Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

June 14, 2013

National Geographic exhibit comes to Dennos

TRAVERSE CITY – What gives at the Dennos Museum Center?

“Dancing. Feathers, Shameless Exhibition,” says one flyer for its newest exhibition that opens Sunday and runs through Sept. 22. “Survival of the Sexiest” claims another.

False advertising? Not at all.

It’s the touring premiere of the National Geographic Society Museum’s popular “Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution,” a mix of National Geographic photography and film, science exhibition, art show and high-tech interactive stations that have transformed Dennos gallery rooms into a New Guinea rainforest complete with sounds, light and bird calls.

Four semi trucks hauled in exhibit pieces, artifacts, HD screens and circuitry exhibit two weeks ago for set-up last week. Museum director Gene Jenneman said the presentation is the first of its kind in the Dennos’ 22-year history.

Descended from early crows and ravens, birds of paradise as well as their bizarre male courtship dances have evolved through sexual selection over 26 million years in the dense, mountainous forests of New Guinea, its satellite islands and remote sections of Australia and Indonesia.

Sexual selection is a type of natural selection that affects the traits that influence an individual’s ability to attain or choose a mate, rather than traits that influence an individual’s ability to survive. It is thought to be responsible for the evolution of many elaborate morphological features, such as long plumes in birds, courtship displays, and bright colors. Sexual selection was made possible by the fact that that the birds of paradise in New Guinea had abundant food and no natural predators to be attracted by their striking colors

Little was known about the rare and elusive 39 species of birds of paradise until 2004, when National Geographic photographer Tim Laman and Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientist Edwin Scholes began an eight-year project to film, record and document their activities, calls and intricate dances of the brilliantly colored males to woo their mates, who chose them on the basis of color, feathers, hops, waggles and shakes they like best.

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