This is not your grandfather’s T. rex! Scientists’ ideas about dinosaurs are changing. An exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City explores the latest research, discoveries—and speculation—about the tyrannosaur superfamily. It focuses on everyone’s fearsome favorite, the Tyrannosaurus rex. In keeping with T. rex’s reputation, the exhibit is called T. rex: The Ultimate Predator.
“Ultimate Predator”? Just look at that fluffy little hatchling! Did we say “fluffy”? Yes, but “downy” might be a better word choice. Scientists now believe that baby tyrannosaurs were covered with wispy feathers. Those scientists are also studying birds in earnest—not just modern-day lizards like alligators. For more than 100 years, scientists have bickered over whether the extinct creatures were more lizard-like or more bird-like.
According to museum curator Mark Norell, it’s only in the last 20 years that paleontologists have found enough fossils from juvenile and baby dinosaurs to begin to form theories about how dinosaurs grew and changed. The past lack of evidence inhibited informed conclusions. Still today, however, with a growing body of fossil evidence, scientists are in disagreement: Are these really young Tyrannosaurus rex fossils? Or are they fossil remains of smaller dinos of a different species?
For the most part, the researchers behind the exhibit presume they have a trustworthy base of T. rex data to work from. The exhibit features life-sized models of the big guy at three stages: hatchling, juvenile (estimated to be four years old), and mature adult. Visitors can marvel over the tremendous growth the creature had to achieve—and rapidly. If T. rex started life about the size of a skinny turkey, he had to gain from three to five pounds daily (and more in the “teen” years) to reach his mature size of about nine tons.
On the museum tour, guests see fossils and casts of bones and footprints. They can work with others to put together a virtual reality T. rex skeleton. And they’ll learn how paleontologists interpret clues gleaned from fossils, other artifacts, and modern animals to form their theories.
It’s not easy putting together an accurate picture of a creature no one has ever seen alive. But ever since the first dinosaur bones were discovered in the late 1600s, these extinct animals have fascinated people of all ages, occupations, and interests. Scripture says there is “nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17, NIV) Might that even refer to the mysteries of God’s works of creation that have already passed away from our experience?