Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids

Exhibit Mythic Wb Finalweek2

June 23 through September 30

The world is full of stories about brave heroes, magical events, and fantastic beings. For thousands of years, humans everywhere - sometimes inspired by living animals or even fossils - have brought mythic creatures to life in stories, songs, and works of art. 

Today these creatures, from the powerful dragon to the soaring phoenix, continue to thrill, terrify, entertain, and inspire us. We seem to catch glimpses of these creatures all around us: hiding beneath the ocean waves, running silently through the forest, and soaring among the clouds. Some symbolize danger. Others, we think, can bring us luck or joy. 

Together mythic creatures give shape to humankind's greatest hopes, fears, and most passionate dreams.

Exhibition Highlights

Mythic Creatures reveals the relationship between nature and legend, tracing these creatures' origins, cultural importance, and enduring hold on the imagination. This exhibition combines dramatic models, cast fossils, magnificent ancient and modern cultural objects, and absorbing multimedia and interactive technology to tell the stories behind the alluring mythic creatures that continue to fascinate visitors of all ages.

Water  |  Creatures of the Deep

Water beckons us. It is soothing and seductive. But it's also capable of unleashing deadly force. The mythic creatures that inhabit the depths give form to water's essential mysteries. They arouse feelings of curiosity, hope - and bottomless fear. Like water itself, these creatures can be beautiful and enticing. But will they share their life-giving bounty? Or lure us to destruction? Fun Fact: Giant and colossal squids have the largest eyes of any living creature; each eye can be as large as a human head.

Land  |  Creatures of the Earth

We share the land with countless living animals. Some are familiar; others seem quite bizarre. Creatures from the lands of myth can be both recognizable and strange. Sometimes they appear to have body parts from ordinary animals combined in very unusual ways. Other times they look just like familiar animals - but have extraordinary and magical powers.

Air  |  Creatures of the Sky

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to fly? The smallest bird has powers we will never share. But mythic creatures of the air have even greater powers. Imagine a bird so huge it blocks out the sky or stirs up storms with its wings. In myths and stories, winged horses, dragons, and even people all have the power of flight. These stories help express the wonder and awe inspired by looking up at the sky.

Dragons  |  Creatures of Power

Of all mythic creatures that rise from the water, prowl across the land, or fly through the air, the dragon is the most famed. Stories of serpentlike beasts with fabulous powers inspire awe in almost every part of the world. Rain-bringing dragons in Asian tales can shrink so small that they fit in a teacup - or grow so large that they fill the sky. Dragons in Europe can slaughter people with their putrid breath, or spit fire and set cities ablaze. The earliest dragon legends date back thousands of years, and the creature still haunts our imagination today.


Thank you to our Mythic Creatures sponsors!

PNC Foundation, Maui Jim, Illinois Mutual, RLI, Ruby K Worner Charitable Trust, & the Visionary Society

Logo Lineup Rev


Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids: Mythic Creatures is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York ( in collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney; Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau-Quebec; Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta; and The Field Museum, Chicago.

Exhibit Mythic Wb Finalweek