Dinosaurs invade the San Diego Natural History Museum


She is 32.8 feet long. She weighs more than 8,800 pounds. She has a 7-foot long neck, complete with spines. She was probably an herbivore, and most likely swallowed her ferns and gingkos whole, due to a lack of teeth. And in truth, she may or may not be a she.

The scientists call her an Amargasaurus, but her friends call her, “Margie.” And once you visit her and her fellow dinosaur skeletons at the San Diego Natural History Museum’s new “Ultimate Dinosaurs” exhibition, you can call her, “Margie,” too.

“We spend so much time with these guys, we have given them names and jobs and personalities,” said “Ultimate Dinosaurs” tour manager Breezy Callens, looking up at the massive Amargasaurus. “We say Margie works in a diner in New Jersey. She chain smokes and complains that her feet are always hurting. I love her because she is so insane looking.”

The Amargasaurus is one of 16 free-standing dinosaur skeletons featured in the new exhibit, which opens Saturday and will be ruling theNAT’s Balboa Park roost through Sept. 4. And like her exhibit comrades the Eoraptor, the Suchomimus and the aptly named Giganotosaurus, Margie is part of a new group of dinosaurs that are just beginning to appear on the popular culture radar.

Who are these great beasts? Where did they come from? And why is one of them named after a rock ‘n’ roll star? The answer to these and other questions await at theNAT, where the dinosaurs roam and your inner 8-year-old (or your actual 8-year-old) will be dying to come out and play. Don’t forget your pith helmet.

Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibition

When: Through Sept. 4, 2017

Where: San Diego Natural History Museum, 1788 El Prado, Balboa Park

Cost: $8-28


Ultimate Dinos 101

The Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit was produced by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which is why the text blocks are written in English and French. The touring show is presented by the Science Museum of Minnesota, and it is making its West Coast debut at theNAT. Your ticket includes admission to all of the museum’s exhibits and its 2D and 3D films.

As for Margie and her crew, they are resin copies of full-scale dinosaur skeletons. The major news about many of these dinosaurs is that they are new. Or at least as new as a dinosaur can get.

In Ultimate Dinosaurs, you will meet a group of dinosaurs that evolved in isolation in the Southern Hemisphere after the break-up of the large supercontinent of Pangaea into two smaller supercontinents some 150 million years ago. There was Laurasia (which included North America, Europe and Asia) and Gondwana (which included South America, Australia, Africa and Madagascar).

The dinosaurs most of us know and are able to pronounce - Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex - were North American dinosaurs. The creatures featured in Ultimate Dinosaurs are a product of Gondwana. And many of them were only discovered within that last few decades.
“This is a whole new assemblage of dinosaurs that are unfamiliar to us Northern Hemisphere dwellers who are so used to thinking about T. Rex and Triceratops and the Brontosaurus,” said Tom Deméré, the Natural History Museum’s curator of paleontology. “All of the dinosaurs we grew up with were thought to be the only dinosaurs around. We see now that the dinosaur family tree is much more diverse and much bushier, which is dramatically displayed by these skeletons.”

Meet the newbies

Plan on starting your journey with the short animated film that explains the breakup of Pangaea and what that meant to our early dinosaur communities. Take a moment to pay your respects to the petite skeleton of the Eoraptor, a small bipedal dinosaur that lived on Gondwana about 228 million years ago, making it one of the earliest known dinosaurs.

“We think of dinosaurs as these hulking creatures, but look at this,” museum president and CEO Judy Gradwohl said of the 3-foot-long Eoraptor, which was discovered in Argentina in 1991. “In this exhibit, you can go from seeing one of the smallest and oldest dinosaurs to the Giganotosaurus, one of the largest and the youngest.”

In between, you can get a human’s-eye view of an astounding group of eccentric characters. Starting with one that isn’t even a dinosaur.

That would be the Simosuchus crocodilian, a small, pug-nosed crocodile that was discovered in Madagascar just 17 years ago. And what it lacks in dino bonfides it makes up for in anatomical audacity.

“He’s not a dinosaur, but he is fun,” Callens said of the Simosuchus skeleton, which looks like a dog wearing an armadillo costume. “He looks like some sort of weird lizard dog.”

The Creepy-Cute award goes to the Majungasaurus, a 26-foot long, one-ton horned predator whose terrifying presence is slightly undermined by its teeny, tiny arms and totally useless hands. Best Nickname? Definitely Cryolophosaurus, a 20-foot long carnivore known unofficially as “Elvisaurus,” due to the crest on its head that resembles Presley’s pompadour.

The Best Bio prize goes to Masiakasaurus knopfleri, a small predatory dinosaur whose name was inspired by the discovering paleontologists’ devotion to Dire Straits singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler. Here’s hoping Knopfler is not offended by his namesake’s nightmare teeth, which point straight out from its mouth in a terrifying way.

Hello, big shot

We will award the Delayed Gratification prize to anyone who can wait until the end of their tour to drop in on Giganotosaurus. This dino’s arrival in the Late Cretaceous Period (100 to 65 million years ago) puts it at the end of the exhibit’s timeline, but at 43 feet long and 13,200 pounds, the Giganotosaurus looms over Ultimate Dinosaurs like Godzilla staring down you and your matinee popcorn. You can’t look away.

Best of all, the Giganotosaurus station includes augmented reality screens that allow you to see what the skeleton would look like with skin and moving parts. No matter when you drop by, you will leave with a big-time appreciation of our planet and the wild ride that has brought us to where we are today.

“I hope this exhibit puts things in perspective for people,” Callens said. “It makes you feel small, but in a good way.”
Twitter: @karla_peterson;