Get ready for Animal Inside Out at the Natural History Museum

03 April 2012

Go on an animal anatomical safari and get under nature's skin with a visit to Animal Inside Out, the blockbuster exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum in London this Friday 6 April.

The striking red porbeagle shark specimen

Striking porbeagle shark specimen in Animal Inside Out. Coloured liquid resin is injected in the main arterial network and shows the intricate blood system in vivid red colour.

Animal Inside Out is the UK premiere from the team behind Gunther von Hagens’ famous Body Worlds shows and is a unique chance to explore the intricate biology and physiology of some of the world’s most spectacular creatures.

The exhibition brings together nearly 100 plastinate and capillary specimens, from goats to giraffes and octopuses to ostriches.

Highlights include standing face to face with an adult gorilla, peering up at an entire Asian elephant, witnessing a shark outlined entirely in its dense network of blood vessels, and an installation of sections of a giraffe that is almost art.

Dr Angelina Whalley is exhibition curator from the Institute for Plastination. She says, 'Animal Inside Out offers a look at animal anatomy far more detailed than any textbook, revealing the complexity and the different ways animals have evolved and adapted their anatomy and physiology according to where they live.’

See the anatomical similarities between species, such as the muscles and bones of the 5-digit hand

See the anatomical similarities between species, like the muscles and bones of the hand, in this awesome lowland gorilla specimen.

Plastination process

All the animals in the exhibition have been plastinated by the Body Worlds team at the Institute for Plastination. Gunther von Hagens invented the process at Heidelberg University in 1977.

The process prevents decay and allows different parts of specimens to be seen in amazing detail. It involves embalming and dissection, removal of fat and water, and replacement of animal tissue with a polymer solution. While the specimen is still malleable it is placed into its final lifelike position for display and then it is hardened.

A new challenge for the team was the Asian elephant in Animal Inside Out. It is the largest specimen ever to be plastinated and is one of the star highlights. It took a team of 30 people two and a half years and a total of 64,000 hours to prepare the specimen, using four tonnes of silicone. 

The star of Animal Inside Out was the huge female small-eared Asian elephant

Star of Animal Inside Out - the 3.5m-tall female small-eared Asian elephant, the largest specimen to ever be plastinated.

Von Hagens explains, ‘The elephant posed an enormous challenge for us. We had to build a new gigantic dedicated vacuum chamber and we needed a special crane to lift the muscles from it after immersing them in acetone’.

Understanding anatomy

Understanding anatomy is crucial to discovering more about the evolution of animals and the natural world and scientists at the Museum often use physiology and anatomy as a tool in their research.

Museum fish researcher Dr Ralf Britz worked with the exhibition team advising on the science content. ‘My favourite exhibition specimen is certainly the elephant,' says Britz. 'You can see the modifications in the elephant’s head that have evolved to accommodate the huge trunk, which is made entirely of muscle.

'This specimen shows in an impressive way how the basic plan of a vertebrate can be modified through the process of evolution and result in something as remarkable and unique as the elephant.’

Animal Inside Out is open from 6 April to 16 September 2012.

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Buy the Body Worlds book online

Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Animals book

From cows and horses, to bears, sharks and elephants, uncover the anatomy of animals like never before in Dr Gunter von Hagens' Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Animals book.

This edition of the book has a special cover showing an ostrich illustration taken from our Animal Inside Out exhibition.

Buy Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Animals book online