If you have even a passing interest in dinosaurs, get your four-limbed skeleton (that’s what we have in common with our ancient ancestors, BTW) to the American Museum of Natural History, where it is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a spectacular new exhibition dedicated to the Tyrannosaurus rex. “T. rex: The Ultimate Predator,” on view through August 9, 2020, features a half-dozen movie-ready tyrannosaur models and one unforgettable centerpiece: a 40-foot long, wildly colorful, feathered, and scaled T. rex.
Ever since Barnum Brown, the flamboyant Kansas-born paleontologist, discovered the first partial skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex way back in 1900—yes, a man named after America’s consummate showman, P.T. Barnum, quite literally dug up the most fantastic beasts our country had ever seen—AMNH has played a pivotal role in the long-lasting popularization of dino-mania. Brown’s original specimen—reconfigured from its original posture, but still standing in the museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—helped kick off a 20th-century fascination with dinosaurs that continues to this day. So it’s only fitting that the museum leads the way in examining the T. rex anew.
The current model has the T. rex trapped in what museum experts call a “James Dean life cycle” of living fast and dying young.
“When I first started out, there were maybe 16 of us getting paid to study dinosaurs full-time,” says Gregory Erickson, a paleobiologist who contributed to the exhibition. As a result, our understanding of the predator—how it looked, how it moved, what it ate—was primitive. In the early ’90s, though, paleontology became integrated. Kinesiologists, ecologists, botanists, geneticists, physicists, evolutionary scientists, and all manner of specialists began sharing information that led to new understandings of how these eon-old creatures lived and died. The current model has the T. rex trapped in what museum experts call a “James Dean life cycle” of living fast and dying young. The baby T. rex at the show’s entrance is a Muppet-y bundle of fluff, not much bigger than a particularly large chicken, but the 4-year-old juvenile model in the main gallery has the heft and height of an NBA player. A teenage T. rex’s outrageous growth spurt, packing on more than 140 pounds of weight a month, was facilitated through an insatiable appetite, slaked by both hunting and scavenging carrion. The final result was a monster the size of a bus with a bite nearly three times as powerful as that of an alligator. It’s presumed that these giants would be lucky to live past the age of 30.
Peckish? Hit up Maison Pickle and Levain Bakery before or after your dino-rrific trip. For more recs, download the WSWD app!
Also updated: the nature of a museum exhibition itself. The 30-foot-long gallery wall at the show’s exit features a gargantuan, real-time computer-animated Cretaceous forest, patrolled by both an adult and baby T. rex. These light-sensitive, animated dinosaurs react with roars and give chase to real-world shadows, encouraging play between museumgoers and tyrannosaur cartoons. AMNH is also hosting a four-player headset VR game, in which players work cooperatively to assemble a T. rex skeleton in virtual space.
Over the next two years, the museum will introduce several more special events and gallery reopenings in honor of its sesquicentennial, including fresh looks for the Hall of Meteorites, Hall of Gems and Minerals, and Northwest Coast Hall. For the moment, the T. rex reigns not only as the king of dinosaurs but the star of the science world’s hottest show.
“T. rex: The Ultimate Predator”
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West and West 79th Street, Upper West Side
Through August 9, 2020
$23; $18 for students and seniors; $13 for children 2–12