Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Join us as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with MexicoFest 2007, a family festival featuring Mexican cultural and hands-on activities for all age groups and interests, as well as displays about museum projects that relate to Mexico or to the museum’s Mexican collections.




Guajes/Vainas de Tabachin - Fantastic Fruit Animals


A wide variety of plant materials are used in Mexico to produce utilitarian or decorative objects. In this activity, participants will transform dried fruits into fantastic toys with animal forms and will learn about the importance of conserving our planet’s flora and fauna. Appropriate for ages 3 and up.

Activity developed and presented by the Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico City.

Advance reservations are recommended. Schedule and Reservation Information.

Totomoxtle - Cornhusk Dolls

By using cornhusks to create unique dolls, participants will learn how different plant parts can be used not only as food, but also as raw materials to create artwork. Appropriate for ages 6 and up.

Activity developed and presented by the Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico City.

Advance reservations are recommended. Schedule and Reservation Information.



Nochestli - Painting with Cochineal

Participants will extract a dye from cochineal insects and will use it to paint on bark paper. Cochineal dye has been used in Mexico since Pre-Columbian times. Appropriate for ages 6 and up.

Activity developed and presented by the Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico City.

Advance reservations are recommended. Schedule and Reservation Information.



Loteria - A Mexican Traditional Game with a Natural History Twist

Lotería is a traditional game—very similar to bingo—played in Mexico by children and adults alike. At MexicoFest, visitors will have chance to play a non-traditional version of this game that features cards with animals and verbs in English and Spanish. Lotería winners will receive a very special prize! All ages are welcome.

No reservations are necessary to participate in this activity.

Drawing Butterflies

Butterflies catch the imagination! Their beautiful colors and patterns can be seen at this wonderful display. Visitors will be invited to make a drawing of these exotic enchanting South and Central American winged insects. Visitors will meet some of the museum’s illustrators as they demonstrate their skills in computer graphics, pen & ink and pencil. Visitors will also be invited to try their hand at drawing a Monarch Butterfly using a traditional printed grid. All ages are welcome.

No reservations are necessary to participate in this activity.


Morpho Butterfly. Photo by Jim DiLoreto, Smithsonian Institution, 2006.



The following presentations will take place all day long.

Mammals of Mexico


Nasua narica – male, upper left; females and young, lower right. Painting by Consie Powell from Kays and Wilson's Mammals of North America. © Princeton University Press (2002)

Mexico belongs to an elite group of 17 megadiverse countries. These countries hold most of the terrestrial biodiversity on Earth. The top 12 megadiverse countries, Mexico included, contain 60-70% of all the species on earth. Mexico’s contribution is around 10% of all living species on Earth.  Mexico is first in reptile diversity, first or second in mammal diversity, and fourth in amphibian and vascular plant diversity.  Mexico hosts 530 species of mammals, compared to the 426 species inhabiting the much larger combined areas of Canada and the United States.  Mammal species are not only plentiful in Mexico, 32% are found nowhere else on Earth. Meet Robert Costello, the educator responsible for developing a bilingual website on North American mammals, which features the mammals of Mexico in Spanish and English.

Volcanoes of Mexico

Join volcanologists from the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program who will talk about Mexican volcanoes and their eruptions. They will demonstrate an interactive CD-ROM with detailed information and photos of Mexican volcanoes and a computer program that shows time plots of eruptions and earthquakes.


Fresh snowfall blankets Iztaccíhuatl (left) and Popocatépetl (right) volcanoes. Iztaccíhuatl, the “Woman in White,” is known for its profile of a sleeping woman as seen from the Valley of Mexico. Popocatépetl is one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes; intermittent eruptions occurring since 1994 are often visible from Mexico City.

Photo by Lee Siebert, Smithsonian Institution, 2004.


The Journey of the Monarch Butterfly

Photo courtesy of Alfonso Alonso.

Alfonso Alonso, conservation biologist at the National Zoological Park, discusses the biology of the monarch butterfly during the migration to overwintering sites in Mexico and describes how they manage to survive 5 months in high altitude mountain sites and then return to breed at specific sites in the southern United States. The intriguing and miraculous several-thousand-mile-migration of monarch butterflies occurs every year traversing Canada, the US, and Mexico. The delicate and fragile creature that may live in your back yard travels great distances and, until just 30 years ago, no one knew where they went.

The Monarch Butterflies and the Microscope

Imagine how the Monarch Butterfly, a species of at least 40,000, 000 years of age, beats all odds, surviving severe weather conditions, air pollution, habitat destruction, and predators. With the guidance of David Adamski, see the life-stages of the Monarch Butterfly with the aid of the microscope, and see what structures each life-stage has, that enabled this species to survive for such a long time.

Spiders: harmful or helpful?

Face of Salticid Spider.

Jonathan Coddington, leading arachnologist at the National Museum of Natural History will display live examples of spiders occurring in Mexico and explain how to identify them, as well as answering questions about spider biology in general. A few species are dangerous to humans but most are beautiful, elegant, precise, and abundant. Find out how they produce silk, make their webs, how they catch their prey, and why they are beneficial creatures.

16 Years Collecting Beetles in Mexico

Leaf beetle. Photo courtesy of David Furth.

The Copper Canyon in northern Mexico is the focus of a unique bio-cultural project involving Smithsonian and Mexican scientists who are studying the diversity of the animals, plants, people-and their languages-found in this region. Join Smithsonian entomologist David Furth, and learn more about his 16 years of field work collecting Leaf Beetles in Copper Canyon and other areas of Mexico.


Archaeology Detectives

Museum archaeological collections sometimes include specimens that are not authentic. In this station, visitors will learn how museum staff use scientific techniques and their expertise to spot archaeological fakes. Come and be a detective yourself by trying to determine together with archaeologist Jane Walsh, the authenticity of Mexican Pre-Columbian specimen in the museum’s collections.

Mayan Hearts

Photo courtesy of Robert Laughlin.

Diccionario del corazón and its English edition, Mayan hearts, are handmade books created in Chiapas, Mexico, using 16th century Tzotzil Mayan metaphors of the heart to tell a love story that is finally triumphant. These books are illustrated by the dramatic wood blocks in black and red of Uruguayan artist Naúl Ojeda. A paperback edition by the Mexican Department of Education has been distributed to every middle school in Mexico. Anthropologist and linguist Robert Laughlin will discuss the making of this book.

Wasps of Tropical America

Michael Gates and Matt Buffington, systematic entomologists at the United States Department of Agriculture, present information on collecting and diversity of wasps (Hymenoptera) from the New World tropics.  Displays will include representative specimens, collecting equipment and a slide show.  Learn more about how wasps are beneficial to humans from pollination to biological control.

Photographs of Mexico: Collections from the National Anthropological Archives

Photo courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives.

The National Anthropological Archives recently completed digitizing over 1500 images of Mexico from one of its premier collections: The Bureau of American Ethnology: Photographs of Indians and Other Subjects 1840s-1960s. Enjoy some of the recently digitized photographs now available on the museum’s online catalog and learn about the different types of photographic processes that are contained within this collection.

Ethnobotany of the U.S. and Mexico Border Region

The Departments of Botany and Anthropology are collaborating on a two-year project coordinating historical materials of plants and plant products from the boundary regions of the US and Mexico. This project illustrates the historical and cultural importance of plants to residents of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico over the past 100 years and underscores the value of historic collections in generating data for new research in this area.

Illustrating the Science of Mexico

Scientific illustration is essential to the communication and understanding among researchers as well as to the general sharing of scientific knowledge.  Using a variety of tools and techniques the trained artist can reconstruct, clarify and emphasize important structures and details of biological specimens and scientific artifacts. Meet museum illustrators as they demonstrate their skills for combining meticulous accuracy with artistic principles to create art in the service of science. Scientific illustrators will demonstrate scratchboard, computer graphics, pen and ink, pencil, microscope with camera lucida and other methods for preparing illustrations of plants and animals.

Genetics of Endangered Mexican Mammals

Jesús Maldonado, a research geneticist at the Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, will discuss conservation techniques used to unravel the information hidden in the DNA of endangered Mexican mammals such as shrews, foxes, bats and deer. He will also demonstrate how DNA is extracted from various samples including hair, blood, and scat.



The widely acclaimed local Maru Montero Dance Company will present a selection of Mexican traditional dances.

Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the Smithsonian. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Latino Center.



Mexican Cycles

September 26, 2007 through February 15, 2008
National Museum of Natural History, 2nd Floor

Organized by the Mexico-North Research Network, Mexican Cycles celebrates Mexico’s cultural diversity and the creativity of the members of its Indigenous communities by exploring the annual cycle of their religious festivals as captured in the images of the Mexican-American photographer George O. Jackson de Llano. Based in Austin, Texas, Jackson de Llano is widely regarded as among the most accomplished photographers of Mexican ceremonial life today. Between 1990 and 2001, he photographed the religious festivals of Indigenous communities from across Mexico. The result is an unparalleled record of these festivals at the turn of the 21st century and of the complex interaction of Indigenous and European religious traditions out of which they emerged.

Mexican Treasures of the Smithsonian

September 5—November 11, 2007
S. Dillon Ripley Center, International Gallery
1100 Jefferson Drive, S.W., Washington, D.C.

Rumors of Mexico’s lost cities and ancient ruins first excited the imagination of North Americans in the early 1800s. For more than 150 years, Smithsonian researchers have found fertile fields for study in Mexico, collaborating with Mexican scientists, historians, anthropologists, artists, and linguists.

This exhibition presents a select sample of the Smithsonian’s Mexican treasures—objects that are precious for the stories that they tell of Mexico’s land and peoples. They represent the Smithsonian’s long history of collecting in Mexico, as well as ongoing research, from the northernmost border regions to the southern reaches of the Maya. They reflect Mexico’s diverse peoples and vivid landscapes, and the histories that came about through centuries of migrations and cultural convergences. Today, Smithsonian scholars continue to explore the prehistory, history, languages, culture, and natural history of Mexico, our neighbor.



Mexican crafts and jewelry will be on sale at the Museum's Gallery Store on the Ground Level.


We thank the following sponsors for their generous support:


This festival is part of the Mexico at the Smithsonian program series developed by the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Mexican Cultural Institute in collaboration with other organizations in Washington, D.C.

[ TOP ]