A snowy egret lives inside the aviary at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va., on April 9, 2016. Many of the native animals at the museum are injured or non-releasable.
by Will Parson
April 07, 2016
Native species are the key to any ecosystem, and the Virginia Living Museum is a paradise of plants and animals that are native to the commonwealth. The state’s wealth of biodiversity is condensed—perhaps nowhere else does a tiger salamander share a roof with a school of striped bass—and expertly organized according to the habitats of the mid-Atlantic. There are over 250 species of native animals, and exploring the galleries and the outdoor boardwalk gives you the feeling of traveling hundreds of miles as you pass through forests, coastal plains, cypress swamps and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Living Museum is in the middle of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it has changed considerably over the years. What began as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium in 1966 has grown and shifted to the use of living exhibits to connect people with nature. The museum provides a sanctuary for injured or non-releasable animals—including an aviary.
In 2008, the museum was certified as a Virginia Green attraction, after a commitment to prevent pollution from the museum. It opened the Goodson “Living Green” House, an environmental education center, in 2009 to demonstrate sustainable building technologies and Bay-friendly practices like rain barrels and a green roof made of living plants. In the same vein, the Conservation Garden highlights alternatives to pesticides and fertilizer and shows how landscaping can keep stormwater runoff from polluting nearby streams and harming wildlife.
The result of a short walk through the museum’s varied campus, then, is to see the plants and animals that benefit from these sustainable practices, and to learn how to use those practices at home.
Two eastern painted turtles make use of limited basking space at the museum’s Deer Park Lake.
coasts through an enclosed section of Deer Park Lake.
The 30,000-gallon Noland Chesapeake Bay Aquarium is stocked with species that frequent the Bay's open waters, such as bluefish, cobia, nurse sharks and a loggerhead sea turtle.
A red fox
sleeps in the shadows of the museum’s 3/4-mile elevated boardwalk. Nocturnal animals like the fox are generally more active at night.
are part of the museum’s coastal plain gallery, which features species from the forest and coastal marshes to the Chesapeake Bay.
A female hooded merganser
hides its beak. During migration, hooded mergansers prefer to follow waterways rather than flying.
One of two river otters
at the museum pauses after emerging from the water.
An Atlantic spadefish swims in the Chesapeake Bay Aquarium.
A bobcat walks through its enclosure.
A black vulture is one of many birds that were brought to the museum because they were unable to survive in the wild.
Deer Park Lake is part of the 23 acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits, including several gardens, an elevated boardwalk and the Green House environmental education center.
A wild turkey
shares an enclosure with other turkey and deer.
anchor to underwater plants in an aquarium. When mating, the male seahorse will incubate 100 to 300 of the female’s tiny eggs for two weeks before they hatch.
Volunteer Wilmer Nelson holds a horseshoe crab
while feeding it in front of visitors at the Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank exhibit. Visitors were able to gently touch the crab as well as other marine life.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and text by Will Parson
About Will Parson - Will produces digital stories for the Chesapeake Bay Program. He studied ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He reported on water and the environment as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and worked at newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.