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Meet the Maiasaura—"Good Mother Lizard"

Maiasaura skull at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is the Maiasaura?

The Maiasaura is a composite skeleton, which means that it was made up of the bones of several Maiasaura. It is 70 percent real fossilized bone. The remaining bones are casts from other Maiasaura that have been discovered.
 
The Linsters—Cliff, Sandy, and their seven children, Brenda, Cliph, Bob, Wes, Matt, Luke and Megan—are a family of amateur paleontologists who hunt dinosaurs on their summer vacations. They found the fossilized bones that make up the Maiasaura in 1997 in Teton County, Montana. Dinosphere's gorgosaur and one Bambiraptor were found with the MaiasauraIt took five years to excavate the fossilized bones of the Maiasaura.

The Story Behind the Maiasaura

When paleontologist John Horner walked into a small rock shop in Bynum, Montana in 1978, he had no idea what he was about to find. The owners of the rock shop, the Brandvolds, showed him a coffee can full of little fossilized bones. Horner saw at once that they were fossilized baby dinosaur bones and asked where they were found. The Brandvolds showed him the site, which was later named "Egg Mountain" for the hundreds of eggs and nests excavated over many seasons. The Brandvolds, it turns out, had discovered a new species of dinosaur that John Horner named Maiasaura, meaning "good mother lizard." Horner chose that name because he believed the maiasaurs cared for their young.
 
What made him come up with this hypothesis? There were several clues. He studied baby Maiasaura skeletons and determined they couldn't walk just after hatching because they had soft fossilized bones. Bits of fossilized eggshell were also found, indicating hatchlings stayed in the nest long enough to trample their shells. Horner guessed that the baby Maiasaura probably stayed for about a month in the nest and depended on the adult Maiasaura to bring them food.
 
Maiasaura were herbivores, which means they ate plants instead of meat. They lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, approximately 80 million years ago, in North America. Maiasaura had a toothless beak for snipping plants and hundreds of teeth designed for chewing and grinding. Although its teeth were frequently worn down by all the chewing, replacing them was not a problem. Each tooth had four or five teeth growing and ready to replace it. Maiasaura needed its teeth so it could keep eating. It had to eat constantly to get enough food to maintain its weight. It probably had to eat many pounds of leaves, berries, seeds and woody plants each day to survive.
 
Maiasaura migrated, which means they moved to different places during different seasons, in search of food. They traveled in large herds of perhaps 10,000. Traveling in such a large herd helped protect them from predators, such as meat-eating gorgosaursMaiasaura were big. Adults were up to 30 feet long (as long as three basketball goals laid end-to-end), 12 to 15 feet tall, and weighed around 3 to 4 tons (6,000 to 8,000 lbs.). They walked on all fours, but they could also stand on two legs for feeding. Maiasaura had long, stiff tails that helped them keep their balance. Like hypacrosaurs, Maiasaura are called duckbill dinosaurs because their mouths are shaped like a duck's bill. Hadrosaur is another name for a duckbill dinosaur.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Meet Dracorex Hogwartsia

Dracorex Hogwartsia at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Dracorex?

Dracorex hogwartsia is a dinosaur that is new to science, and it bears a close resemblance to a fairy-tale dragon, with its bony head covered in spikes and knobs.
 
Dracorex belongs to the group of ornithischian dinosaurs called Pachycephalosaurs, or bone-headed dinosaurs. These dinosaurs were a group of plant-eating dinosaurs that are largely characterized by their distinct dome-headed skull. The group actually consists of both flat-headed forms and highly domed forms. They lived in both Asia and North America during the late Cretaceous Period, 95 to 65 million years ago.
 
DracorexDracorex is a unique addition to the paleontological record. Until now, no flat-headed Pachycephalosaur fossils have been discovered in North America. Further, no flat-headed dinosaurs with this unique configuration of knobs and spikes have ever been found. This new specimen suggests a significant new branch in the evolutionary development of the Pachycephalosaur family—much more complicated than paleontologists suspected.

 
“The discovery of this new flat-headed Pachycephalosaur was a total paleontological surprise,” said internationally-recognized paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker. He added, “Dracorex is a scientifically significant milestone in the world of paleontology; it proves that family trees were still branching off and evolving, even near the end of the age of dinosaurs.  It demonstrated a world of color and movement in nature more recently than we ever thought possible.”
 
In a recent publication, scientists were able to closely describe this new species. “It is truly a magnificent specimen. You hardly ever find skulls of these dinosaurs in such a complete state,” said Dr. Robert Sullivan, the vertebrate paleontologist and senior curator at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. “This spectacular skull shows an amazing combination of primitive and advanced features. Its discovery has dramatically altered our view on the relationships of these strange pachycephalosaurid dinosaurs to other dinosaurs,” Sullivan added.
 
How do you name and completely new species of dinosaur?
 
A team of museum scientists officially named the new dinosaur species Dracorex hogwartsia, the “Dragon King of Hogwarts. The name celebrates Hogwarts School for Witchcraft & Wizardry, the academy for wizards in the Harry Potter novels.
 
“All of us dinosaur-hunters agree—it’s splendidly appropriate!” said Dr. Bakker, curator at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and a long-time friend of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. “Dinosaurs are wonderful for getting kids to explore with their minds and exercise their scientific imagination. And that’s where Ms. Rowling excels too. Her books invite the reader to probe mysteries, solve riddles and learn the craft of fighting ignorance and evil,” Bakker added.
 
When hearing of this honor, J.K. Rowling stated:  "The naming of Dracorex hogwartsia is easily the most unexpected honor to have come my way since the publication of the Harry Potter books!  I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small claw mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs. I happen to know more on the subject of paleontology than many might credit, because my eldest daughter was Utahraptor-obsessed, and I am now living with a passionate Tyrannosaurus rex-lover, aged three. My credibility has soared within my science-loving family, and I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker and his colleague’s paper describing “my” dinosaur, which I can’t help visualizing as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.”
 
The discovery and preparation of a one-of-a-kind fossil

The dinosaur was discovered by Brian Buckmeier and brothers Steve and Pat Saulsbury, all from Sioux City, Iowa. They found the remains of Dracorex during a fossil collecting trip in the Hell Creek Formation of central South Dakota. It was Steve Saulsbury who first suggested that they donate their new find. Steve fondly recalled taking his daughter Alexandra to the museum when he and his family lived in Indianapolis during his residency at Indiana University Hospital in the early 1990s. Steve talked to the others, and they soon agreed the museum would be the perfect home for this specimen. The trio donated their discovery to the museum in late 2004.
When Dracorex came to the museum it was still in the plaster field jacket.

Vertebrate paleontologist Victor Porter, along with preparator Shane Ziemmer, spent many hours getting this skull ready for exhibit. As the skull was cleaned and pieces glued together, thousands of children passed by the laboratory windows watching.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Meet the Bambiraptor

Bambiraptor at the Children's Museum of IndianapolisYou’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is the Bambiraptor?

Bambiraptor is the most bird-like of all the raptor dinosaurs found. Scientists don't know if Bambiraptor actually could fly, but its fossilized bones do show a close relationship to birds. Only one Bambirpator skeleton has ever been found. The two Dinosphere Bambiraptors are casts made from the original Bambiraptor.

The Linsters, a family of amateur paleontologists, found the original Bambiraptor in 1997 in Teton County Montana. The Bambiraptor was discovered with Dinosphere's Gorgosaurus and Maiasaura.

The Life of a Bambiraptor

Bambiraptor means baby raptor. Bambiraptor got its name because of its small size. Bambiraptor lived about 74 to 80 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous Period, at the same time as Gorgosaurus and Maiasaura but several million years before T. rex was alive.
 
Bambiraptor was very small compared to a T. rex, gorgosaur, or Maiasaura. It was about 3 feet long and 1 foot tall and weighed around 7 pounds. Its skull was about the size of a light bulb. Bambiraptor was a carnivore, which means it ate meat instead of plants. Do you think it was a predator or a scavenger?

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Meet Stan the T. rex

T. Rex at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Stan?

Stan is a Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) which means "tyrant lizard king." Unlike Bucky the Teenage T. rex, Stan is an adult T. rexDinosphere's Stan is a cast of the original Stan in the collection of the Black Hills Institute.

Stan has probably the best preserved and most complete dinosaur skull ever discovered. Nearly every fossilized bone of Stan's skull was discovered during excavation. The fossilized bones in Stan's skull were found separated from each other. This is important because it allowed the bones to be preserved for millions of years in excellent condition with little distortion or crushing. It also gave scientists the opportunity to study each fossilized bone and determine how the bones connected and moved in relation to each other.
 
Forty-seven separate fossilized bones and 35 loose fossilized teeth were assembled in the reconstruction of Stan's skull. The only missing bones were two small skull pieces from Stan's lower jaw. Stan had several broken and healed ribs, a broken neck and a hole in the back of its skull. The study of Stan's skull led scientists to believe T. rex had the largest brain, the best eyesight, the best sense of smell, the strongest teeth and the most powerful jaw of all the dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous Period at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

In 1987, amateur paleontologist Stan Sacrison was exploring in the Hell Creek Formation near the town of Buffalo, South Dakota, when he discovered a large fossilized bone sticking out of a sandy cliff face 100 feet above the prairie. He had discovered the T. rex later to be named after him, Stan.

The Life of a T. rex
 
Stan lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago. Tyrannosaurs like Stan could be found in parts of western North America.

T. rex was a carnivore, which means it ate meat instead of plants. Its teeth and strength came in handy when it ate. It had more than 50 teeth, the largest of which were up to 7 inches long and sharp like saw-edged steak knives. Its upper teeth were curved and very sharp like butcher's knives. T. rex didn't eat tiny, polite bites. Its teeth and strong jaw muscles enabled it to tear off and eat large chunks of meat from its prey.
 
From studying the way T. rex teeth were worn down, scientists believe that it likely ate tough, fresh meat instead of rotting meat from animals already dead. This means that T. rex was a predator rather than a scavenger. As a tyrannosaur's teeth got old, the long roots of the teeth dissolved so they could fall out and be replaced by new teeth.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Meet the Hypacrosaur Family

An infant Hypacrosaur dinosaur at the Indianapolis Children's MuseumYou’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who are the Hypacrosaurs?

Hypacrosaurus means "almost the highest lizard," because of its size. Hypacrosaurs are called duckbill dinosaurs because their mouths are shaped similar to a duck's bill. Hadrosaur is another name for duckbill dinosaurs. There are four hypacrosaurs in Dinosphere; an adult, a juvenile and two infants.

The adult hypacrosaur in Dinosphere is a combination of fossilized bones from more than one hypacrosaur and is 75 percent real fossilized bone. The juvenile is also a combination of fossilized bones from more than one hypacrosaur and is 70 percent real fossilized bone. One of the infants is 35 percent real fossilized bone from one hypacrosaur and the other infant is a cast of the first one. The remaining bones are casts from other hypacrosaurs that have been discovered.

The hypacrosaur family was discovered in 1990 at the Two Medicine Formation in Montana and was excavated over a period of five years. Hundreds of hypacrosaurs have been discovered at this site, possibly because the dinosaurs, traveling in a herd, drowned while crossing a river.
 
HypacrosaurThe adult and juvenile hypacrosaurs were found by the commercial paleontology group, Canada Fossils Ltd. The infant hypacrosaur was found by Dorothy and Leo Flamand working for Canada Fossils, Ltd.

Hypacrosaurs, like many other duckbill dinosaurs, had a nasal crest. Scientists think the hollow crest may have been used to make sounds so hypacrosaurs could communicate. Some think the sounds were similar to a low trumpet call. Only adults had crests, so younger hypacrosaurs may have made very different sounds. Some scientists think the crest may have been used by male hypacrosaurs to attract females.

How Hypacrosaurs Lived
 
Scientists believe that hypacrosaurs lived together in families. Several families lived together in groups called herds. There could be hundreds of hypacrosaurs living together in a herd. By living together, hypacrosaurs were better able to find food and protect themselves from predators. Hypacrosaurs were migratory, which means they moved to different places during different seasons. They may have migrated to find food, or they may have migrated from forests to the sandy shores of lakes to lay their eggs.
 
The mother hypacrosaur could lay up to 20 eggs in nests made of soft sand or dirt. She may have covered the eggs with sand or plants to keep them warm because she was too heavy to sit on the nest. Hypacrosaur eggs were about the size of cantaloupes. After hatching, the babies were about 24 inches long. The adults might have taken care of their young because the babies' leg bones were not strong enough for walking. It's not clear how soon the young hypacrosaurs joined the herd. The baby dinosaurs were so tiny that they could have been trampled by the bigger hypacrosaurs, so they may have lived together until they were big enough to travel.
 
Hypacrosaurs were herbivores, which means they ate plants instead of meat. Hypacrosaurs lived in the Late Cretaceous Period approximately 73 million years ago in western North America. Hypacrosaurs were big. An adult could be 30 feet long (as long as three basketball goals laid end-to-end), 15 feet tall, and could weigh 1.5 tons (3,000 lbs.). Because they were so big, hypacrosaurs had big appetites. An adult hypacrosaur ate around 350 lbs. of food a day. Hypacrosaurs had a long snout and a beak. It had rows and rows of teeth on both sides of its jaws, which it used like a grater to grind tough plants and leaves up to 6 feet off the ground. It had hundreds of teeth that were constantly replaced with new teeth.
 
Three of the four fingers on a hypacrosaur's front legs were enclosed in a mitten-like skin. This shape wasn't much help to the hypacrosaur in picking up food or fighting off predators, but it could help in walking. This has led scientists to believe that hypacrosaurs probably walked on all four legs. A hypacrosaur could probably walk faster on its back legs than on all four legs. Scientists estimate it could walk up to 12 miles per hour in a hurry, but that it usually walked on all fours at a much more leisurely pace.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Meet Kelsey the Triceratops

Kelsey TriceratopsYou’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Kelsey?

Kelsey is a Triceratops horridus which means "horrible three-horned face." Why do you think they named this type of dinosaur that way?

Kelsey was discovered by the Leonard and Arlene Zerbst family in the fall of 1997 on their ranch in Niobrara County, Wyoming. The ranch is part of the Lance Creek fossil bed, where the fossils of many dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous Period have been found. The Zerbsts named Kelsey after their 3-year old granddaughter, Kelsey Ann.
 
Alongside Kelsey were found more than 20 fossilized teeth of predatory dinosaur, Nanotyrannus, a smaller cousin of T. rex. Did the Nanotyrannus kill Kelsey, or did Kelsey die of natural causes and the Nanotyrannus just happen along to scavenge on the already dead Triceratops? Does this explain the tiny bite marks found on Kelsey's leg?

Triceratops at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

Interesting Facts about Kelsey

Like other Triceratops, Kelsey had a big head. It was as long as a human adult is tall (over 6 feet) and was nearly one-third as long as its body. The fossilized bone of the skull is up to 2 inches thick and is very heavy. The skull is bumpy (scientists refer to this as "rugosity"). Some scientists think this bumpiness might have been a sign of old age.
 
No dinosaur is discovered 100 percent complete. Due to erosion and other factors, some fossilized bones are always missing. The people who prepare the dinosaurs for exhibits create casts of the missing bones, usually from other dinosaurs that have been discovered, to fill in the missing pieces. Very few Triceratops have been found and most of the ones that have been found aren't very complete. More than 50 percent of Kelsey's skeleton has been found, which makes it possibly the most complete Triceratops ever found and one of the top three ever discovered. 

The Life of a Triceratops
 
Kelsey lived in the late Cretaceous Period, more than 65 million years ago. Triceratops like Kelsey could be found in the western part of the United States and in southwestern Canada. You can tell Kelsey is a Triceratops by the three horns on its head. Scientists call a horned dinosaur like Triceratops a ceratopsian. The two horns above the eye sockets were up to 3 feet long. The horns were sharp and covered with a thick coat of the same stuff your fingernails are made of, called keratin, which made them strong. They came in handy in a fight with any T. rex that decided Kelsey would make a nice meal.
 
Although Kelsey wasn't a predator looking for a fight, it wasn't defenseless if attacked. In addition to having horns, Triceratops could use its size to defend itself. Triceratops could be as tall as a basketball goal (10 feet), and as long as three basketball goals laid end-to-end (30 feet), and could weigh as much as three cars (six tons). A Triceratops' eyes also helped it defend itself. They were on the sides of its head and helped it scan for any predators coming after it.
 
You can't miss the big bone sticking up at the back of Kelsey's head. This bone is called a frill and scientists used to think it was there to protect the neck area. Some scientists now think the frill may have been important in helping male Triceratops attract females or distract potential male rivals for a female's attention. Another possible explanation for the frill is heat regulation. As the Triceratops' body warmed up, heat escaped from the frill and the body temperature returned to normal.
 
Kelsey was a herbivore, which means it ate plants instead of meat. Because a Triceratops was so big, it ate many pounds of plants a day. It ate low-lying plants such as ferns and cycads. Scientists think it may have used its horns to knock down small trees and then snipped off the leaves with its parrot-shaped beak. Scientists know some of the plants it ate by studying phytoliths, tiny parts of plants that left scratch marks on fossilized dinosaur teeth or remained between teeth after they fossilized. Scientists debate whether Triceratops lived in herds. Some think they might have roamed the Cretaceous forests on their own and did not migrate.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

 

Meet Frannie the Prenoceratops

Prenoceratops at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Frannie?

Frannie is an adult Prenoceratops and is about 60 percent real fossilized bone. No dinosaur is discovered 100 percent complete. Due to erosion and other factors, some fossilized bones are always missing. The people who prepare the dinosaurs for exhibits create casts of the missing bones, usually from other dinosaurs that have been discovered, to fill in the missing pieces.

Dorothy and Leo Flammand found Frannie in 1995 in the St. Mary's Formation in Pondera County, Montana while working for Canada Fossils Ltd., a commercial paleontology group. Frannie is named after Fran Julian, a supporter of The Children's Museum.

There are two Prenoceratops in Dinosphere. In addition to Frannie, there is a cast model made from Frannie's bones. Some scientists believe that Frannie could be an entirely new species of Prenoceratops!

The Life of a Prenoceratops

Not all dinosaurs were big or had long necks and sharp teeth. Many dinosaurs were quite small. Frannie, an adult Prenoceratops, is less than 6 feet long and 3 feet tall and would have weighed less than 150 lbs in life. Prenoceratops lived in the Middle and Late Cretaceous Period, approximately 65 to 74 million years ago in western North America and Australia.
 
There's something mysterious about Prenoceratops. It doesn't seem to belong to the usual cast of Cretaceous creatures. At the end of the Age of Dinosaurs when Prenoceratops lived, most dinosaurs had adapted and evolved in special ways to meet the challenges of a changing environment. Prenoceratops, however, was around for a very long time in geological history and did not seem to develop unique adaptations. Perhaps it survived on the fringes of the forest or in the uplands where there was less competition for food and fewer predators.

Prenoceratops is a cousin to Triceratops. Both are members of the Ceratopsian family of dinosaurs, which means they have horns. But Prenoceratops does not have a horn, even though its name means "slender horned face." Prenoceratops did have some things in common with Triceratops. Both were herbivores, which means they ate plants instead of meat, and both had a beak like a parrot that they used to snip plants to eat. Prenoceratops also had a frill, but it was smaller than a Triceratops frill. Prenoceratops had teeth different from the teeth of Triceratops and other Ceratopsians. Prenoceratops teeth were broad rather than long, perhaps for eating a variety of plants. Each tooth also had only one, rather than several, replacement teeth available. The Prenoceratops teeth had one root rather than double roots like the teeth of Triceratops.
 
Prenoceratops probably walked on all four legs, but may have had the ability to stand on two feet for feeding. Its slender build indicates that it could move quickly. Some scientists think Prenoceratops may have used its hind legs to burrow into the ground to hide from predators. Other scientists disagree and think Prenoceratops could have run swiftly to escape predators. Scientists also aren't sure if Prenoceratops lived alone or in herds. Six, however, were found together in a bone bed in 1999. Could this be a clue?
 

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Meet Bucky the Teenage T. rex

Bucky the teenage T. Rex at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Bucky?

Bucky is a Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) which means "tyrant lizard king." Bucky is a teenager almost the size of an adult T. rex. Although still young, Bucky is already big, about 34 feet long and more than 10 feet tall!

A young rancher and rodeo cowboy named Bucky Derflinger discovered Bucky in 1998. That's how Bucky the T. rex got its name. Bucky Derflinger has been collecting dinosaur fossils since he was 9 years old. He was 20 when he saw Bucky's fossilized toe bone sticking out of the ground. The part of the fossilized bone he saw was white because it was weathered and had been bleached by the sun. Bucky Derflinger is the youngest person ever to have discovered a T. rex. You don't have to be a professional paleontologist to be a dinosaur hunter!
 
Bucky DerflingerMost of Bucky's fossilized bones were scattered and difficult to find. The dig site for its bones was about half the size of a football field—the largest dig site ever for a T. rex. Bucky was extremely well preserved and easy to prepare for display in the museum because the rock surrounding its fossilized bones, called the matrix, was soft and easy to remove.

  • Bucky is the sixth most complete T. rex ever found and the first teenage T. rex put on permanent display in a museum.
  • Bucky is the first T. rex to be identified with a furcula (also called a wishbone). This is very important because modern-day birds have wishbones. Does this mean that dinosaurs are distant relatives of birds?
  • Bucky also has a nearly complete set of gastralia and is only the third T. rex to be discovered with an ulna, or elbow bone.

The Life of a T. rex

Bucky lived in the late Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago. Tyrannosaurs like Bucky could be found in parts of western North America. Bucky lived at the top of the food chain, but life during the Cretaceous was tough and it wasn't easy to find food. Tyrannosaurs were carnivores, which means they ate meat instead of plants. Starvation, disease, and fights with potential mates and rivals were some of the bad things that could happen to a T. rex.

Although adult tyrannosaurs were one of the largest and most powerful of all predatory dinosaurs (about as heavy as an elephant, tall enough to look through a second story window and long enough to stretch out the width of a tennis court), some other dinosaurs, such as a large duckbill or Triceratops, may have been too big and powerful for a T. rex to kill by itself. Some scientists think tyrannosaurs worked together in families or groups to kill prey.
 
Bucky had a strong sense of smell, powerful legs that may have allowed it to move quickly, and forward-looking eyes which allowed it to quickly spot and focus on prey—characteristics that made it a ferocious hunter. (Some paleontologists believe tyrannosaurs were actually slow moving.) Bucky's lower jaw hinged like a door at the midpoint between its jawbone and chin so it could open its mouth wider to take bigger bites. Scientists think the T. rex moved its lower jaw backwards so its sharp lower teeth could tear through what it was eating while its upper teeth held the food in place. Fully grown tyrannosaurs were relatively lightweight for their size (around 6 tons—about as heavy as 3 cars) because their bones were hollow and they had large openings in their skulls.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Meet the Didelphodon

The Jaw of a DidelphodonYou’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is the Didelphodon?

Didelphodon is a mammal, not a dinosaur. Despite its small size, Didelphodon was among the largest mammals in the world 65 million years ago. But dinosaurs ruled the land and even the largest mammals were an easy target. In Dinosphere, you will see a fossilized Didephodon jaw bone and two models of a complete Didelphodon.

The discovery of the Didelphodon jaw is important because it is the first Didelphodon jaw containing teeth. The jaw will help scientists determine the size, position and number of its other teeth, and will serve as a useful comparison tool when studying other early mammals.

Barry Brown was searching for fossils in 2001 in Harding County, South Dakota, when he spotted a small area of eroded rock that was filled with "micro material" - tiny fossilized bones, teeth and claws from mammals, fish, amphibions, reptiles and dinosaurs. Included in the fossilized material was the Dinosphere Didelphodon jaw.

The Life of a Didelphodon

Didelphodon was a small creature that lived among the forests of the Late Cretaceous Period around 65 million years ago, along with T. rex, Triceratops and the duckbill dinosaurs. If you have ever seen an opossum, you know what Didelphodon might have looked like. Though no one has found anything more than a few pieces of a Didelphodon - fossilized teeth, jaw and skull fragments - scientists have speculated that it resembled today's opossum in shape and size. In fact, the name Didelphodon means "opossum tooth."
 
Didelphodon likely burrowed in the ground and slept during the day for protection. At night, it relied on its keen sense of smell and good vision to scavenge for insects, small reptiles, amphibians, other mammals, or dinosaur eggs. Its teeth were especially suited for crushing, so it could probably feast on hard-shell clams, snails or baby turtles. Like today's kangaroos and koalas, Didelphodon was a marsupial and probably carried its young in a pouch. Although marsupials are found today mostly in Australia and South America, Didelphodon fossils have been found only in North America.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

The Gorgosaurus Gets the Royal Treatment

Gorgosaurus Phil quoteBy Dallas Evans, Lead Curator of Natural Science and Paleontology

The museum’s large predatory dinosaur Gorgosaurus will make its first appearance in Europe at The Summer Science Exhibition of the Royal Society in London. 

Among scientists, that’s a pretty big deal.

The Royal Society has played a role in some of the most important discoveries in the history of science. It was first created in the 1600s and is the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. Its membership has included famous names like Newton, Owen, Plot, Foucault, Planck, Einstein, Schrodinger, and Hawking.

This puts our Gorgosaurus in some great company.

The Summer Science Exhibition was created as a way to highlight some of the most exciting science and technology developments in the UK. Some of that technology is being utilized to take a closer look at prehistoric life.    

A cast of the Gorgosaurus will become the centerpiece for an exhibit entitled X-Appeal showing the work of Dr. Phil Manning and his colleagues at the University of Manchester. Phil and his fellow researchers use state of the art imaging techniques to look at “pathologies” or healed injuries that are evident in the fossil bones.  
On exhibit will be some of those real bone pathologies of the Gorgosaurus on loan from The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.    

In the Royal Society exhibit and in his blog Dinosaur CSI, Phil  looks at how researchers “help unlock the story of how this dinosaur accumulated so many healed injuries.”

The Children’s Museum values special collaborations—like this one with the University of Manchester—that provide great opportunities to engage ever-broader audiences and to promote scientific research. 

Meet the Gorgosaur

Gorgosaurus at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere—but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, learn the story behind all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the Cretaceous period to their discoveries!

One Interesting Gorgosaur
 
We can tell by the injuries found on The Children's Museum's Gorgosaur that she lived a very rough life. Her injuries included broken bones, bad teeth, and a brain tumor! The Gorgosaur's brain tumor may be the first one ever discovered in a dinosaur. It may have contributed to the Gorgosaur's other injuries, and may even have caused her death. Almost all the fossilized teeth of the Gorgosaur are intact and attached to her jaw, but she had a bad infection in her mouth that caused her to lose some teeth. Because of all her injuries, scientists believe this Gorgosaur walked with pain and most likely had help from others in her pack to survive.
 
The Gorgosaur's injured bones include:

  • A broken fibula. Instead of being strong and straight, this twisted and bumpy lower leg bone healed poorly.
  • Crushed caudal vertebrae. These tail bones began to grow together as they were healing.
  • A broken femur. This leg bone was so badly injured that a section of the bone tore away from the rest.
  • Broken gastralia. These belly ribs helped protect the gorgosaur's vital organs. Some of the ribs healed.
  • Broken scapula. This gorgosaur had a shattered scapula, or shoulder blade. A huge growth formed around the bone to stabilize it as it healed.
There are several things about this Gorgosaur which make scientists think this may be a new species of dinosaur previously unknown to science. These include a manus claw, a sharp, curved claw similar to that of a T. rex; a furcula which leads some scientists to suggest that dinosaurs may be related to birds; and a rugose (bumpy) lacrimal. Preparators working on the Gorgosaur skull also found delicate structures in her nose. These structures, which are unusually well preserved, are called vestibular bulae. They may help scientists learn more about the anatomy of dinosaurs.

Gorgosaurs vs. Tyrannosaurus

Gorgosaurus means "fearsome lizard." Gorgosaurus lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, about 70 to 80 million years ago in the western United States. Gorgosaurus looks like its cousin T. rex. The two have a lot in common. Both were fierce carnivores, which means they ate meat instead of plants, with dozens of sharp teeth designed for biting and swallowing prey. Both were bipeds, which means they walked on two legs, and had small, muscular arms and long tails that they used to balance themselves. They both had eyes on the front of their heads which helped them look in the distance for prey, and they had a strong sense of smell, which also helped them find prey.
 
Gorgosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex weren't exactly alike, however. Gorgosaurus lived several million years before T. rex, had a bony plate over its eyes and was slightly smaller than T. rex. An adult Gorgosaur was approximately 25 feet long and 10 feet tall at the hip. Gorgosaurs had strong, powerful legs, which helped them to run more than 20 miles per hour when they were chasing prey. They had three-toed feet with sharp claws. A Gorgosaur had a strong, muscular neck to support its huge head and jaws. It had more than 60 teeth 4 to 5 inches long. The teeth were serrated, which means they had notched edges like a steak knife. The teeth were not well suited for chewing, so the Gorgosaur may have swallowed large chunks of flesh whole.
 
The Gorgosaur's Discovery
 
What do you do on your summer vacation? The Linsters—Cliff, Sandy, and their seven children—are a family of amateur paleontologists who hunted dinosaurs on their summer vacations. They found the Gorgosaur in 1997 in Teton County, Montana. Finding a Gorgosaur is more rare than finding a T. rex. There have been only 20 Gorgosaurs ever found and this one is the most complete.
 
The body of this Gorgosaur is about 75 percent complete and her skull is about 90 percent complete. No dinosaur is discovered 100 percent complete. Due to erosion and other factors, some fossilized bones are always missing. The people who prepare the dinosaurs for exhibits create casts of the missing bones, usually from other dinosaurs that have been discovered, to fill in the missing pieces. A Maiasaura and a Bambiraptor were found with the Gorgosaur.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Saturday Science: Mini Dino Dig

Dino Dig Game Saturday Science

Grab your chisel and brushes. Bring your curiosity and your brain. It’s time to go on a dino dig – a mini dino dig, that is! For this week’s Saturday Science, we’re bringing the excitement of a real dinosaur dig site to your home. Dig for dinos, map their bones and discover what real paleontologists find when they're searching for fossils!  

Materials

  • Rice
  • Fake dinosaur bones or objects to bury
  • Plastic containers or boxes (one for each little paleontologist) 
  • Tweezers
  • Spoons
  • Grid paper
  • Pencils
  • Masking tape

Process

  1. Set up the dig site! 
    1. Arrange your plastic containers side by side so that they represent the grid of a dinosaur dig site. 
    2. Label each container. 
    3. Place one or two fake dinosaur bones inside each plastic container. 
    4. Fill each container with rice. 
    5. On an empty wall or the floor, use masking tape to recreate your dig site. Make sure to label each section so that your dig site matches the plastic containers. Each section should be the size of the grid paper. 
  2. Start digging! 
    1. Give each little paleontologist his or her own container and explain that each container is a section of the grid on the wall or floor. 
    2. Have your paleontologists dig for the dinosaur bones with their tools. They should use the spoon first, adding each spoonful of rice to a separate container that’s out of the way. Once they hit bone, have them switch to the tweezers and finish uncovering the dinosaur bone.  
  3. Map the bones! 
    1. Paleontologists never remove a bone from a dig site before it’s been mapped. Now it’s your kiddos’ turn! Once they uncover a bone, have them draw a picture of it on a piece of grid paper. 
    2. When they’re finished drawing, place the grid paper in the corresponding section of the dig site on the wall or floor.  
  4. What was found? 
    1. When every little paleontologist is finished with their digs, have each kid describe what was discovered in the dig pit.
    2. Based on where the bones were found and their size, which bones might be from the same dinosaur? 

Summary
You just simulated a real dinosaur dig! 

Just like your dig site, paleontologists always divide their site into a grid so that the scientists and researchers can focus on one area. It’s a tedious process to dig out dinosaur bones. Your spoon represented a clam shucker, which is used first to remove the matrix around the bones. As soon as a bone is found, diggers switch to X-Acto knives and brushes, or in our case, tweezers. This is to protect bones and make sure nothing gets damaged.

Did you find a complete dinosaur? If not, don’t worry! Not only do paleontologists rarely find a complete dinosaur in a dinosaur dig, but they also find bones from one dig that are from different dinosaurs. Whether you found a complete dinosaur or bones from all types of dinosaurs, you still found dinosaur bones! How cool is that?!  

 
Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Dr. Bakker Explains—what Makes Leonardo the Mummified Dinosaur Special?

Bakker Trexler Leonardo

Dr. Robert Bakker is one of the most noteworthy dinosaur paleontologists in the United States—and even inspired the paleontologist depicted in the movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Bakker has reshaped modern theories about dinosaurs, in particular by adding support to the theory that dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded), smart, fast, and adaptable. Dr. Bakker has worked with the museum as an expert curator and paleontologist and has helped acquire rare dinosaur fossils on The Children’s Museum dinosaur advisory board.  

 

Leonardo is exquisite.
 
When I saw Leonardo for the first time, the fossil skin was bathed in light washing over the beast from the side. The body seemed to glow. The rib cage was so beautifully preserved you might imagine the animal breathing, the chest rising and falling...
 
And you see inside!  There were windows into the great machinery of digestion, views never before available for any creature of the fabulous duckbill clan.
 
Leonardo seemed to be alive once more—almost. You could almost see the jaws grinding and chopping conifer branches. You could almost hear the gentle rhythm of fodder being swallowed, being carried through the stomach and then into the marvelously complex intestinal tract.
 
Feeding and digesting are the twin mysteries of dinosaur success. And duckbills are at the heart of Cretaceous ecology. They dominated the plant-eater guild. Their family tree was so bushy that new species sprouted in every direction. To understand the Cretaceous world, we must decipher the keys to herbivore design. Leonardo has handed us those keys.
 
Leonardo invites us to a safari into his inner secrets. Scholars and amateur dino fans alike can test century-old theories. Were duckbills merely dinosaurian moose, munching on soft water plants? So read the textbooks from 1860 up through the '1960's. No! The guts say that theory is bunk. Duckbill jaws were armed with the finest cranial Cuisinart ever evolved within the entire Dinosauria. Look closely at Leonardo's muzzle and jaws. There is a never-ending supply of tooth crowns, closely packed to make a rotary food processor.
 
We knew those basic dental facts since the first duckbill was dug in New Jersey in the 1850s. And yet the moose-diet theory would not die. Leonardo at last provides experimental proof. You can examine what plants were chewed and how thoroughly they were masticated.
 
Water plants?  Nope. Tough, hard-leaved conifers. Nutritious. Full of protein and energy. Leonardo testifies to the true preferred diet—terrestrial vegetation, the shrubs and trees that covered the landscape.
 
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the perfect place for Leonardo. Indy has duckbill smarts. The museum crew has excavated one of the greatest duckbill bone-beds in the world. The Paleo Lab presents the visitor to touch duckbill legs, run their fingers over duckbill teeth. 
 
And now.....Leonardo adds that unique window back into the Cretaceous, the window into his deepest secrets.

Why Doesn't the Dino Mummy Look Like a Mummy?

dino mummy why

By Lori Phillips, Digital Content Coordinator

When you're six years old and your mom works at The Children's Museum, it's not out of the ordinary to learn over the dinner table that a dinosaur is coming to "your" museum. My son, Teddy, usually plays it pretty cool when I share (what I believe to be) awesome news about the museum, but he couldn't contain his amazement when I mentioned a "mummy dinosaur"...now that's cool.

It was November, and the museum had just announced that Leonardo the mummified dinosaur would be unveiled in Dinosphere in March. As I excitedly showed Teddy the photos of Leonardo, his first question was, "But mom, where's the toilet paper?" When I gave him a puzzled look he said, "Like, when something is a mummy it's wrapped in toilet paper, right?" Of course! It was really the perfect question. And thankfully I knew the perfect person to answer it—paleontologist and natural science curator, Dallas Evans. 

Please tell Teddy that we're working on that. When Leonardo was excavated, it was wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it safe. (Which probably made it look like a gigantic baked potato.) The aluminum foil is just a separator—it keeps the plaster from sticking to the fossil. But the foil isn't good for long term storage because it will oxidize & discolor. So we removed the foil and replaced it with acid free tissue paper while it was in storage. Essentially, until it's ready to be put on display, it will look like a mummy wrapped in toilet paper.

But that was in November, and now Leonardo is on display. (No more acid free tissue paper!) So...if Leonardo is a mummy, where are his wrappings?

Mummies are any dead bodies with preserved skin, muscle, and other soft tissue. Leonardo isn't a human mummy, like you usually would envision. Leonardo isn't a wrapped dinosaur, either. Leonardo is a natural mummy. Nature mummified Leonardo, so he doesn't have wrappings. It's estimated that 90 percent of Leonardo's body is still covered in fossilized soft tissue. When dinosaurs died, their carcasses were usually exposed to weather, scavengers, insects, and bacteria, but sometimes they would be naturally buried in sediment by things like sandstorms, mudslides, high tides or sinkholes and that sediment would harden into rock over time. 

If conditions were just right, mineral-heavy water would seep into the rock, and into the hollow spaces in the bones, and the bone materials would be replaced with rock-like minerals. And, if the chemicals and the moisture level and the pressure and other factors were perfect, over time, the bone would be replaced by a rock-like copy or natural cast called (drum roll, please)...a fossil! Leonardo died on the banks of a shallow river in what is now Montana. His body was eventually buried and minerals in the river infiltrated the dinosaur's soft tissues, desiccating and preserving them, resulting in natural mummification. This created a mummified, fossilized dinosaur—the rarest of the rare!

Learn more about Leonardo's story in the blog post, "Here Comes the Dino Mummy!" by Dinosphere Coordinator Mookie Harris. And be sure to meet Leonardo in his new home in Dinosphere!

Bringing a Mummified Dinosaur to Life

Leonardo rendering BerglundMichael Berglund is the artist behind the beautiful illustrations of Leonardo the mummified dinosaur, helping to bring Leonardo to life in his new home in Dinosphere. Michael has been a commercial special effects artist, designer, and sculptor for over 27 years. He's participated in dinosaur digs as a volunteer and has contributed art to museums for the past 15 years. His mother claims he could say "Tyrannosaurus rex" before he could say "mommy."

I first met Leonardo at a paleontology conference way back in 2005. As an artist interested in the finer points of muscles and skin on dinosaurs, I was astonished at what I saw when the pictures came up on the screen! It looked like he had just fallen over, well, not yesterday—but you get what I mean. You could really see the living creature in the rock!

Afterwards I approached the people who gave the presentation and struck up a conversation. They looked at my work, and so began my long association with Leonardo. I have done pictures and graphic design for the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta, the Houston Museum where Leonardo was briefly displayed, and now, here, for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. It’s almost as though he’s my "dino-buddy" at this point, we’ve been through so much together.

The renderings that I've done for the Children’s Museum represent the collected wisdom of scientists and artists through the years, thinking about Brachylophosaurs, and Leonardo in general. I've had the great fortune to be able to learn from, and have my work improved by, association with Dr. Robert Bakker, Dave Trexler, and Peter Larson, to name a few experts in the paleontological world. 

The image I created is a 3D model—a computer graphics rendering. I started by using measurements and skeletal diagrams to get the proportions and overall shapes. Creating a "low polygon, low detail" model is almost like building a sculpting armature (or frame), to refine the overall forms and shapes. Scientists know about dinosaur musculature by studying the fossils—which bear traces of muscle and tendon attachments—and by studying living creatures today. With Leonardo, there's even more information, in the form of preserved muscle and tendon structure! 

Leonardo’s skin is also preserved in large sections, and that's really exciting to me as an artist. While imagination is key to any art, it’s a real thrill to be able to create something with the evidence backing it up, and to be able to stand back, look at it, and think, "Wow, this is probably what he really looked like." All of that detail was added in a 3D sculpting program.

The most speculative thing about the picture is the coloration. We may never know what dinosaurs were colored like, but we can make educated guesses based upon living animals and habitats. Leonardo’s patterned, brownish color is reasonable given the environment he lived in. The coloration was done in a paint program and wrapped around the digital sculpture.

It’s been great fun helping to bring Leonardo back to life, and to contribute to the wonder and discovery of recreating our Earth’s prehistoric past.

Leonardo wireframe Berglund

Leonardo wireframe color Berglund

Images: Michael Berglund, 2013

 

Here Comes the Dino-Mummy!

Leonardo mummified dinosaur Children's MuseumDid you hear our big announcement about Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur? Mookie Harris is here to tell us more about what makes Leonardo SO special. Mookie is the Coordinator of the Dinosphere and Treasures of the Earth galleries; he's loved dinosaurs since he was three years old. 
 
In March, Dinosphere will welcome its newest resident, a fossilized, mummified hadrosaur (Brachylophosaurus, to be specific) named Leonardo. You’ll be able to see his skin, his tendons, his muscles—even what he ate! How did a dinosaur become a dino-mummy? Glad you asked!
 
  1. First, there had to be living dinosaurs. And just like with wild animals today, most dinosaurs’ remains did not fossilize when they died—they simply decayed and were lost forever. Paleontologists estimate that only a tiny percentage of the dinosaurs that ever lived has been or will be found as fossils.
  2. When dinosaurs died, their carcasses were usually exposed to weather, scavengers, insects, bacteria and the like, but sometimes they would be naturally buried in sediment by things like sandstorms, mudslides, high tides or sinkholes and that sediment would harden into rock over time.
  3. If conditions were just right, mineral-heavy water would seep into the rock, and into the hollow spaces in the bones, and the bone materials would be replaced with rock-like minerals.
  4. And, if the chemicals and the moisture level and the pressure and other factors were perfect, over time, the bone would be replaced by a rock-like copy or natural cast called (drum roll, please) a fossil!
  5. NOW, go back to Step 2. Imagine that a dinosaur died on the banks of a shallow river in what is now Montana and that when its body was eventually buried, minerals in the river infiltrated the dinosaur's soft tissues, desiccating and preserving them, resulting in natural mummification. We now have a mummified, fossilized dinosaur! The rarest of the rare!
  6. Cut to modern day. Our fossil is now buried under layer upon layer of deposited sediment that hardened into rock over the ages. But erosion happened as well, and if we’re lucky, our fossil might end up exposed, thanks to wind and water.
  7. And if we’re super lucky, somebody might spot a bit of the exposed fossil jutting out of stratified rock.
  8. And if we’re ridiculously lucky, paleontologists will be able to dig it out without damaging it and get it back to a lab and prepare it for display in a museum.
  9. And if we’re astronomically, stupendously lucky, that museum would be The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
  10. Well, we are astronomically, stupendously lucky. Leonardo is here! And he'll be on display for you and your family to see beginning March 8, 2014!

 

Leonardo mummified dinosaur Children's Museum

Leonardo sketch

How to Re-pour the Dino Dig Pit

Your kids love it. They race to the exhibit, put on their goggles, grab a brush, and start digging! It's the dino dig pit in Dinosphere! But what happens when those aspiring paleontologists actually unveil the fossils? What will future visitors do?

This actually happens quite often. About every month and a half our young visitors uncover the fossils in the dino dig pit and we have to cover them back up. The process for doing that is a unique one. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is all about AUTHENTIC experiences. So instead of using sand, which wouldn't give a true digging experience, we invented our own trade secret. In This Week's WOW, Dino Josh reveals how it's done . . . take a look:



And if that's not real enough for you, families and adults can actually travel with museum experts to Faith, South Dakota to dig for dinosaur fossils at the Ruth Mason Quarry, the largest fossil bed of duck-billed dinosaurs in the world. It's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure! Digs are on sale now: http://www.childrensmuseum.org/dino-digs.  Happy digging!

Digging for Dinosaurs - You will be WOWed.


One of the things that makes The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis the biggest and best in the world is its ability to extend learning beyond the walls of 3000 N. Meridian Street. In fact, every summer, museum staff and paleontologists escape the Dinosphere dome and travel all the way to the Badlands of South Dakota where they dig for real dinosaur bones! And the best part? You can do it too. That’s right, families, teachers and adults are all invited to register for single or multiple days of dino digging fun. And yes, we find stuff. Lots of stuff.

 

For example…

Last summer we found over 200 65 million year old specimen including Nano-tyranous teeth, femora from school bus sized Edmontosaurus annectens (aka Duckbill Dinosaur), ribs, mandible pieces and so much more! 

 

Check out This Week’s WOW to see what a day at the dig site looks like and learn the answer to the question Just what happens to all those fossils once they’ve been discovered and can I use mine as a paper weight?

 

 

To learn more or to register for this summer’s dig, click here.

Big Clues in Little Fossils

By Dallas Evans, Natural Science Educator/Curator

The pursuit of dinosaurs can entail some hot days, hard labor, and very heavy lifting.  We are lucky to discover and uncover the bones of duckbill dinosaurs at the Ruth Mason Quarry in South Dakota. This remote dig site contains bones by the 1000s, and almost all of them are from the same type of dinosaur—the Edmontosaurus.

These dinosaurs are big.  A full grown Edmontosaurus would weigh as much as 4 tons and be as big as a school bus. But after nearly 10 years of digging at this site, we often want to excavate something that’s different, and well, smaller. 

One of our curators, William Ripley, specializes in the search for “micro fossils.”

William Ripley excavating large dinosaur bonesIt’s a simple yet painstaking process.  William gathers large samples of the rock matrix from where we find the dinosaur bones. He takes it back to the museum and soaks it in water so that it breaks down into a thick, gooey mud. Then he washes all that mud through a screen. After it dries he looks at the remaining debris to locate any of the small fossils.

It takes a very special kind of person to spend long hours sorting through debris in the search for micro fossils. And by all accounts William is considered a very special person. He extols the importance of Danish death metal music, World War 2 re-enactment, and chocolate pudding pie, all while looking for tiny fossil bones and teeth.  But he finds some amazing stuff.

He has found small bones from big dinosaurs like Triceratops, T. rex  and Ankylosaur.  And he’s found the small bones from small dinosaurs too—like Pachycephalosaur, Dromaeosaur and Troodon.

Teeth from the small predatory dinosaur called Troodon.His research has shown that where we dig was once a near shore, delta-like environment.   William has discovered fish scales, ray and shark teeth, and even crocodile & turtle bones. 

It takes a sharp eye to find fossils that are often no larger than a dime. And amazingly, it’s these smaller specimens that help fill in the details about the larger dinosaurs. These tiny fossils provide significant clues about the environment in which the duckbill dinosaurs lived.

You and your family can actually join William and myself this summer on one of these digs in Faith, South Dakota. They are an extraordinary family learning vacation opportunity . . . you just might find something, big or small!

Dinosaurs Just Got a Whole Lot Cooler

It's all hands on deck at our Dinosaur dig site in Faith South Dakota!Every summer The Children's Museum of Indianapolis takes family learning to a whole new level and ventures out to the Badlands of South Dakota in pursuit of 65 million year old dinosaur fossils.  True to the museum's mission of creating extraordinary learning opportunities for children and families, we make sure that it's not just the professionals that get to have all the fun—you can go on this museum adventure too!  That's right, whether you're a child who roars or a grown up who still gets geeked at the sight of a dinosaur skeleton (or you're someone who has a child or grown up that does), a day or 2 at a real working dig site might be the perfect family vacation idea for you.

Your adventure will start in Faith, SD, population 489.  At 8 a.m. you will jump into Moby, the great white van, and then go off-roading to the Ruth Mason Quarry where you will be greeted and trained by our fearless leaders Dallas and William. You'll get down and dirty, utilizing the tools of the trade—clam shuckers and exactos—and learn how to tell the difference between iron concretions and 65 million year old fossils.  Trust me, it's not always easy but you'll be a pro by the end of the day. You will also learn the very cool art of mapping your finds. Last year we collected 191 fossils and William can tell you exactly where and how each one was found, thanks to all of the excellent maps that were created by our diggers. 

When your digging days are over, never fear because the learning and adventure don't have to end.  Once the fossils have made the journey back to the museum, families can arrange times with the Paleo Lab to come in and work on their fossils.  You can actually go behind the Paleo Lab window where all the cool stuff happens and learn how to clean and prepare your finds.  You'll get to wear the coats and goggles and everything!

Our 2011 Dig dates are July 1–8 and families with little ones 8 and older can register for 1 or 2 days.  Visit here for more information on one of the coolest opportunities ever.