Skip to main content

Animatronic Dinosaurs and Facts About the Real Reptiles

Linda Crampton is a writer and experienced science teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys writing about science and nature.

Carnotaurus

Carnotaurus

Dinosaurs at the PNE Fair

The annual fair at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver always has some interesting exhibits. On several occasions, one of these exhibits has consisted of life-sized dinosaur models, most of which have been animatronic. Viewing the animals is a wonderful opportunity for people to appreciate the real reptiles based on our current knowledge of the creatures. In this article, I share some of my photos of the models as well as facts about the prehistoric animals.

In a recent exhibition, the dinosaur models were placed in the Italian Garden on the fair grounds, which provided an attractive backdrop for them. My photos show dinosaurs from this exhibit. A few years ago, the fair contained another animatronic dinosaur display created by the same company. With very few exceptions, the new animals were different from the earlier ones. The company seems to have a wide variety of models to chose from. The older exhibit was known as Dinosaurs Alive. The newer one was called Dinosaur Stomp.

The Immigrant's Memorial Monument by Sergio Comacchio; the main dinosaur exhibit was located on the lawn behind the monument

The Immigrant's Memorial Monument by Sergio Comacchio; the main dinosaur exhibit was located on the lawn behind the monument

The Italian Garden in Vancouver

The models in the Dinosaur Stomp exhibit were located in different parts of the Italian Garden. Most of the models were located on the lawn shown in the background of the photo above. The lawn is normally used for games such as bocce, which can be thought of as an Italian version of lawn bowling. A few dinosaurs were located in the ornamental part of the garden, as shown in the second photo below. It was strange to see the creatures surrounded by sculptures, fountains, and flowers.

The Italian Garden is sometimes referred to in the plural because it contains smaller areas that look different from one another and have their own attractions. The garden was created by the local Italian-Canadian community for everyone to enjoy for free. During the two weeks of the fair, however, a barrier separates the garden from the nearby road and sidewalk. The only way to enter the area at that time is by visiting the fair.

Anyone who wants to see the fair and the garden should visit the PNE's website. Promotions on some days allow people to enter the fairgrounds for a reduced rate or for no fee at all, provided certain requirements are met. In addition, the entry fee is generally cheaper when tickets are bought online than when purchased at stores or at the admission gate. Once a person is on the fairground, visiting the Italian Garden is free.

An unusual combination: sculptures of characters from Italian operas, black-eyed Susan flowers, Boston ivy leaves, and a Quetzalcoatlus model in the background

An unusual combination: sculptures of characters from Italian operas, black-eyed Susan flowers, Boston ivy leaves, and a Quetzalcoatlus model in the background

A Brief Look at the Geologic Time Scale

The geologic time scale consists of multiple categories. One of these categories is the era, which is divided into periods. Dinosaurs lived in the Mesozoic Era, which contains the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. The dates of these periods are given below.

The beginning and ending dates of the geologic time periods change slightly as scientists do more research and formulate new ideas. I obtained the times below from the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which is often considered to be the standard source for the dates.

  • Triassic: 251.9 to 201.3 million years ago
  • Jurassic: 201.3 to 145.0 million years ago
  • Cretaceous: 145.0 to 66.0 million years ago

Dinosaurs were extinct by the end of the Cretaceous Period. The exception to this statement might be the ancestors of birds. Researchers believe that birds are descended from dinosaurs or are actually dinosaurs. Though the end of the Cretaceous Period is often said to be 66 million years ago today, some people still use the older decision of 65 million years ago as the cut-off point.

Pachycephalosaurus (in the front) and Parasaurolophus at the Dinosaur Stomp

Pachycephalosaurus (in the front) and Parasaurolophus at the Dinosaur Stomp

The Dinosaur Exhibit at the PNE

The creators of the dinosaur models consult paleontologists and other experts before they design their constructions. They try to make their models as biologically accurate as possible based on the current scientific knowledge. The models are life-sized, but in some cases the creators have created smaller animals than adults and called them juveniles.

The animation of a particular dinosaur occurs at frequent intervals but not continuously. It's sometimes startling when the movement begins. The action is triggered by a motion sensor beside the model. A required pause after each movement cycle appears to overide the sensor.

A model moves its head and tail and its mouth opens. The bipedal animals move their front legs. The eyes of some of the models open and close, a process that increases the impression that they are alive. The movement of the models is accompanied by sounds that are popularly associated with the real animals. The undersurface of some of the dinosaurs moves in and out as they vocalize as though they are breathing.

The models are not the only attraction for children. The exhibit contains a sand pit where children can dig to reveal artificial dinosaur fossils. Based on my observations, children find both the models and the sand very interesting.

Our knowledge of dinosaurs changes over time as more fossils are discovered and better ways of examining them are created. Like the models, the information in this article reflects the most common ideas of scientists at the moment.

Quetzalcoatlus

Though Quetzalcoatlus was on display at the fair, the sign accompanying the model pointed out that it was a pterosaur, not a dinosaur. Pterosaurs were flying reptiles. Quetzalcoatlus may have been the largest flying animal that has ever lived. The reptile had a wingspan up to 35 (or perhaps up to 50) feet. It lived in North America between 68 and 65 million years ago. It's thought to have been carnivorous.

Quetzalcoatlus was a toothless animal whose body may have been covered with simple, hair-like structures. It had membranous wings that were attached to the forelimbs, a very long neck, and a crest on its head. When it travelled over land, which it's thought to have done very well, it probably used its hind feet and digits on its forelimbs for support. Some pterosaurs had coloured areas on their body. Quetzalcoatlus may have, too.

There is a lot of debate about the comparative length of time that the reptile spent in the air and on the ground. Some scientists say that the animal was likely a strong flier; others say that it was probably a weak one. A few have even suggested that it didn't fly.

A skeletal cast of Carnotaurus in a Prague mueum

A skeletal cast of Carnotaurus in a Prague mueum

Carnotaurus

Carnotaurus was a carnivorous South American predator. The model of the animal is shown at the start of the article and in the last photo in the sequence below. The animal's name means "carnivorous bull" in Latin. The reptile lived about 70 million years ago in the late Cretaceous Period. An adult was around 25 feet long.

Carnotaurus was bipedal, standing and moving on two legs. Its front legs were tiny and apparently very weak, even compared to those of most other bipedal dinosaurs. Strangely, the animal had horns on its head. The presence of horns and head ornamentation is generally associated with some of the herbivorous dinosaurs. Fossilized skin shows that Carnotaurus had a bumpy surface.

Some researchers have suggested that the broad head and the horns were useful when Carnotaurus was fighting rivals and other animals. Others have suggested that the horns were an ornamentation used to attract a mate.

The name dinosaur comes from the Greek word deinos, which means terrible, and the Greek word sauros, which was Latinized as saurus and means lizard. The name was created in 1842 by a paleontologist named Sir Richard Owen. Owen founded the Museum of Natural History in London, which is famous today.

Amargasaurus

Amargasaurus was a plant-eating dinosaur that lived in Argentina about 130 to 125 million years ago. It belonged to a group known as sauropod dinosaurs. These were herbivorous animals that mostly walked on four legs.

The animal had two rows of spines along its neck and two rows along its back. The neck spines were very long. The model shows the difference in size. It may be hard to see the shorter spines along the back because they are covered by skin and are coloured like the rest of the body. They can be seen in the skeletal cast shown in the photo sequence above.

The function of the spines is unknown. The back spines or both sets of spines may have supported sails of skin. Some researchers have suggested that the animal may have lowered its neck to show its spines to a potential predator as a threat. Some suspect that it may have always held its head low due to the weight of the neck spines.

Yangchuanosaurus

Yangchuanosaurus

Yangchuanosaurus lived in China 160-144 million years ago, which was in the late Jurassic period. The animal was a carnivore and grew as long as 33 feet. It was bipedal.

A juvenile Spinosaurus beside a basketball court

A juvenile Spinosaurus beside a basketball court

It's possible that at least some dinosaurs were coloured instead of being entirely grey. The creators of the models have placed colours on some parts of the animals to suggest this possibility, as they've done on the "sail" of Spinosaurus.

Spinosaurus

Spinosaurus lived in Africa 112 to 97 million years ago. An adult Spinosaurus was a large animal that was 46 to 59 feet long. This was longer than the body of a Tyrannosaurus rex. It had spines on its back that were extensions of its vertebrae. It probably had skin connecting and covering the spines so that the area resembled a sail, as in the animal above and in the video below.

As in other dinosaurs with the feature, suggestions for the sail's function have included social display, temperature regulation, and storage of fat, which could be used as an energy source when necessary.

Spinosaurus had a long and narrow head. Researchers know that it ate fish. It may have caught land animals as well, as a modern crocodile does. The video below is an interesting animation about what life may have been like for a Spinosaurus.

Mojoceratops was a ceratopsian dinosaur. The members of this group were herbivorous and beaked animals. The beak can be seen in the model below. Mojoceratops lived in the late Cretaceous period 75 to 74 million years ago. It has been found in Alberta and in Saskatchewan. Its head was highly decorated with horns.

Front view of Mojoceratops

Front view of Mojoceratops

Kosmoceratops

Kosmoceratops

Kosmoceratops

Like Mojoceratops, Kosmoceratops richardsoni (the only known species in the genus) was a ceratopsian dinosaur with a beak-like structure. It lived in Utah around 76 million years ago. The species name honours Scott Richardson, a volunteer working for the Natural History Museum of Utah, who found the first fossil of the animal in 2006.

The animal had the most ornate skull that has yet been discovered in dinosaurs. Based on the fossils found so far, a complete skull has fifteen horn-like structures and ten hook-like ones. Researchers suspect that the ornamentation was used to attract mates rather than for defence.

Omeisaurus

Omeisaurus

Omeisaurus lived in China around 160 million years ago. The different species varied considerably in size, but all of them had a long neck–the longest of any Jurassic sauropod, as far as we know. The tallest species had a height of 66 feet.

Dyoplosaurus

Dyoplosaurus belongs to a dinosaur group known as the ankylosaurs. The members of the group are known for their body armour and for a club at the end of their tail. The armour consisted of plates of bone known as osteoderms, which were located under the skin of the upper body and side.

Dyoplosaurus was a quadruped (one that walked on all four legs) and a herbivore. It's believed that its armour helped to protect the animal from an attack and that the club at the end of the tail was used to hit the attacker. Remains of a single species have been found in Alberta. The species lived around 76 million years ago.

Tuojiangosaurus

Tuojiangosaurus was a herbivore and a relative of the Stegosaurus. (The name of the animal on the display board in the photo above is spelled wrong.) The reptile lived in China between 155 and 145 million years ago. An adult was about 23 feet long.

The animal had a small head and a bulky body. The top of its neck, back, and tail bore triangular plates. The plates were replaced by spikes at the end of the tail. In Stegosaurus and perhaps in Tuojiangosaurus as well, the plates may have been used for display purposes or for temperature regulation. The tail spikes may have been used in defence.

Tyranosaurus rex or T. rex

A Tyrannosaurus rex model was included in the Dinosaurs Alive display, but it was nice to see it again at Dinosaur Stomp. The T. rex was the largest model in the exhibit and understandably seemed to be very popular, especially as the crowds built up in the afternoon of my visits.

T. rex lived in the western part of North America. An adult was 15 to 20 feet tall and around 40 feet long. The animal was a fierce predator. It had a thick and strong skull and serrated teeth. Its long tail could give a powerful swing. Despite the animal's overall strength, as in Carnotaurus the forelimbs of a T. rex were tiny. They may have played only a minor role in the animal's life.

T. rex appears to have been a very successful animal. Like many other dinosaurs, however, it became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. The two leading theories to explain this extinction both involve a massive change to Earth's surface and atmosphere. An asteroid hitting the Earth, major volcanic eruptions, or both of these factors may have killed some organisms directly and others indirectly.

Triceratops

The T. rex and the Triceratops were the biggest models at the exhibition and were placed beside each other. Triceratops was a ceratopsian that lived in North America between 66 and 68 million years ago. Like all prehistorical dates, the time period when the animal lived may change as more fossils are discovered.

Paleontologists think that an adult Triceratops was around 30 feet long and weighed somewhere being 12,000 and 16,000 pounds. The animal had three horns, a very noticeable beak, and a large, frilled, and bony plate behind its head.

Thought the Tyrannosaurus and the Triceratops models were placed beside each other at the exhibition, this close arrangement is unlikely to have happened in real life. The UK's Natural History Museum website says that one Triceratops fossil has a damaged horn with marks matching those of a T. rex’s teeth. The damage appears to have healed, suggesting that the animal survived the attack.

The museum also says that most ceratopsians appeared to live in herds, which may have given individuals some protection against predator attacks. Remains of Triceratops are generally found on their own, however, which suggests that the animals frequently travelled alone.

Instead of being automatically animated, the Parasaurolophus model was controlled by visitors pressing buttons on a control pad.

Instead of being automatically animated, the Parasaurolophus model was controlled by visitors pressing buttons on a control pad.

Parasaurolophus was a herbivorous North American animal that could probably move on two legs or four. It's thought that it foraged on four legs but ran from predators on two. It's believed to have lived from 76 to 73 million years ago.

Pachycephalosaurus

Pachycephalosaurus

Pachycephalosaurus

Pachycephalosaurus was another bipedal dinosaur with small forelimbs. The animal lived in North America around 70 to 65 million years ago. It was probably herbivorous but may have eaten some meat. It had an unusual feature, even for a dinosaur. A solid dome of bone was located on the top of its head. The dome may have been used in head-butting or flank-butting another animal, though this is by no means certain.

The dome had bony knobs behind it, as shown in the model. Another unusual feature was the existence of bony spikes on the animal's snout, which are also shown in the model. The front of the snout had an unusual beak-like structure. The animal's anatomy suggests that its brain was small, though it's unknown how this affected its life.

Ouranosaurus

Ouranosaurus

Ouranosaurus was a herbivorous dinosaur that lived in Africa during the early Cretaceous period. The back bore a sail containing spines. As in other dinosaurs with a sail, the structure may have been used for display, to help regulate the animal's temperature, or to provide energy from muscles and/or fat in the sail.

An Enjoyable and Educational Exhibit

I often enjoy a combination of entertainment and education. The Dinosaur Stomp exhibit provided this combination, though it would have been