Animatronic dinosaurs move into new digs at Academy of Natural Sciences

Gavin Fisher, 5, peers into the mouth of an animatronic iguanodon at the Academy of Natural Sciences'

Gavin Fisher, 5, peers into the mouth of an animatronic iguanodon at the Academy of Natural Sciences' "Dinosaurs Around the World" exhibit. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Two new dinosaurs have joined the bronze Deinonychuses outside the Academy of Natural Sciences. They are much larger, much more colorful, and part of a traveling exhibition featuring nearly a dozen animatronic dinosaurs from the time of Pangea — the supercontinent of earth’s distant past.

“’Dinosaurs Around the World’ will take us way back in time,” Scott Cooper, president of the Academy of Natural Sciences said Friday, previewing the dinos to a group of schoolchildren. “Moving, roaring dinosaurs — it’s thrilling to imagine what the massive creatures were like in real life.

 

Inside, there’s a collection of smaller animatronics of dinosaurs from more than 100 million years ago. Project manager Heather Greenleaf said the exhibition started touring two years ago and is designed to feel immersive.

“It lets people walk among the dinosaurs and be part of their world, like you’re taking a tour through a dinosaur park — a national park that has dinosaurs,” Greenleaf said.

Imagine Exhibitions, the company that made the dinos, turned to Florida State University paleobiologist Gregory Erickson to make sure they were scientifically accurate.

Some, like the well-known velociraptor, look much different in the exhibition than they do in the classic Jurassic Park movie — they have feathers and a thick coat, as opposed to scales.

Our understanding of these creatures is constantly evolving, Erickson said.

“I think we get the general posture right, the tail up in the air, which didn’t used to be the case,” he said. “It used to be thought that they were tail-draggers. But most of them actually had their tails up in the air.”

A man in a dinosaur costume makes an appearance at the Academy of Natural Sciences for the opening of an animatronic dinosaur exhibit. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

We only know the color of one or two dinosaurs for sure, he said. And movement is especially difficult to study.

“Frankly, we really don’t know much about the movements of these animals. We don’t know much about the biology of any dinosaur for that matter,” Erickson said.

“Movement is one of those things that’s hard to capture in the fossil record,” he acknowledged.

An animatronic velociraptor with skin, feathers and movements, is reconstructed from evidence provided by fossil bones. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The bronze Deinonychuses statues outside the academy? They’re scaly, lizard-looking things, cast in 1987. Today, scientists believe Deinonychus was actually covered in feathers, too.

“Our science moves fast. There’s a new dinosaur named about every week or so,” said Erickson. “When new finds are made, it changes our thoughts as to who’s related to who, or how big they got, or what they ate. You name it — it always needs updating.”

The exhibit opens to the general public on Sunday and is scheduled to run until mid-January.

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