Dinosphere

Contents of the exhibit

Dinosphere’s Paleo Prep Lab gives children and families the opportunity to watch paleontologists clean bones and have their question answered by working scientists.

Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World® is a one-of-a-kind exhibit designed to immerse visitors into the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs last roamed the earth. Dinosphere features real T. rex, Gorgosaurus, and Triceratops fossils and other rare specimens set in realistic environments with dynamic lighting and sound effects. It also includes the Paleo Prep Lab where paleontologists work on real fossils bones discovered at family and educator dinosaur digs.

Opening reception

When Dinosphere opened in June 2004, it attracted attention from scientists worldwide. It also attracted national press attention, with articles appearing in The New York Times, USA Today, Time for Kids, and U.S. News & World Report and segments airing on CNN, ABC, NBC, NPR, and National Geographic Online. Local PBS affiliate WFYI created a 30-minute documentary about the gallery, as well as a series of short public service announcements dubbed “Fossil Facts.” WISH-TV 8 also produced a special program about the development of Dinosphere.

Dinosphere’s Unique Specimens

Gorgosaurus: Dinosphere is home to one of the most complete skulls and skeletons found to date of a Gorgosaurus, which means “fearsome lizard.” A cousin to T. rex, Gorgosaurus lived about 70 to 80 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous period. (T. Rex came along some 3 to 5 million years later.) The Gorgosaur in Dinosphere suffered extensive injuries including a broken fibula, crushed tailbones, broken ribs, and a shattered shoulder blade. Last but not least, it had a brain tumor; it may be the first dinosaur brain tumor ever discovered. The Gorgosaurus was discovered in Teton County, Montana, in 1997 by the Linster family of amateur paleontologists—Cliff, Sandy, and their seven children. Its skeleton is about 75 percent complete and the skull is about 90 percent complete.

“Bucky” (left) and “Stan” (right) the T. rexes attack “Kelsey” the Triceratops in Dinosphere.

“Bucky” and “Stan” the T. rexes: “Bucky” is a teenage T. rex named after Bucky Derflinger, a rancher and rodeo cowboy who was just 20 years old when he discovered the fossilized skeleton in South Dakota in 1998. Derflinger is the youngest person ever to find a T. rex. Although still young, Bucky the teenage T. rex is big—about 34 feet long and more than 10 feet tall, making it about 75 percent of the size of an adult. Bucky is the first juvenile tyrannosaur ever placed on permanent exhibit in a museum, and the first T. rex found with a furcula—a boomerang-shaped “wishbone.” The furcula is thought to be an evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds.

In 2004, the Children’s Museum Guild published Bucky, The Dinosaur Cowboy, a children’s book written by Kay Cunningham, then the museum’s vice president of education and experience development. The book’s story is loosely based on the life of Derflinger.

Stan is an adult T. rex named for Stan Sacrison, the amateur paleontologist who discovered him in South Dakota in 1987. Stan has what is thought to be the best-preserved and most complete dinosaur skull ever discovered! The fossilized bones in Stan's skull were found separated from each other, which allowed them to be preserved for millions of years in excellent condition with little distortion or crushing. Dinosphere's Stan is a cast. The original Stan is in the collection of the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, South Dakota.

Leonardo: The Mummified Dinosaur: Leonardo is the museum's newest dino, having arrived in March 2014 in celebration of Dinosphere's 10th anniversary. Arguably the most scientifically important dinosaur ever discovered, when this fossilized Brachylophosaurus was carefully unearthed in the Montana Badlands in 2002, researchers had their first real look at the skin, the scales, the foot pads, and even the stomach contents of the behemoths that roamed the planet 77 million years ago. Leonardo is considered the best-preserved dinosaur specimen discovered to date, with about 90 percent of his tissue fossilized. Leonardo is on long-term loan to The Children’s Museum  from The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station in Malta, Montana.

Dracorex hogwartsia: In 2004 Dinosphere became home to the skull of a creature so unique that it was recognized as a new genus and species. Discovered in South Dakota by three friends digging for dinosaur bones, the skull was in pieces. Carefully reassembled in the museum’s Paleo Prep Lab, the skull proved to be dragon-like in appearance. It was from a new member of the Pachycephalosaur family, a dinosaur in need of a name. As the recipient of the skull, the museum got the honor. While it was displayed in Dinosphere, many visitors noted that it looked like a dragon.

Noted paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker, an advisor for Dinosphere, made a fitting suggestion—one that is a tribute both to the skull’s resemblance to that of a dragon and the popularity of a series of books in which dragons played an important role: Dracorex (“Dragon King”) hogwartsia (in honor of the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series). When contacted for permission to use the term hogwartsia, Rowling replied: “The naming of Dracorex hogwartsia is easily the most unexpected honor to have come my way since the publication of the Harry Potter books!”

The Lanzendorf Collection

Located on Level 2 of Dinosphere is the Mann Properties Gallery featuring the John Lanzendorf Collection of Dinosaur Imagery. The gallery features works from the world’s largest collection of Paleo art, which was acquired by the museum from Chicago-based collector John Lanzendorf. In keeping with the creativity on display in both Dinosphere and the art gallery, the museum commissioned paleo artist Michael Skrepnick to create three original oil paintings for the gallery, which illustrate the three major dinosaur scenes within Dinosphere.

Exterior dinosaur sculptures

The three Alamosaurs that burst from Dinosphere’s exterior walls delight visitors on their approach to the museum.

Prior to the 2004 opening of Dinosphere, sculptor Brian Cooley was commissioned to create one adult and two juvenile Alamosaurs for the exterior of the Dinosphere’s domed enclosure. The idea behind Cooley’s work was to make it look to passers-by that the trio was breaking through the dome’s wall. Those dinosaurs and two others created in 2009 by sculptor Gary Staab for the museum’s new Welcome Center (a 70-foot-tall adult and small baby Brachiosaurus peering inside the main entry) show what an important role dinosaurs play among the museum’s many attractions.

International Advisory Panel

The culmination of three years of planning, research, and construction, Dinosphere was developed with input from an international advisory panel. The panel consisted of: Peter and Neal Larson, founders of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research; Dr. Phil Currie and Dr. Eva Koppelhus from Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology; Dr. Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago’s Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy; world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker; Dr. Dong Zhiming, research professor at the China Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology; Michael Skrepnick, acclaimed dinosaur artist from Alberta, Canada; John Lanzendorf, Chicago-based dinosaur art collector; Dr. John Falk and Dr. Lynn Dierking, founders of the Institute for Learning Innovation in Annapolis, Maryland; and David Cassidy, education consultant and The Children’s Museum’s former director of education.

Dinosphere’s place in museum history

Dinosphere was a logical extension of the museum’s longstanding commitment to paleontology, which began with a plaster cast of dinosaur footprint brought back from a Prairie Trek expedition in 1932 and went on to include the excavation (1976–79) and display of the Mastodon skeleton, now on Level 4, a traveling exhibit of dinosaur-related artworks from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles called Dinosaurs Past and Present in 1989, and the 1999 exhibition Kinetosaurs: Putting Some Teeth into Art and Science, which featured life-sized mechanical steel dinosaur sculptures.

Since 2004 Dinosphere has been visited by millions of museum visitors; some stay only long enough to ooh and ah at the displays, others linger to study the amazing specimens, the painstaking work being done in the Paleo Prep Lab, and the stunning artworks. But Dinosphere is more than a well-executed exhibit. The careful planning and attention to accuracy that went into its design have made it appealing to dinosaur fans and scientists alike.

Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World® was made possible by many generous donors and supporters. Learn more about the museum’s transformational donors.