• Laurie L.

Missouri Institute of Natural Science

Updated: Jul 14, 2020

In today’s society, it can be hard to find time to go to a museum or science institute. Sometimes there’s controversy over the information a person may want to expose to their kids, sometimes the kids say they aren’t interested even though they haven’t been to one, and sometimes we forget how much we can learn from a simple visit and never think to go.


This blog post is about an ever-expanding science institute in the middle of Missouri that was both a hidden gem to me and a grand awakening for the exploration of science! This visit I took allowed me to access information that I never would have discovered if I had just stayed at home.

They were in the middle of construction so there was a lot of unused and 'plain' space at the time of my visit, but the fossils were amazing and its accessible for people with disabilities. The parking was free and the visit was free as well with tours offered on their WEBPAGE. There's opportunities to volunteer and do group projects.

The Missouri Institute of Natural Sciences (MINS) is located in Springfield, Missouri. It’s rather tucked away from the popular shopping district, but is home to several amazing fossils and discoveries that my funding allowed me to uncover through a visit.

On the tragic day of September 11th, 2001, there was a scheduled demolishing of a rock formation in the area. Due to the terrorist attacks that day in N.Y.C., the demolishing was limited and only done on a small scale. Uncovered through the small-scale demolishing, was a 2,000 foot long cave untouched for 1.1+ million years.

Riverbluff Cave is so old and well preserved, it has top layers of dirt that are over 570,000 years old. It's the oldest known Ice Age fossil cave in North America to date. With thousands of bones and evidence, completely unfossilized, where lion, short-faced cave bear (the largest in existence), mammoths, reptiles, and rodents were present right at the entrance as an unexpected earthquake trapped all the living creatures inside. Among the living things found were millipedes, salamanders, and other typical cave life.

Several important discoveries were made just by entering the cave, most containing new information about a possible new species of mammoth and short-faced bear. In typical displays of the bear, you would see their claws spread out to show their size and aggression. In the cave, there were claw marks of the bear who were trying to get out, showing that they can’t expand their claws. A new scientific discovery happened just by that alone!

Although the claw marks aren’t “fossils” per se, there’s a scientific term used to describe the evidence of a living creature without the bone of the creature itself. The term is Ichnofossils or trace fossils. These kinds of fossils and evidence are just as important as an actual fossil because it shows an exact moment in time for how a creature actually lived and behaved.

The bone-chilling claw marks that are shown in photographs on the walls of the institute capture a desperate minute in time where a poor animal tried to claw its way out of the cave. Regular fossils and rock formations show a time frame of big scale proportions with thousands, hundreds-of-thousands, and millions of years of time without any information for the environment or ‘lifestyle’ of the creature or area.

The Missouri Institute of Natural Sciences was an incredible experience because I would have never learned this kind of information or saw actual bone of young mammoth teeth, claw marks of various animals and other amazing displays found in the cave otherwise. Additionally, the MINS is home to the world’s only fossilized worm and is currently constructing the world’s largest Triceratops!

Dinosaurs, mammoth skulls, and cave tours are all available for inquiring minds at MINS. I would strongly recommend visiting and taking a tour if you can because it was worth it and gave powerful insight into life beyond the present. The MINS is working on several projects including the Triceratops model, renovations, and articles over a potentially huge discovery found in the cave.

Take the time to visit your local museums and science institutes because no matter who you are, you’ll learn valuable information about life beyond your personal experience of the world. I most certainly plan to visit MINS again when I can and am proud to share this opportunity with a grateful heart. Message the Missouri Institute of Natural Sciences on their website if you’re interested in scheduling a visit. They also take in spontaneous visitors during their regular hours!

#evolution #science #scienceducation #sciencecommunication #scicomm #scienceblog #blog #institute #travel #missouri #undergraduateresearch #bears #lions #mammoths #caves #exploring #fossils #excavation #discovery #sciencemuseum

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