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Museum Exhibits You'll See at the Virginia Living Museum

Virginia’s natural heritage comes alive at the Virginia Living Museum through living exhibits that encompass all the state’s geographic regions from the mountains to the ocean. Each exhibit tells a story. There is the predator-prey relationship between the chipmunk and the corn snake; the survival adaptations of the flounder and puffer fish; the endangered status of the once plentiful sturgeon, and the geological changes that have created caves.

Chesapeake Bay Aquarium
Virginia’s Coastal Plain Gallery
The Coastal Plain Gallery explores the world’s richest nursery, the Chesapeake Bay. From the forests beyond Virginia’s coastal marshes to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, the Coastal Plain Gallery highlights animals and habitats that characterize the eastern-most region of our Commonwealth.

Exhibits range from the dramatic 30,000-gallon Noland Chesapeake Bay Aquarium, with its large sea creatures, to an underwater view of the intricate and complex life forms that inhabit a wooden piling beneath the ocean waters.

James River

Virginia’s Piedmont and Mountains Gallery

In the Piedmont and Mountains Gallery visitors are “nose to nose” with a captivating variety of flying, crawling, swimming and climbing animals.

The gallery is anchored by a display of the fall line of the James River in Richmond, filled with smallmouth bass, catfish, wood turtles and other aquatic creatures.

Engaging exhibits such as spotted turtles swimming in an upland bog, yellow perch and tiny red squirrels help visitors piece together the connections between habitat, adaptation and survival.  

Virginia’s World of Darkness Gallery

In Virginia’s World of Darkness, visitors come eye-to-eye with tiny sharks, burrowing pine voles, scurrying ghost crabs, playful flying squirrels, eerie jellyfish, and other animals that adapt to nocturnal life.

Bats, tree frogs and other nocturnal animals are active during the day in this fascinating area.  Meet animals, such as lobsters and rays, that make their living in the inky twilight of Virginia’s coastal waters.

fossil bank
Virginia’s Underground Gallery

In the Virginia Underground Gallery, journey back through Virginia’s ancient past by learning about fossil remains preserved beneath our feet and marvel at the beauty of rocks and minerals that formed deep under the Earth.

Visitors walk through and explore the intriguing geology and critters of a limestone cave, wind their way past the striking features of a cut-away of the fossil-rich layers along the steep banks of the James River and the colorful gems that can be found in the “jewel box” of an underground mine.

Mountain Cove
Appalachian Cove & Cypress Swamp

In the two-story, glass-covered walk-through habitats visitors immerse themselves in natural environments.

The cool, moist Appalachian Cove features a waterfall, a swift-running mountain stream and lake filled with mountain fish, plus free-flying birds where the sounds, sights and communities of native plants and animals are like taking an instant field trip to the mountains.

The Cypress Swamp is a recreation of vital and endangered wetland habitat. This impressive gallery features an entire community of plants and swamp creatures including massive cypress and tupelo tree trunks, alligator, fish and turtles.

touch tank
Discovery Centers

Four different interactive Discovery Centers await your exploration.  These hands-on Centers are brimming with specimens from the worlds of life science, space science and geology.  From a visible bee hive “buzzing” with activity to our Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank, each Center is sure to engage visitors.

image from hubble telescope
Abbitt Planetarium 

In the Abbitt Planetarium, visit the planets, travel to a black hole, observe spinning galaxies or study the Earth from space. Using our state-of-the-art digital full-screen projection system, we can recreate the many wonders of the universe, including the stars and constellations of the sky for any season of the year - all from the comfort of an armchair. Length of Session: 45 minutes. 

Abbitt Observatory

With a dome that revolves 360 degrees and a university-grade, 16-inch, Meade telescope, the rooftop Abbitt Observatory provides visitors with spectacular views of the sun where they can learn about telescopes, see sunspots, flares and solar prominences. On the second Saturday of every month, you can observe beautiful objects in the night sky.  

Pelican Pantry

Changing Exhibits Gallery

Throughout the year, new interactive and highly informative natural history exhibits are featured in this special gallery. An additional fee may be required for school groups. The whimsical and delightfully colorful works by master illustrator and artist Charley Harper (1922-2007) will be on display March 15 - April 27, 2014.

Animatronic dinosaurs will fill the gallery May 24 - Sept. 1, 2014.

VLM aviaryCoastal Plain Aviary

The 5,500-square-foot Coastal Plain Aviary is a dramatic walk-through aviary filled with coastal birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets and ducks. It showcases more than 16 species of birds that either breed in Virginia or fly through the state during spring and fall migration along the coastal flyway. The elevated boardwalk takes visitors 11 feet above Deer Park Lake and into the treetops to view the birds.

BoardwalkOutdoor Boardwalk

The Museum's 3/4 mile, elevated boardwalk crosses Deer Park Lake and winds through woods and a wetlands area, showcasing animal’s native to Virginia in naturalized habitats.

Along the boardwalk, beavers, river otters, bald eagles, bobcat, deer, wild turkeys, skunk, opossum, gray fox, red fox, coyote and red wolves can be seen. Interpretive stations help explain the critical importance of wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, highlight life in the pond and showcase native wetland plants. In addition to the animals on display, visitors can see fish in the stream, turtles basking on logs or swimming in the lake, bullfrogs along the banks and many different kinds of birds.

butterfly weedButterfly Garden

The Butterfly Garden features a variety of native plant species that provide food for native butterflies in both their adult and juvenile (caterpillar) forms. It includes plants that flower in spring, summer and fall that produce nectar sipped by adult butterflies. It also includes the particular host plants that our most common butterflies seek out when they are ready to lay their eggs. The leaves of these host plants provide a ready source of food for the caterpillars when they hatch. This outdoor garden attracts numerous wild butterflies.

Virginia GardenVirginia Garden

The Virginia Garden highlights 400 years of Virginia's botanical history.  See the native plant species that were present when the first settlers arrived at Jamestown, the flora that was introduced to Virginia colonists by Native Americans and the plants that helped the settlers survive those first critical years.  The garden also displays species introduced by the colonists and some native species that were exported to England to be used in gardens there.  Learn about two of Virginia’s early colonial botanists who were key to identifying and naming Virginia’s flora. Finally, the garden emphasizes some plants that have been introduced to Virginia that have become invasive and threaten native plant populations.


Native Plant Teaching Garden

Native Plant GardenThe Native Plant Botanical Garden, which opened in April 2013, is designed to represent all of the horticulturally significant plants in Virginia. Starting with 200 to 300 species, the garden will ultimately have about 750 species, along with growing and bloom information. Unlike the Museum's other gardens that have creative designs, this garden will be a place where visitors can identify plants and learn about their cultivation. The goal is to have a complete horticulture collection of Virginia’s plants from the mountains to the sea. It will grow as the horticulture staff locates and procures interesting plants.

The garden is part of a larger project that was funded by a grant from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation and donations by the Abbitt and Holt families, and Green Spring, Huntington and James River Garden Clubs.

Children's Garden

Hobbit HouseThe Children’s Garden has two parts. In the Nature Playground kids can get active on a climbing spider web, hop on mushroom shapes and talking tubes, and explore a play Hobbit House. The Learning Garden has plants that attract pollinators, birds and butterfly caterpillars; plants that appeal to the senses and vegetables to promote healthy food choices. The area opened in April 2013 as part of the Native Plant Garden project.

Living Green House
Living Green House and Conservation Garden

On June 20, 2009, the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News opened its “Living Green House” environmental education center. In its exhibit house and yard, homeowners, architects and contractors can see all the latest techniques and products they can use to build and maintain an earth-friendly home, presented in a way that makes them visible and understandable to the general public.


The museum’s Green House is the first of its kind in Virginia and one of the first anywhere in the United States.

Read more about this exhibit...