Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 2/15-2/21

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation:

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Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Endless Love Campaign 
Ends Friday, Feb. 19
Want to show your Valentine that your love will last forever?
Say it with a cockroach.
Before you go all “Eeuuuwwww,”… think about it.
These tough little beasts have been living, loving and roaming the earth for 350 million years. It’s even been said they’d survive a nuclear blast. Who knows? They might even outlive Keith Richards!
Here’s the good news. You don’t have to capture and gift wrap a cockroach yourself. For just $5, you can actually name one at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. You’ll receive a digital commemorative certificate, like this one, for your Valentine. How’s that for a lasting declaration of love?
You have to admit, it’s the most unforgettable gift ever—and it’s a great way to support conservation and education at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Behind-the-Scenes Tour – La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas
Tuesday, Feb. 16
6:00 p.m.
Going back to the 8th century in a struggle between Muslim and Spanish naval forces and on to the appearance in the Aztec capital in the 15th century, Virgin of Guadalupe was adopted as a symbol in Europe and the New World during times of friction. Through the artwork and artifacts on display, your guide will trace the increasing role the Virgin of Guadalupe played in society.

Behind-the-Scenes Tour – Out of the Amazon
Tuesday, Feb. 16
6:00 p.m.
HMNS has an unparalleled Amazonia collection which is made up of rare artifacts from thirteen tribes. Priceless pieces of the collection-ceremonial objects, masks, body costumes, headdresses and more-are on display in the special exhibition Out of the Amazon. Tour this temporary exhibition with HMNS master docents who share stories of everyday life among rapidly disappearing indigenous groups.

Class – Basic Fruit Tree Care and Planting
Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 6:00 p.m. & Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 10:00 a.m. 
Attracting butterflies and fostering good bird habitat, fruit trees are evergreens with fragrant flowers. Instructor Angela Chandler will teach you the basics of fruit tree selection, planting, care and maintenance. Explore the types of citrus available, how to grow them, and where seeds and saplings can be obtained. If you don’t have enough space, fruit trees can also be grown in containers!

Lecture – Amber, Nature’s Time Capsule by David Grimaldi
Wednesday, Feb. 17
6:30 p.m.
Conserving details not preserved in fossils, ancient tree resin trapped and drowned fragments of ancient landscapes serving as a natural time capsule. World leading expert in amber research, Dr. David Grimaldi will present the latest revelations of paleoclimate and its role in evolution from cutting-edge research into the plants, fungus and animals preserved amber. Through his field work conducted on five continents in over 40 countries, Grimaldi’s research addresses 400 million years of evolutionary history. He will also show how amber, dating as far back as 99 million years ago, has helped unlock the origins and evolution of modern tropical forest ecosystems.

Amber Secrets, Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs opens Friday, Feb. 19
Amber Secrets, Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs features over 100 of some of the most exquisite specimens dating as far back as 99 million years ago. Plants, fungus, vertebrates and invertebrates such as insects, spiders, scorpions, snails, millipedes and centipedes are represented. Highlights include feathers and lizards encapsulated in amber. Each polished translucent gem provides a window to the time of the dinosaurs.

Amazing Butterflies opens at HMNS at Sugar Land on Saturday, Feb. 20
Amazing Butterflies invites you to shrink down into the undergrowth to become one of the most extraordinary creatures on earth. Enter the interactive maze through the huge monarch caterpillar tunnel. Become a caterpillar and find your way through a secret, wild world as grass and leaves tower above your head. But beware, the maze includes dead ends, down which lurk poisonous plants and predators waiting to pounce. Adventure through the leaves, learn how to move like a caterpillar, discover an ant that reaps the reward of an unusual friendship, then transform into a butterfly and take flight! Together, families will explore this interactive experience and learn the surprising challenges butterflies face every day.

Girls Exploring Math And Science
Saturday, Feb. 20
The Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council and the Houston Museum of Natural Science invite you to attend the Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) event. The Museum will be filled with hands-on science and math for everyone to experience. Local professionals will be at the Museum to answer questions about their careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

This Dino Toy’s All Wrong! What’s Up With That!?

by “Jurassic” James Washington III

With the exception of our feathered friends, dinosaurs are all but gone today. So what are the ways to connect to these long lost creatures? Well as a child I had three options — museums, media and models. Going to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and standing in the shadows of the fossilized skeletons gave me a sense of their size and majesty. Dinosaurs in the media consisted of news stories, articles, documentaries and books. But the models (or toys) were the third part my mind needed to fully imagine these masters of the Mesozoic. For some reason holding a model of the animal in my hand gave my mind the final ingredient to fully imagine dinosaurs as they might have looked.

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As an adult I have the honor of working at the museum as a Discovery Tour Guide specializing in the Morian Hall of Paleontology. I literally get to go to the museum five out of seven days a week! I have traded in my documentaries for scientific text books and published journals. And although I stopped playing with the toys, I still collect them, using them as models in contrast to the actual fossils upstairs. Which brings me to the point of this article. In the age of the Internet and easily accessible museums and colleges, how is it that certain tour companies can make inaccurate models? It may seem minor to an outside observer, but the number of fingers and toes or the lack of a crest are some important ways to make a species identifiable.

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For the record I am not commenting on fictional dinosaur-like creatures such as Godzilla or the Indominus Rex from the movie Jurassic World (2015). Or the changes made through time, such as the orientation of the necks and tails of Sauropods (long necked dinosaurs) like Diplodocus. Or how Velociraptor toys have no feathers in the early 1990’s. Those toys were made with the accepted science of the time, though now we know they were wrong. I am also not considering how some dinosaur toys are made cute for preschool-age children. My remarks are on toy companies that claim to make scientifically accurate toys/models in the 2000’s without certain diagnostic features.

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Diplodocus through time. Manufacturer and year produced from left to right: Collect A 2013, K&M 2004, TS 2001, British Museum (Natural History) 1974, Safari Ltd 2006, Safari and later Carnegie 1988.

As displayed by the image above, Diplodocus has seen a variety of modifications in the toy and model world. Yet each model maintains its long, whip-like tail, narrow horse-like face, hind legs longer than forelimbs and general slender form when compared with other Sauropods. No matter the incarnation, you know it is Diplodocus.

Another easy example is the genre Stegosaurus, which has three toes on its hind limbs. This feature (narrow pillar-like feet) indicates Stegosaurus lived in a dryer or at least more solid surface and not in swamps. So when I see a Stegosaur toy or model with the five standard toes of lizards, I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t take the time to consult someone, anyone, in the field of paleontology before they began production. It’s like making a modern rhinoceros toy with rodent feet or giving a giraffe zebra stripes. Just google “Stegosaurus skeleton” and the number of toes is consistent on pretty much all the images.

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The many faces of Stegosaurus. Manufacturer and year from left to right: Toy Major Trading CO. LTD. 2008, Jasman 2001,Dur Mei 1986, Jurassic Park’s Kenner 1993, The Lost World’s Kenner 1997, Safari LTD, Dino Riders 1989, Papo 2005, Dinosaur Valley 2005, Safari 2007 and K&M 2004.

Of the eleven Stegosaur models/toys in the above only four have the correct number of toes! Dino Rider 1989 (surprisingly), Papo 2005, Safari 2007 and K&M 2004. The two on the far left of the picture have five and the rest have four. What I find most surprising is the fact that Safari put out two different figures with different numbers of toes?

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Mosasaurs show me those pearly whites! Manufacturer and year from left to right: Safari 2010, Carnegie 2008, Papo 2012, Collect A 2009 and Mojo 2010.

Mosasaurs are the marine reptiles of the upper Cretaceous period that were made even more famous by Jurassic World. Although the movie made the animal too large, they did get one thing right. Mosasaurs, like pythons, possess a second row of teeth inside their jaws. Only one of five Mosasaur models have that iconic feature. The 2008 Carnegie model seen second to the left is the only one with the correct dentition. When I show this feature to museum guests on tours, they are shocked and amazed! I can see why now — 80 percent of Mosasaur toys in the mainstream market lack that feature. But know that the Jurassic World Mosasaur has the teeth, which can be seen when it eats the poor British woman who did nothing wrong. Unfortunately the Jurassic World Mosasaur toy (which I do not have yet) neglected to be consistent with their own movie. No second row of teeth!

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Ceratosaurus family reunion.

Ceratosaurus lived in North America during the upper Jurassic. The name Ceratosaurus translates to “horned lizard” because it has a nose horn and two crests over its eyes. Ceratosaurus also has four fingers on its forelimbs. The tall yellow one in the back is from Remco Galaxy fighters from the 1980’s. It has the nose horn but only one crest between its eyes. But it does have all four fingers! The tall green one to the left has the nose horn, but is missing the eye crests altogether and only has three fingers. One step forward, two steps back. It also lacks its manufacturer’s logo, as if they didn’t want to take credit for their work…

The figure with a purple hide and pink nose horn is labeled Oviraptor. Which is almost a felony if you knew anything about Ceratosaurus or Oviraptor! The toy is manufactured by Boley, who is known for putting out mislabeled figures in the world of fast and furious dinosaur toy collecting. But it does have the nose horn and four fingers. If it had two eye crests it would be a good example (in toy form) of Ceratosaurus. Too bad it’s labeled Oviraptor. In front on the right is the Jurassic World Ceratosaurus. It has a nose horn, two crest-like projections over the eyes and four fingers. I know it’s not said very often, but good job Jurassic Park franchise on your scientific accuracy. The medium figure in the middle with a red hide and yellow underbelly is from 1998 (hard to read the stomach). The horn and crests are good enough, but it only has four fingers. Missed it by that much.

I saved the best for last. The three small figures on the lower left are, from left to right, Safari 1996, Safari 2012 and Terra 2015. All three figures have the correct horns, crests and finger counts! In short, buy the smaller more detailed models.

Dino7But there is a silver lining. As you might have noticed there is an attempt to correct these mistakes over time. And the Boley figure to the left tells it all. When this very same figure was produced in the early 2000’s it was labeled Metriacanthosaurus. Metriacanthosaurus was like a Ceratosaurs without horns and a small sail running down its back and tail. Later the name was changed to Edaphosurus. This was close but still wrong, but they at least classified it outside the dinosaur clade. The animal the toy represents is a relative of Edaphosaurus. Unfortunately, an Edaphosaurus has a smaller skull and a sail of a different shape, and the spines have small projections. But one day, one glorious day, I saw this figure label Dimetrodon. A victory, no matter how small. After two failed attempts, Boley finally got it right. The third time was actually a charm!

Now I know you may think of me as a grown man obsessed with dinosaur toys, and you are probably right. But my fiancé thinks it’s cute. She considers it better than collecting motorcycles or gambling. All I’m saying is many people go to college to earn degrees and/or commit countless hours to understanding the exact morphology of these long-extinct animals. And for a toy company to barely attempt to fact check an educational model that they sell to children? It’s just unacceptable. Imagine a store selling toy tigers with stripes and lion-like manes, whales with gill slits and blow holes or sea lions with long floppy rabbit ears. And that weirdness is what plagues comments. Thank you.

Editor’s Note: Watch for a special exhibit opening in the Morian Hall of Paleontology Feb. 19! Amber Secrets: Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs offers a glimpse back in time to the forests of Burma in middle Cretaceous, when plants were just beginning to develop flowers. See extinct insects trapped inside fossilized tree resin, and an astounding surprise: feathers in the time of T. rex and Triceratops!

James is a Discovery Guide at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

World-famous paleontologist Dr. Robert T. Bakker shares the truth about T. rex

No one knows everything, you tell yourself, but after a conversation with Dr. Robert T. Bakker, Curator for the Morian Hall of Paleontology, you might believe there’s someone out there who does.

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The world-renowned dinosaur expert is famous for his energetic and entertaining style, and imagining not only the shape and size and habits of creatures extinct for millions of years, but the entire ecosystems in which they lived. Using his imagination to peer through deep time, Bakker sees things other paleontologists wouldn’t — because he chooses to think “outside the box.” This week, he returns to the Houston Museum of Natural Science for three exciting events, sharing his wealth of knowledge on dinosaurs, natural history and geology.

Bakker arrived at HMNS Tuesday morning and hosted the premier of the NOVA science television event Making North America in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre. The show airs on PBS this November.

Wednesday night, he hosts his own lecture titled T. rex — The Shocking Truth at 6:30 p.m., also in the Wortham. Bakker says the presentation will raise an eyebrow about the common reputation of the famous Cretaceous carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex.

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“For example, if you time travel, and it’s at night, and you’re just sitting there watching critters, you hear that the best thing to do is to just sit still,” Bakker said. “That’s what we learn from Jurassic Park. That’s just the wrong answer. T. rex will find you instantly, and all your friends, and the driver of the time-traveling minibus.”

T. rex was a “triple threat,” according to Bakker, with strong vision, hearing and smell, and it was a fast runner. As the apex predator of its time, it was an extremely successful hunter. But that’s not all it was good at. Turns out it was a gentle creature, too.

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Parent T. rexes showing affection. Illustration: Luis V. Rey.

“The T. rex made excellent parents,” Bakker said. “They were excellent partners, both male and female. If you want to choose really doting, effective, feeling, good role-model parents… be a T. rex.

If you’d like to know how Bakker determined this, you’ll have to come to the lecture, he said.

In spite of his love for the T. rex, a species that piques the imaginations of children and adults across the world along with the animal’s arch-nemesis, Triceratops, Bakker’s favorite dinosaur is and always has been Ceratosaurus.

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T. rex battling Triceratops… and losing. Illustration: Luis V. Rey.

“It’s smaller, built lower to the ground, had a muscular tail great for swimming, very sharp, knifelike teeth and a horn on its nose,” Bakker said. “In fourth grade, I saw it in a book called The Fossil Book. And I took a shining to Ceratosaurus. The next year, my parents took us on a trip to Washington, D.C.”

In Washington, Bakker saw the fossil for the first time and was amazed.

“That will change your theology when you’re in the fourth grade in New Jersey,” he said.

The dinosaur is rare and the flexibility of its body and shortness of its legs suggest it probably was best suited to leafing through dense forest and marshland to hunt. The rare dinosaur was found with fish and turtles nearby, likely its primary diet, which would explain the tail suited for swimming, Bakker said.

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T. rex squaring off with a competitor, using a head-bump as a fighting technique.

While his experience meeting Ceratosaurus affected him deeply, Bakker wasn’t interested in dinosaurs until he read a 1953 Life Magazine feature on paleontology written by Lincoln Barnett that spanned the entire issue, he said.

“It was arguably the most beautifully-written feature article ever written,” Bakker said. “It was this gorgeous safari through time, starting with the tiny microbes of the Cambrian, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, the Texas Permian red beds, mammoths. … It wasn’t weird prehistoric monsters. The reader asks how and why did these things evolve? … Things were related. The history of life made sense. And I announced to my startled parents that having read Life Magazine, I’m going to grow up and dig fossils.”

His parents continued to believe his affinity for paleontology was just a passing phase, Bakker said, up until the publication of his first book.

“By gum, they read it, and they finally got it,” Bakker said. “Dinosaurs are a part of the history of life on Earth, not a random monster parade.”

Meet Bakker in person at his lecture Wednesday, Nov. 4. and also this Saturday, Nov. 7 at the HMNS Dino Days event Breakfast with Dr. Bakker. Beginning at 9 a.m. on the Morian Overlook and moving downstairs into the Moran Lecture Hall, children and adults can have a meal with Bakker, share ideas about paleontology, listen to a presentation and have a blast doing a variety of dino activities.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 11/2-11/8

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! 

Bakker

Film Screening – Making North Armerica with Dr. Robert T. Bakker
Tuesday, Nov. 3
6:00 p.m.
Join Dr. Robert T. Bakker for the premiere event of NOVA’s Making North America television series on the Museum’s giant screen. Airing on PBS this November, this series is a spectacular road trip through a tumultuous deep past that explores three fundamental questions: How was the continent built? How did life evolve here? And how has the continent shaped us? “Ancient Rock Show” begins at 5 p.m. with hands-on activities and demonstrations. This event is sponsored by NOVA.

Lecture – T.rex – The Shocking Truth by Dr. Robert T. Bakker, Ph.D. 
Wednesday, Nov. 4 
6:30 p.m.
Legendary paleontologist Dr. Robert T. Bakker will reveal the untold story of Tyrannosaurus rex, the top predators in deep time. In his popular energetic and entertaining style, Dr. Bakker will the latest theories on how T. rex dominated the Cretaceous before the mass KT extinction. Dr. Robert T. Bakker is curator of paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Dino activities begin at 5:30 p.m.

Breakfast with Dr. Bakker
Saturday, Nov. 7
9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Treat your little paleontologist to breakfast with world-famous paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker. This annual FUNdraiser, benefiting HMNS, offers an opportunity for kids to meet Dr. Bakker, watch his entertaining presentation, enjoy a delicious breakfast and participate in dinosaur activities not open to the general public. Dr. Bakker will also sign autographs and copies of his books will be available.