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.

Your Dino Mummy Questions, Answered

Ed. Note: Leonardo has only been on display in Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation for a few weeks – but we’ve already gotten a ton of fascinating questions from visitors. In this post, Dr. Bakker  answers them. If you have a question about Leonardo – or anything on exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science – send it to blogadmin@hmns.org and we’ll post the answer here.

Dinosaur Mummy CSI presents scans of Leonardo that show gut contents and even a possible heart. Does Leonardo have lungs preserved?

There are some curious iron concretions revealed by the x-rays here but nothing definite.

Duck-bill dinosaurs do not have hollowed-out bones of the sort we see in birds and raptors and tyrannosaurs. Therefore we don’t expect that they had the very small lungs and big air chambers in the body cavity characteristic of modern birds.

The lungs would be tucked up high in the chest, covered by rib numbers 3,4,5,6 – if the lungs were like those of birds and crocodiles.

The drawings of Leonardo in the exhibit are very colorful – how do you know what colors dinosaurs had on their skin?

…theoretical stripes.

Think “Okapi.” That’s the giraffe-like thing in wet woodlands today.

Dinosaurs had bird-style eyes, so camouflage had to match habitat colors. Dull browns and greys were not good enough to fool an eagle-eyed gorgosaur.

Early Judithian environs had wet forests with big conifer trees and, in the rainy season, thick underbrush. Dry season would bring browns & rust colors.

So……..Mike Berglund (a dinosaur illustrator) has made a testable theory with his partially banded Brachy. Breaking the profile by having the tail a different color would help flummox predators, who would have a more difficult time seeing the whole body and tail shape. The thick verticals would help the beast blend in among the tree trunks.

How can we test color ideas?  More paleo-environmental research. More thinking about fossil pollen, turtles, crocodiles & salamanders….all witnesses to rainfall, groundwater, and floral geometry.

What animals alive today would be most like Leonardo?

Eland
Creative Commons License photo credit: The Anti-ZIM

The Antelope Family – most diverse family of medium-large planteaters on land today. The Antelope Family includes cows and buffalo, gazelles and oryx, funny-faced hartebeest and gnu, cute duikers and stately eland. Muskoxen and sheep and goats. Antelope supply most of the prey for lions, leopards, cheetah and hyenas.

The Duckbill Family is the most diverse, big-ish plant-eaters in the last part of the dinosaurian age, the Late Cretaceous. The Duckbill Family includes our HMNS Edmontosaurus, and the Trombone Dinosaur, Parasaurolophus (kids’ favorite). And the “Good-Mother” Maiasaura, who left us fossil eggs and nests. Leo’s species, Brachylophosaurus, is a duckbill too. Duckbills supplied most of the prey for all the tyrannosaur meateaters, such as Gorgosaurus, Daspletosaurusand the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.

The technical name for the Antelope Family is Family Bovidae, or “bovids” for short.

The technical name for the Duck Bill Family is Family Hadrosauridae, or “hadrosaurs” for short.*

Want to learn more about Leonardo and other dinosaurs?
See how we moved the 6-ton fossil into the museum.
See David Temple repairing and gluing a fossil back together.
Draw a dinosaur with Dr. Bakker.

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.