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!

Dino Derby: What was T. rex’ top speed?

How Fast was the T-rex?

Tyrannosaurus Rexstirs passions.  Adults get scared when they imagine a live T-rex chasing kids in a theme park. And kids get a thrill when they day-dream of having a T-rex as a pet.

We scientists get passionate too, we sometimes get so excited we yell at each other when we debate a  T-rex’s speed and hunting habits.

One PhD will start with: “T-rex was a slow-footed fumble-bum! And he didn’t kill anything – he just ate carcasses he found already dead!!”

Then a bunch of us will reply: “That’s just nuts!  Tyrannosaurus was faster than any big veggie-saur! And one bite could kill a duck-bill!”

Who’s right?

TOOLS & RULES.

We need tools – mathematical rules to tell us how fast an extinct animal could run and whether a meat-eater could catch his prey.

Lets take the CHEETAH versus LION.

First we need two critters, close relatives, who have very different top speeds. Lions and cheetahs are perfect. They’re both big cats and they have the same basic design in leg joints.

Cheetahs are way faster. Cheetahs hit nearly 70 mph in a sprint. Lions can’t go much faster than 40 mph.

LONG ANKLES.  Check out these two diagrams. Ok – where does the cheetah get its extra velocity?  From its ankles. Much of the high speed comes from longer ankle bones. The ankle length compared to the thigh length is a reliable speed index in close relatives.

That’s an old Rule that Darwin knew back in 1859.

T-REX versus DUCK-BILL

Duck-bills were the most common big veggie-saurs in the time of the T-rex. The question is, could a T-rex catch a duck-bill?

We need to measure ankles compared to thighs in a rex and a duck-bill of the same geological time zone. Duck-bills and T-rexes have basically the same style of hind legs. And the hind legs deliver all or almost all of their  forward thrust (Duck-bills did put their finger tips down on the ground while walking – but there wasn’t much weight on the forelimb.)

Check out diagram # 3. Here’s a T-rex with a thigh (femur) that’s 1200 mm long. And next to the T-rex is an Edmontosaurus, a big duck-bill.

Who has longer ankles?

THE T-REX!

The longest bones in the ankle are the metatarsals. And the rex has much longer metatarsals, compared to the duck-bill.

CONCLUSION:
T-REX COULD CATCH A DUCK-BILL EASILY, IN A SPRINT ON OPEN GROUND.

That’s cool.  But now we have more questions – how fast was a duck-bill and a T-rex, in mph?  And did a T-rex have the killing equipment necessary for bringing down live prey? Stay tuned for the answers to these questions.

Draw A Dino Contest: Winners!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who entered the Draw A Dino Contest, in honor of the world premiere exhibition of Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur in Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation.

We were totally amazed and overwhelmed by the fabulous dinosaur drawings that poured through our doors throughout the contest. The creativity – and scientific understanding – of our entrants is astounding.

The contest was judged by HMNS curator of paleontology Dr. Robert T Bakker, and winners were chosen in two categories: Scientific Accuracy and Artistic Effect. It was such a tough decision – and we were so impressed with every entry – that we’ll be posting a slideshow where they can all be seen – I hope you’ll come back soon to check them out – there are some very cool kids out there!

And the winners are…

Scientific Accuracy

Dr. Bakker picked Todd Blackmon’s drawing in the category of scientific accuracy because Todd did something very scientific – he labeled his drawing, pointing out the anatomy of T. rex. This is something Dr. Bakker himself always does in his drawings, because it helps people to learn and remember.

Here’s what Todd had to say about his winning illustration:

“My reason for entering the contest was to have fun. I wanted to follow the rules of the contest and draw T-Rex and point out his features. It was very challenging to look at the huge dinosaur and make him fit on a piece of paper.”

T. rex by Todd Blackmon

Artistic Effect

Dr. Bakker chose Myria Perez’ drawing for the category of Artistic Effect because of the compelling scene she created – a scene that’s both emotionally compelling and based on current scientific understanding of the circumstances surrounding Leonardo’s death, from the hypothesized flooding event to the cracks that can be seen in Leonardo’s abdomen today. If you visit the Dino Mummy exhibit, you’ll see just how accurate Myria’s artistic vision truly is.

Here’s what Myria had to say about her creation:

“Creating “Leonardo’s Death”
Creating Leonardo’s death was a thrilling experience!  I learned so much about his lifestyle.  Before I started the final drawing, I decided to have an action scene because I am certain Leonardo’s last moments were filled with action.  I wanted to draw a picture that showed that action and a lot of detail. 

The first sketch I did of Leonardo was just an idea based on what I could remember about the exhibit and how he died with the wound.  After the initial sketch, I went online to find pictures of Brachylophosaur and thought about different positions I could place Leonardo in.  I decided on a pose for him: slightly tipping, an open mouth out towards the sky, and his tail curved around the wound a Daspletosaurus gave his side. 

Leonardo’s last moments probably included rain and a flood to perfectly preserve him as a mummy.  I decided to have the water up almost to his knee, but with enough room to let you see the details of his wound.  One of my favorite parts about drawing this scene was there was a lot of splashing and action with the blood trickling down and the rain.  The blood from his side oozes from his side and then splashes in the water. 

I was able to show this by shading dark to light under the water ripples so it would look like it faded.  I found it challenging to show the rain hitting Leonardo and sliding down his body off into the water after being blown by the wind.  The part of the drawing that took me the longest was all of the small hard to see scales over the entire body of Leonardo.  The scales are larger on the front of his legs because he would have needed better protection to walk through the brush. 

Creating  “Leonardo’s Death” is a drawing experience that has changed how I will look at my future drawings.  “Leonardo’s Death” has been my most successful drawing so far!”

“Leonardo’s Death” by Myria Perez

Congratulations to Myria and Todd! They’ll both receive $200 gift certificates to Texas Art Supply – keep drawing! – and a signed dinosaur drawing by Dr. Bakker himself. And, thank you to everyone else who entered – we’ll be posting a slideshow of all their creative, fun and thoughtful drawings here soon.

Beyond the Bones: ABC-13 features Leonardo in 30-minute special

Ack! Paleontologists often take their lives in their
hands to get to fossils. In this shot, they’re looking
at some T. rex fossils on a two-foot ledge that’s
hanging over a 100-foot drop.

Thanks to Hurricane Ike, most of us were still without power when the Discovery Channel aired their documentary about Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur.

Luckily, a local ABC news crew came along on our recent trip to Malta, MT (it’s quite a trek) to see Leonardo, the mummy dinosaur, and venture out to the very remote site (about 2 hours outside a town that is 4 hours from the closest city) where this famous dinosaur was discovered.

It was an amazing experience – and ABC captured it all for their newest 30-minute special, Beyond the Bones: Dinosaur Mummy CSI, airing tomorrow night – Saturday, Oct 4 – after the 10 p.m. news. They braved the elements, trekked to the top of the highest cliffs, risked the ire of some very enthusiastic cows – and even hung outside of vehicles to bring you the story of an extraordinary 77-million year old duckbill dinosaur. If it sounds dramatic – that’s because it was.

Now that’s commitment.

As a photo, this is kind ofimpressive – in the sense that nowadays, anyone who doesn’t wear a seatbelt is perceived as a crazed loon. But I was in the car in front of this one – and what you don’t see is the foot-thick mud we’re fish-tailing through, the 200-foot cliff that’s only slightly to the left of this frame, the forty-degree incline of the hill and the pouring rain that’s obscuring all of the drivers’ vision. I felt like a crazed loon just for being there, and I was buckled in, windows up with a white-knuckle grip on the hang-bar. Mike (holding the camera) is just crazy-awesome – and I can’t wait to see the shots he got.

Art Rascon interviews paleontologist Mark Thompson,
who was on the dig that uncovered Leonardo.

The rain and the mud were so bad that only extremely tough vehicles could make it through to the site where Leonardo was discovered – which is located in one of many, many almost unbelievably gorgeous ravines that – out of nowhere – just fall away from solid ground. (It’s a good idea to watch where you’re going.)

It’s actually pretty tough to get there in normal conditions – so, our transport options were limited. When Mark, one of the paleontologists who was there when Leonardo was uncovered, jumped in the back to ride down to the site – Art and Mike rode with him to get an interview along the way. (Notice I am taking this photo from the safety of the car’s interior). This shot really does not do justice to the madness of trying to avoid being thrown from a vehicle that’s descending 40 degree, unpaved inclines littered with boulders – in the rain.

You can get in on the action – which covers everything from Leonardo’s life 77 million years ago and the site of his unexpected discovery in Montana to behind-the-scenes shots of the exhibit in Houston and the second hurricane Leonardo experienced – when ABC airs the special this Saturday night. Tune in – and come by to see Leonardo for yourself; he’s in Houston through Jan. 11, 2009.