Bakker blogs: You can’t have a dinosaur as a pet, but you sure can pet a dinosaur!

You know that saying, “You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose”? Well this is like that. Sort of.

We know you can’t actually adopt a dinosaur for a pet, but you can pet a dinosaur at HMNS’ new Hall of Paleontology! Curator Dr. Bob Bakker tells us how (and who) in this latest Bakker blog.

—————

Dinosaur “mummies” conjure up visions of B-movies with Cretaceous monsters wrapped in funereal linen, chasing Brendan Fraser across Egyptian sand dunes.

hall mummy bottom amnh-v
The most famous duck-bill dino mummy is likely the edmontosaur at New York’s American Museum. The “skin” you see is an impression in the rock.

Our new Prehistoric Safari features two dino mummies: our fantastic Triceratops, Lane, and a slab of duck-billed dinosaur we nicknamed “Trigger.” Lane’s perfectly preserved skin is beautiful, but so delicate we can’t let visitors touch it (even the PhDs held their breath when they moved the specimen). But Trigger’s hide is totally petrified and rock-hard, so we want you to pet it.

Go ahead, give Trigger a gentle touch. Lots of folks get goose-bumpy when they run their fingers over the finely textured scales that covered this 4-ton veggie-saur, which chomped down on bushes in Utah some 73 million years ago.

In truth, most “mummified” dinosaurs aren’t exactly mummified in the original sense. True mummies preserve the actual skin and much of the body muscles, which become dehydrated and shrunken around the skull and skeleton.  The Egyptians were masters of religious mummification and devised clever ways to prevent the decay that usually rots out the soft tissue. Nature can mummify human bodies, too — when burials occurred in desert sand. Hot winds suck out the water from the sand and extract the juices from the deceased, leaving a body with leathery skin and desiccated innards.

hall Mum Leo -Poster copy

Dino mummies ≠ Egyptian mummies.

Usually, dinosaur mummies appear as if they have real skin shrunken over their ribcages and faces. But if you look closely, you’ll see that all the skin tissue is actually gone. What’s left is the impression of the skin, preserved in fine-grain sand and mud. What happened is this:

The dinosaur died and dried out. Scavengers were kept away somehow (that’s the tricky part) until sediment buried the carcass. Microbes finally destroyed all the skin tissue, but not before the sediments had been pressed tightly against the body. As the sand and mud hardened, the sediment recorded the impression of the outer skin surface — many “mummies” capture the skin texture with fabulous fidelity.

Lane the Triceratops goes one step better. There are genuine remnants of the original skin material preserved as dark, carbon-rich residue. We’ll do some high tech probing of this stuff to search for organic molecules. (No, we won’t get genetic material, Jurassic Park fans — DNA is too big and complicated to survive more than a few thousand years.)

Our Prehistoric Safari has a fine cast replica of a third dino-mummy, the famous duck-billed Brachylophosaurus named “Leonardo” from Malta, Montana. Leo, as he is known affectionately, has skin impressions over the arms, shins and flank. However, his claim to fame is his innards. The contents of Leo’s stomach and intestines are still there, faithfully recording his last meal. Tiny fragments of Late Cretaceous leaves fill the gastrointestinal tract, and you can see the progress of the digestive cycle.  Leaf bits get smaller passing from the stomach to the lower guts, showing that digestive juices were doing their job of breaking down the food.

Leonardo is the only herbivorous dinosaur specimen which gives us a glimpse into the food-processing organs deep inside the body.

But back to the petting —we have several pettable specimens in the exhibits and on the touch carts. Feel free to stroke bones, teeth, even our wonderful selection of coprolites (though you might want to look that word up).

Member mania over the new Hall of Paleontology: Read their feedback and get here yourself!

Since our new Hall of Paleontology opened to museum members on Friday we’ve received an outpouring of responses from museum-goers of all ages. It was starting to make our head spin, so we compiled some choice reactions here to share with you! See what your fellow Houstonians are saying about what’s being called one of the nation’s top paleontology exhibits:

Pretty cool, huh? And we’re making updates and perfecting the exhibit as we hear your feedback. One of the latest additions is a swath of real, touchable hadrosaur skin! So come see us for the first time or the 15th — you can never learn too much.

The paleo hall opens to the public June 2. Can’t wait ’til Saturday? Become a member today!

PS — we’ve got another T-Rex Trying for HMNS for y’all. Check him out!

T-Rex Trying to reconnect!

VIDEO: The mummified dinosaur Leonardo – too good to be true?

“Unbelieveable!”

“Too good to be true…”

“A dinosaur with its last meal meal still preserved inside its stomach…..no one could hope for that….”
Those were some of the skeptical comments heard by Dr. Robert Bakker, Curator at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, from distinguished colleagues in the dino-science word.

“I was unconvinced too….until I came up to Malta, Montana myself,” says Bakker.

“One glance showed that all us PhD’s were wrong. Leonardo the Dinosaur MummyDOES have his gut contents superbly – beautifully – fossilized. At last, we know what the single most important family of dino-species ate.”

Over the past four years, a talented crew of hi-tech, x-ray specialists have scanned and probed and computer-manipulated Leonardo, inventing new techniques. “Northing’s the same anymore…” Bakker mused, “from now on…all us dino-hunters will search for bones on the outside AND the secrets on the inside.”

Now, Leonardo has made his way down to Houston, for a very special exhibit, Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation. In this second video in our ongoing series (check out the first video in the series here), Dr. Bakker explains the inner workings of Leonardo’s species from The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta, Montana.

VIDEO: Mapping a dinosaur with Dr. Bob Bakker

As you can see from our newly-installed widget (see: right), we’re already excitedly counting down to the opening of Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation, a world premiere exhibition HMNS is developing to showcase Leonardo, one of the most spectacular dinosaur mummies ever found – and the only herbivore discovered with preserved stomach contents.

Oh, yeah – it’s also covered over 90 percent of its body with skin impressions. Until someone develops a time machine, looking at Leonardo is the closest you can get to seeing a living dinosaur.

Until it opens Sept. 19, we’ll be bringing you a series of behind-the-scenes videos of our paleontology department preparing for the exhibit – traveling to Montana, where Leonardo was discovered, working to prepare the fossils of another hadrosaur named Peanut for display and much more. What do you want to see? Let us know and we’ll do our best to get it on film.

In our first video, Dr. Bakker, David Temple and several of our paleontology volunteers create a map of Peanut that will help them study the specimen as it was discovered – even after the fossils have all been removed and mounted.


You can also download the audio-only version to listen on your mP3 player by right-clicking here. UPDATE: If you can’t see the video above, you can now check it out on YouTube.
UPDATE: Check out the second video in the series – Dr. Bakker explains why Leonardo is such an extraordinary find.