Weird and wonderful creatures in a Victorian-inspired setting
Please note, Animal Attic is closed between Monday 1 May – Friday 16 June for preventative conservation work. All other Museum galleries are open as usual. Find out more here.
- Circus stars Sonia and Sultan, who escaped from a travelling circus in Lawrence, Central Otago in 1978
- An eight-member rat king
- Sammy the seal, a local marine celebrity and mischief maker
- A tooth from Megalodon, the largest species of shark that ever lived
- A trichobezoar (hairball) found in the stomach of a cow at the Whanganui meat works
- The giant shell of a green turtle – try it on if you've ever wondered what you'd look like as a sea turtle
The Animal Attic is sometimes called a 'museum within the Museum'.
It not only sheds light on taxonomy and evolution, but on Victorian-era architecture and ideas about how museums should be presented to the public. From birds and bears to monkeys and molluscs, Animal Attic highlights the diversity of species on Earth and explores evolutionary relationships in the animal kingdom.
The Attic is a treasure trove of taxidermy, pinned insects, and pickled and preserved animals. It was originally created to demonstrate taxonomy (the Linnaean classification of living things) and illustrate Darwin’s theory of evolution.
This historic space has been restored with Victorian flair, but actually dates back to 1877 when the Museum first opened on Great King Street. The collection, much of which is still on display, was assembled and curated by a succession of highly-regarded and well-connected British scientists: Frederick Woollaston Hutton, Thomas Jeffery Parker and William Benham.
As museum practices and values have changed over the last century and a half, so did our display methods. You might notice that some of these historic specimens show signs of damage from being exposed to the natural sunlight that once lit the gallery. In this way, they reflect not only the evolution of the natural world, but the evolution of a Museum.
Facts and figures
2,624 specimens on display
- 482 taxidermy specimens
- 1,321 pinned specimens
- 23 specimens in fluid, including a whale’s eyeball
- 59 skulls and skeletons
- 516 dried molluscs and crustaceans
- 148 eggs, including an ostrich egg
- 30 study skins, including a tiger skin
- 7 fossils
- 31 models