Press release

(short version)

Apr 2nd 2024

Reproduction remains a fascinating topic
Natural History Museum Basel extends exhibition «SEXY - Driving Force of Life»

The special exhibition «SEXY - Driving Force of Life» at the Natural History Museum Basel will be extended and remains on display until Sunday, June 30th, 2024. The topic of reproduction in the animal kingdom is very popular, especially for schoolchildren. The extension makes it possible to offer school classes of all levels additional school workshops and guided tours.
The special exhibition focuses on the question of which strategies animals use in the fight for the object of their desire. It shows that animal behavior, mating types and family models are extremely diverse because of the existence of gender.

Archive of press releases

A dinosaur for the new museum

Nov 14th 2023
Novartis loans an impressive dinosaur skeleton to the Natural History Museum Basel

The skeleton of an Allosaurus fragilis, which has been on display at the Novartis Campus since 2015, is to be exhibited in the new building of the Natural History Museum Basel in St. Johann. This will bring the skeleton more into the public domain and make it more accessible for scientific research. Until such a time, the skeleton will remain in its current location at the Novartis Campus. Novartis permanently loans the impressive dinosaur skeleton to the museum.

There are new opportunities for collaborative work with the opening of the Novartis Campus and the construction of the new Natural History Museum in the immediate vicinity of Novartis on Vogesenplatz. This will be an striking addition for the museum: The Allosaurus fragilis, a kind of pop star among dinosaurs that has been owned by Novartis for over a decade, is given a new home and moves into the Natural History Museum Basel. In doing so, Novartis makes this rare skeleton more accessible to the world of science and the general public. Novartis is donating the piece to the museum on the basis of a permanent loan. The “relocation” of the skeleton will take place as soon as the new museum is completed and ready for occupancy. Until then, the Allosaurus will remain at the Novartis Campus where it cannot be viewed the public.

A special skeleton
The approximately ten metres long and 2.8 metres high skeleton of an Allosaurus fragilis was found in Wyoming, USA, where it was embedded for millions of years in the well-known Morrison Formation comprising mainly of sandstone. It was discovered near the site where the long-necked dinosaur was excavated, which was acquired by the Natural History Museum Basel in 2019.
The Allosaurus skeleton, presumed to be a female, is around 150 million years old and up to 70% complete.

Predators from the Jurassic period
150 million years ago, 75 million years before the T. rex dinosaur species came on the scene, the Allosaurs were the top of their food chain, the most feared predators. Stegosaurus, young Diplodocids or other dinosaurs were among their favourite prey. The Allosaurus lived in dry, warm climates, often in swampy areas with floodplain forests.

Special exhibition "SEXY - Driving Force of Life"

08 Nov 2023
Drives, dances, and dalliances in the animal kingdom

The new special exhibition “SEXY – The Driving Force of Life” at the Natural History Museum Basel is all about reproduction in the animal kingdom. Animals are endowed with various features to win their mate through the art of seduction and/or warfare. There is a whole wealth of different animal behaviour patterns, pairings and family models. But why? Because of the sexes. This exhibition is designed for families and adults. It was inspired by the “Sexperten” exhibition of the Liechtenstein Office for the Environment and then further developed by the Basel exhibition team.


The animal kingdom is vibrant and diverse. Why is this? One reason is the pairing of different sexes in order to reproduce. They are very different in terms of their biological characteristics and interests. Whether it’s in their choice of partner, competition between the sexes, mating or the role of parents, gender differences in animals drive evolution forwards producing a world filled with diversity.

Gender as a pacemaker
The special exhibition “SEXY – The Driving Force of Life” illustrates this diversity and reveals the role gender plays in it. You will discover that: Some animals have two genders, others none and some even have several. There are animals that can change their gender and some that can have two genders at the same time. But they all have one thing in common: they want to reproduce. Through astonishing stories, impressive specimens, and interactive elements, we show the lengths animals will go to to breed. They turn on the charm with their best displays and most splendid plumage. In the survival of the fittest, animals fearlessly fight off the competition with the ultimate aim of becoming attentive parents who watch over their young. But there isn’t a clear pattern to their roles: The animal kingdom is ahead of its time and has always had different family models.

Family exhibition with an in-depth level for adults
This exhibition is exciting for kids and adults. While we grown-ups can marvel at the many different types of pairing and the desires and frustrations of animals’ mating rituals, kids can find out how it feels to grow up protected by a womb, pouch or even ice. We use a variety of young animal specimens to show how they started life and who smoothed their pathway to adulthood.

This exhibition is based on objects and the basic idea of the special exhibition “Sexperten” by Liechtenstein National Museum and Liechtenstein Office for the Environment.

The Clever Clogs Club and other surprise features for an engaging programme
The special exhibition at the Natural History Museum also offers a varied programme of events. In addition to the regular guided tours for adults and families, visitors can enjoy a family Sunday outing or inclusivity offers, or show off their knowledge, no holds barred, in the Clever Clogs Club. This competition is held in front of an audience and the participant with the most convincing and best presented scientific argument scores points.

Thanks to the museum’s cooperation with Basel Zoo, there are two focus tours in dialogue between curators from the zoo and the museum, and another guided tour with an external expert, biologist Daniel Haag-Wackernagel, the “advocate of female desire”. The dancer Armando Braswell is also on hand with his Braswell Arts Center. He invites visitors to dance in a video installation in the exhibition, and delights visitors by performing a dance during the opening event.

After Hours in the Museum
The programme also offers the chance for AFTER HOURS sweet talk once a month from December 2023 to May 2024. Here the special exhibition can be visited free of charge on these evenings until 11 pm. Plus, an exhibition space within the museum is transformed into a lively bar where you can enjoy your evening with some uplifting tunes and in good company.


Chichlids in Lake Victoria

05. Oct. 2023

Explosion of biodiversity thanks to the recycling of genetic material

What usually takes aeons happened in a relative flash in Lake Victoria: Over 500 new species evolved from three stem species of cichlids in just 16,000 years. A study published in the renowned journal Science, to which David Marques from the Natural History Museum Basel contributed, provides an explanation: This explosion in biodiversity is the result of the existing genetic material being repeatedly reshuffled.

Why do some species in the animal kingdom tend to speciate quickly while others do not? This was the question investigated by a team led by Ole Seehausen and Joana Meier from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (eawag) and the University of Bern, together with the Natural History Museum Basel. Their work focused on the cichlids of Lake Victoria, which are known for having formed new species the fastest and most extensively. In a recent study published in the scientific journal Science, the research team provide answers to how this could have happened.

It all started with a disaster
Towards the end of the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago, Lake Victoria in East Africa dried up. Only a few isolated wetlands remained from what was once the largest lake in Africa, now a large savannah. When the former lake basin refilled with water 16,000 years ago, its survivors returned: three lineages of cichlids from the lake’s inflows and outflows, as well as from the Great Lakes of the East African Rift. When they repopulated Lake Victoria 16,000 years ago, they interbred. This mixed their genetic material. Again, because their common ancestor was itself a mixture between cichlid species from the upper reaches of the Congo and Nile 350,000 years earlier.

Genetic analysis throws light on what happened
To reconstruct the evolutionary history of cichlids in Lake Victoria, Joana Meier analysed over 460 genomes of East African cichlids for the new Science study. 288 genomes came from 120 species, representing all but one known cichlid genera and ecological roles in Lake Victoria. Genomes of other cichlid species from the African Great Lakes region were also included. The analysis revealed new findings: The vast diversity of species is the result of repeated recycling of genetic material. Lake Victoria’s current biodiversity did not immigrate from other lakes. Instead, it 2 | 2 dates back to the interbreeding of the survivors from the lake’s early day inhabitants 16,000 years ago. As a result of this reshuffling of genetic material found in the three stem species, about 500 new species have formed in this short period of time.

Recombination instead of random mutation
Although all cichlid species in Lake Victoria are closely related, they have become specialists in a wide variety of feeding styles and habitats, and occupy various ecological niches. The repeat fusion and splitting of species played a key role in this process. The mixing of large predators with small plankton feeders, for example, gave rise to a new way of life, that of dwarf predators, which include many species today. “This repeat fusion of species and splitting of species helped them conquer ever new, more extreme ecological niches,” says David Marques from the Natural History Museum Basel and coauthor of the study. Genomic mixing did away with the wait for random, new mutations when adapting to new niches. “So many new, specialist species emerged very quickly,” Marques explains.

Genomic recycling makes it possible
The repeated fusion and splitting (350,000 years ago between the Congo and Nile, by survivors after the dry season 16,000 years ago, and within Lake Victoria since then) explains why this lineage of cichlids became a master of rapid speciation. Not only in Lake Victoria, but also in the nearby African Great Lakes, the majority of fish diversity originates from the genomic recycling among these cichlids.

Publications: Meier, J. I.; McGee, M. D.; Marques, D. A.; Mwaiko, S.; Kishe, M.; Wandera, S.; Neumann, D.; Mrosso, H.; Chapman, L. J.; Chapman, C. A.; Kaufman, L.; Taabu-Munyaho, A.; Wagner, C. E.; Bruggmann, R.; Excoffier, L.; Seehausen, O. (2023) Cycles of fusion and fission enabled rapid parallel adaptive radiations in African cichlids, Science Vol. 381, Issue 6665

Paper Science online