On this day in dinosaurs, the Nation’s T. rex arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History ahead of its full unveiling as part of the much anticipated Hall of Deep Time, which will open to the public in 2019.
The Smithsonian has long coveted an authentic fossil specimen of the world’s most famous dinosaur. Until recently, a cast replica of the beast (‘Stan’ to be precise) has been on display. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has come to the rescue, loaning this Tyrannosaurus to the museum for at least the next 50 years.
This T. rex is nearly complete and was discovered in 1990 by Kathy Wankel. The big brute was known as the “Wankel Rex” for years, as it took up residence at The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Now, it will become one of the showpieces in the Smithsonian’s grand pageant of life through the ages.
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On this day in dinosaurs, the great name is first written. For the first time in history, the dinosaurs get their name.
Sir Richard Owen, the brilliant and egomaniacal anatomist, coined the word ‘dinosauria’ meaning ‘fearfully great’ or ‘terrible’ lizards. On this day in 1842, 1,500 copies of Owen’s Report on British Fossil Reptiles was published. In the report, Owen first described dinosaurs as being a distinct group of extinct animals that shared anatomical characteristics.
The most notable of these, according to Owen, was the fusion of the sacral vertebrae–the bones at the base of the hips and lower back. Owen noticed the fused sacral vertebrae in Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus–classifying the three into his new Dinosauria. The fused sacral vertebrae, Owen argued, confirmed that dinosaurs were adapted to a life on land. This adaptation helped support their immense weight.
While Owen was a successful man, by any measure, his highs and lows as both a person and a scientist are all overshadowed by the contribution he made on this day in dinosaurs–giving us the most alluring, exciting, and deliciously sonorous name for our favorite Mesozoic creatures.
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In modern society, you don’t want to be labeled “a dinosaur.” The word strongly conjures feelings of extreme old age, bound for extinction, past one’s prime. In a word, a dinosaur is something outdated. But this unfortunate preference toward obsolescence is a trick of language, not a reflection of reality. If there’s anything someone wants to be, it’s most certainly a dinosaur.
Firstly, dinosaurs are neither complete extinct, nor obsolete. Their direct descendants, birds, are more varied and vivacious today than in the Mesozoic–living in the most extreme climates on the planet and continue to carry the dinosaur trademarks in their bodies and in their DNA. Dinosaurs are physically still with us.
But dinosaurs are with us in our imaginations as well. We humans are beguiled by the non-avian giants, the titans of their time. We are spellbound by their skeletons and yearn to know more about their lives. Some of us spend our entire lives hunting their remains while our museums accept tens of millions of visitors each year to see Mesozoic relics up close. The last of the non-avian dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago and yet we–who never saw a living non-avian dinosaur–pursue them past the boundaries of death and time.
So “dinosaur” isn’t really a great ‘dig’ (okay, I have to confess I really did not intend that pun, but once I wrote it there was absolutely no way I could retract it. I also can’t apologize for it.). We should want our descendants to survive for millions of years. We should aim to inspire the generations to come. And, like the dinosaurs, we should be ready to adapt and change with the challenges nature presents to us. Because we are newcomers–a few million years and most species are extinct. But the dinosaur lineage persisted for something like 150 million years. Anyone should be happy to be dubbed a dinosaur.
Know any dinosaurs? Whether they’re the old, obsolete kind of dinosaur or the ultimate survivors, we want to see your pictures on Facebook and Twitter. Tag us in your photo and use the hashtag #TDIDinos.
On this day in dinosaurs, a new, “prominent toothed” carnivore emerged from the geologic abyss.
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico is synonymous with the Triassic dinosaur, Coelophysis. The remains of this bipedal creature are numerous and blocks of stone loaded up with skeletons of Coelophysis have been retrieved from the site for decades. One of these blocks, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, was being prepared at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, when a volunteer preparator found something unusual. Several skeletal fragments in the block did not belong to Coelophysis.
After careful study, a group of researches officially named Daemonosaurus–the “prominent toothed demon reptile”–on this day in 2011. They estimate the animal was around 7 feet long and weighed around 50 pounds. There may yet be more of Daemonosaurus lurking in the Ghost Ranch rocks, among scores of Coelophysis.
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2015 – Tyrant Kings Exhibit Opens at Museum of the Rockies
On this day in dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus took center stage in Bozeman, Montana at the Museum of the Rockies. The Tyrant Kings exhibit showcases the world’s premier collection of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, including an authentic fossil skeleton that’s 40 feet long.
Another highlight of the exhibit is a T. rex skull growth series, showing how the animal grew and changed as it aged. It’s a reminder of how dynamic the lives of these long extinct animals were. The exhibit is a window into the Hell Creek Formation at the very end of the age of dinosaurs–just before the non-avian dinosaurs met their fate.
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We often see dinosaurs in ones and twos in museums. Even in movies, dinosaurs are often loners. Sometimes they’re in a group, but rarely do we imagine them like wildebeest or bison–thousands of them surging through the Mesozoic landscape. We know from their trackways and their death assemblages that they migrated in herds. We have also found their nesting grounds. So imagining dinosaurs as solitary is perhaps the product of an individualistic culture.
After you’re done reading this post, close your eyes. Picture your favorite herbivorous dinosaur. Maybe a long-necked Brachiosaurus or a ceratopsian like Centrosaurus. Now imagine them stretching across the horizon, kicking up dust. The herd moves along, grunting, pounding the earth with their footsteps. They are trailed by predators, large and small. Above, pterosaurs are swirling in the warming thermal updrafts. And through the oppressive heat, wind, and thunderstorms, the herd moves on–driven by primal instincts toward food and shelter and the rhythms of life that continue in our time.
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On this day in dinosaurs, we celebrate a British paleontologist whose tireless pen has illuminated millions of minds to prehistory. From paleontology textbooks to consulting work on television documentaries, Michael Benton has been a prolific scientist and author, bringing the ancient Earth to life for decades.
We salute you Dr. Benton and long may your research continue!
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