” says Carol, as she stands next to a THUNDER-JAWED, SPOTTED HYENA THAT IS THE RELATED TO WHALES.
2:34 “Engage” with the glyptodont’s freaky tiled armor. Yeesh.
2:36 Here come the pagolins! Armored anteaters -- the 50 Cents of West African savannahs that have large termite populations.
2:40 Tang says this guy, a biological link between whales and land animals was “probably a little awkward on land.” He looks like the dopey sidekick in a Disney movie.
2:41 “Engage” with skunk pelt. Feels like kitty. Extreme?
2:44 Flying squirrels can’t really fly. FAKERS
2:46 Echidna display asks us “is egg laying extreme?”
2:47 Proboscis monkey = penis nose.
2:48 I would give this squirrel peanuts if I saw it in the park. If I wasn’t incapacitated by the acid flashback it would doubtlessly trigger.
2:50 Fanged hippo!
2:51 Live blogging would be better with an actual Internet device in hand.
2:52 Am I the least wired person here? Wait, there’s a British guy with a notepad. Score, I’m not the only analog.
2:52 Was the smilodon the happiest of all dinos?
2:55 Band name spotting: Dire Wolf. They’ve found 3,600 of them in the La Brea tar pits. Such a rockstar way to go.
2:57 Wall of freaky things we’re still discovering (24 new mammals worldwide each year!). Want to squeeze the striped rabbit, found in 1999 near border of Laos and Vietnam.
2:58 Tube lipped nectar bat. Tongue is longer than rest of body. Discovered in 2005. Sick name, massive tongue: ultimate ladies’ man/bat.
3:04 Batodonoides vanhouteni. A nickel sized lemur. Smallest mammal eva!
3:05 Vamos to the vaults! Holler at Claude, the albino croc, en route.
3:06 Museum staff-only area. Woman steps out of elevator carrying what looks to be dead ospreys in Ziploc freezer bags. We also pass signs for the “visualization studios”? What the devil do these scientists have going on back here?
3:08 Answer to question: a five story library of 26 million dead animal samples. “The most tangible and complete collection of biodiversity on earth,” sez Jack Dumbacher, the museum’s curator of birds and mammals. Well then!
3:11 Dumbacher: “Let’s pull open a drawer!”
3:17 Omg. Have you ever seen an otter skeleton? They are sway backed hilarity!
3:20 Galen Rathburn, grey faced scholar of the grey faced sengi, shows us how he gets down.
3:21 Sengis are related to elephant sea cows.
3:22 Galen is wearing a studded belt and pocketchain, and is given to holding up obscure mammals while saying things like “that one I collected in Kenya in 1970.”
3:23 “We’re off to Namibia at the end of this month.” According to Galen, shuttling never before seen dead animals through airport security presents unique challenges. This man embodies adventure.
3:27 I thought it was a dodo, but it was only a wandering albatross. Yawn.
3:43 Type specimens (preserved animal used to define its species)/extinct animal cabinet cracked open. Wonders unfold.
3:47 Within, an egg from the Madagascar elephant bird. It’s fucking massive.
3:49 Field mice, bunnies, boxes tied up with ribbon -- it’s a taxonomist's rendition of a Beatrix Potter book.
3:52 “Does the Academy collect plants?” “We sure do! Our plant collection is… extreme!”
3:53 I love my job.
3:55 I drop my camel (?) cupcake meant for later home consumption. Frosting everywhere. Junket over. Thumbs up on mammals, y’all.
“Extreme Mammals: The Biggest, Smallest and Most Amazing Mammals of all Time”
opens Sat/3 (through September 12), $14.95-24.95
Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse, SF