By Darla Shelden
The Museum of Osteology located at 10301 S. Sunnylane Road, is a unique, one of a kind educational experience in Oklahoma City. Sharing the same building with Skulls Unlimited, the 7000 square ft. museum focuses on the form and function of the skeletal system, with hundreds of skulls and skeletons on display from around the world.
“We have been busy this summer at the Museum of Osteology,” said Joey Williams, museum director of education. “Our educational programs have been a big hit with summer camp and daycare groups and our attendance numbers have more than doubled since last summer.
“In addition, we have added quite a few new specimens to our exhibits including a hummingbird, crow, raven, egret, aye aye, chameleon, horned frog, white pelican, and a clouded leopard.”
“About eight and a half years ago, Skulls Unlimited funded the Museum of Osteology,” said Museum director Jay Villemarette, owner and president of Skulls Unlimited. “The Museum is a 501 c3 nonprofit organization that relies entirely on donations from the public and ticket sales.”
Containing the largest privately held collection of osteological specimens in the world, the museum features a variety of North American specimens ranging from tiny mice to a 40 ft. humpback whale. Exhibits show the adaptation, locomotion, classification and diversity of the vertebrate kingdom.
“We just put in a great blue heron, a camel and an aye aye, which is a very exotic specie of primate,” said Villemarette. “We’re very fortunate to have received that specimen which came from a private zoo at Duke University. Sometimes we make requests for a specimen, but often zoos will call us to see if we’re interested in something that comes available.”
“It’s common that when an animal parishes in a zoo, it will go into an incinerator,” said Villemarette. “The education and teaching value goes right out the door and the animal is officially dead. When an animal comes to our museum, it can live on and teach people for hundreds of years.
The Oklahoma City Zoo donates to various facilities including the Museum. “They’re very strong minded about making sure the death of an animal doesn’t go without compensation and meaning,” said Villemarette. “They don’t want it to go into a crematory or be buried, but rather continue on and to teach.”
“The museum provides quality educational opportunities and allows school groups and the public to explore the form and function of the skeletal system,” said Williams. “We believe that conservation must begin through education and appreciation of the natural world.”
Opening in 1986, Skulls Unlimited primarily provides the public with the education of skulls and bones of animals and humans.
“Skulls Unlimited does a big business preparing hunter trophies,” said Villemarette. “Depending on the species, we get them from hunters, trappers, game farms, ranchers, road kills, just wherever we can find a legal supply. I always like to say though, no animals are destroyed for our purposes.”
From comparative anatomy to classification, adaptation and locomotion, the Museum of Osteology offers visitors a unique opportunity to compare and contrast many rare species normally not seen in museum exhibits.
Educational, interactive programs for classrooms and specialty groups are designed to meet Oklahoma State PASS* science standards.
“All ages are attending our programs and we tailor each class to meet the age level of the participants,” said Williams. “The Tooth and Identification, Tracks and Pathology programs have been our most requested classes.”
The museum gift shop offers many nature related items, plus t-shirts, coffee mugs, and toys. “Many of the skulls and skeletons that you see in the museum are available for purchase,” said Williams.
“We get asked routinely ‘will my three year old like the museum’ and the answer is absolutely,” said Villemarette. “Children of all ages love it. It’s an incredible visit for everybody.”
Museum hours are Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for ages 3 and up and individual and family memberships are available.