Timeout New York Kids

Make the most of your city

The Power of Poison at the American Museum of Natural History

The new show at the American Museum of Natural History looks at the workings of poisonous creatures but also how poison has intrigued humans for centuries.

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History

Photograph: Jessica Lin

"The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History


"The Power of Poison," which opens on Saturday, November 16, is not only the newest exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History but also one of its most engaging ever. Rather than focusing on one aspect of the subject, such as what poisons are found in nature and how they work, it tells multiple narratives, each of which is told in an appealing way with the likes of live theater, case solving and magic-page turning. Here are six things families won't want to miss when taking in the show.

RECOMMENDED: 50 things to do this fall with the kids

Meet poisonous creatures
Families start out wandering through a faux version of the Chocó forest in Colombia, complete with low lighting, mist, huge overhead branches and stops along the way where they can encounter all kinds of poisonous animals (in the form of mini exhibits, some of which contain live animals), from bullet ants to zebra longwing caterpillars, and discover what makes them dangerous and why they're equipped with poison (sometimes it acts as a defense mechanism, and other times helps the animal to catch its prey). Nature-loving kids who take time to read the signage will learn fascinating facts, such as that poison dart frogs (these are live) become innocuous when they stop eating their favorite food: toxin-containing beetles.

Learn about natural "arms races"
A fascinating short film, "A Tale of Toxins vs. Resistance," lets kids in on the dynamic between species that are toxic and their prey, many of which develop such a strong resistance to the poison that they're able to vanquish their predators. But just as some animals become more resistant, the poisonous creatures develop ever more potent poisons through natural selection. In this way, the life-and-death competition between species takes on some of the aspects of the human arms race.

Revisit myths and fairy tales
Myths & Legends, one of the show's most kid-friendly sections, looks at the facts behind such stories as "Snow White" (could a person really wake from the dead, and if not, what might have inspired this part of the story? (Hint: Some substances can cause paralysis without resulting in death.) An exhibit on Lewis Carroll's character the Mad Hatter reveals that hat makers in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries were exposed to the compound mercuric nitrate, which helped break down animal fur into felt. Some of the symptoms—irritability, tremors and extreme mood swings—reveal a striking similarity to the Mad Hatter's behavioral quirks.
 
Leaf through a magical book
One of the more fanciful elements of the exhibition is a giant book whose pages, when turned, reveal facts about various botanical species, such as hemlock—what happens if you ingest it? Has it ever been used as a poison to harm people? But the tome is not made of printed pages but rather sensor-tripping elements that trigger a projector to "turn the page"—change the page's contents—making it seem as though the ancient-looking book is lit up from within.

Get a theatrical intro to forensic science
Even we were surprised to see that the AMNH set up a mini theater for a live solo performance that brings to life the tale of a murder case that's the first known instance of the use of forensic evidence in a trial. The storyteller, with the help of a part humorous, part instructive video, introduces the audience to a 19th-century farmer who perishes at home quite suddenly and the subsequent efforts of police to uncover whether he was poisoned and who the culprit might be. Chemist James Marsh, despite identifying arsenic on the scene, was unable to convince jurors of his findings, but he did go on to develop an iron-clad way to detect the presence of arsenic that went on to be used in ohter trials. It's known today as the Marsh test.

Solve mysterious cases
Fans of Law and Order know that crime scene investigations make for riveting—and addictive—drama. Now, right on the heels of the forensic science intro, the AMNH gets kids in on the fun with its Poison by Accident section. Three interactive games, each of which can be played by several players at a time, let young visitors try to figure out such mysteries as why a dog needed to be taken to the veterinarian. Kids scour the "crime scene," in this case the front lawn, for clues to what may have sickened the dog, then discover the dog's specific symptoms in the vet's office. By matching culprits with those symptoms and using the process of elimination, kids eventually solve the mysteries. And then, watch out: You could end up with a budding forensics expert on your hands.

"The Power of Poison" is on view at the American Museum of Natural History through August 10, 2014.


Share your thoughts
  1. * mandatory fields

Events for kids by date

  1. All Jazzed Up...

    Supplementing its music-centric exhibit, "Jazzed! ...

  2. Art Island Outpost...

    Hop on board the ferry to Governors Island, where ...

  3. "Behind the Screen"

    At the museum’s core exhibit (which was completely...

52 more events »