Dinosaurs Alive Exhibition and Facts About the Real Animals
Life-Sized Models and Dinosaur Facts
The Dinosaurs Alive exhibition was a recent highlight of the fair at the PNE in Vancouver, British Columbia. The annual fair is held in the second half of August and takes place at the Pacific National Exhibition in Hastings Park. The dinosaur exhibition consisted of life-sized or close to life-sized models, many of which were animatronic. The models were a great introduction to the real animals.
This article contains photos of some of the models as well as facts about dinosaurs in general and information about the real-life versions of the species on display. The photos were taken by me during my visits to the fair.
Introduction to Dinosaurs
Dinosaurs appeared about 230 million years ago. They became extinct around 66 million years ago (according to the latest assessments), except for the evolutionary line that produced modern birds. Birds have many skeletal similarities to dinosaurs as well as scales on their feet and the lower part of the legs. The similarities are so striking that many biologists consider birds to be a type of dinosaur instead of simply being descended from dinosaurs. Based on this idea, dinosaurs didn't become extinct. They live on in the form of birds.
As a group, dinosaurs were highly successful and existed for a very long time. During this time period, some species disappeared and others appeared. Based on our discoveries so far, the smallest species were slightly bigger than a chicken. We've discovered only limited remains of big animals, so their size is hard to estimate. Some seemed to have been huge, however.
The biggest dinosaurs known at the moment belonged to a group known as sauropods. These herbivorous animals had a very long neck and tail. Argentinosaurus huinculensis is believed to have been a massive sauropod and may have been one of the longest dinosaurs. It had an estimated length of 35 to 37 metres (114.8 to 121.4 feet). A single vertebra of this animal is as tall as a human.
Pterosaurs (a group of flying reptiles) and plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs (two groups of marine reptiles) were prehistoric animals, but they weren't dinosaurs.
Scales and Feathers
Scientists are continuing to find dinosaur fossils and are discovering new features of the animals' bodies and lives. Many dinosaurs seem to have been covered by scales, but some had feathers. The list of feathered animals is growing.
Dinosaur forelimbs covered in feathers are sometimes referred to as "wings", but researchers say that it's unlikely that feathered dinosaurs could fly. The feathers are believed to have been used for insulation or in displays to other members of the species. It's thought that some of the smaller and lighter feathered dinosaurs might have been able to glide, however. The idea that some of them could also fly hasn't been completely ruled out, especially in the evolutionary line that eventually produced today's birds.
Archaeopteryx is sometimes said to have been the first bird. It's more commonly believed to be a transitional form between feathered dinosaurs and birds. Researchers say that although the animal probably could fly, it was unlikely to have been a strong flier.
The fact that some dinosaurs had feathers has been established by the fossil record. Less certain is the idea that dinosaurs were warm-blooded (endothermic) instead of cold blooded (ectothermic). The term "warm-blooded" means that an animal maintains a warm temperature by processes and adaptations within their body. Cold-blooded animals have to change their body temperature by behaviours such as sun bathing to warm themselves up and moving into the shade to cool themselves down.
The proposal that at least some dinosaurs were endothermic is based on bone structure that seems to indicate rapid growth in the animals. Some researchers think that this high growth rate meant that dinosaurs must have been able to maintain a warm body temperature. Other researchers are less impressed by the evidence in the bones and think that the dinosaurs might have been mesothermic. A mesothermic animal can partially regulate its temperature by internal processes. The great white shark is an example of a modern animal that is mesothermic.
Biological Classification of Dinosaurs
Two different systems of biological classification are used—the Linnaean system, which is generally used by school students and the general public, and the phylogenetic system, which is used by most biologists. In the Linnaean system, organisms are placed in categories based on their appearance and structure. The phylogenetic system is based on clades (groups of organisms with a common ancestor) and evolutionary lines.
All dinosaurs belong to the clade known as the Dinosauria. This contains two smaller clades—the Ornithischia or bird-hipped dinosaurs and the Saurischia or lizard-hipped dinosaurs. Each of these contains even smaller clades. One of the clades within the Saurischia—the Therapoda—gave rise to modern birds.
It might be thought that birds must have originated from the Ornithischia, since the scientific and common name of the clade refers to birds. Biologists say that this isn't the case, however. A hip that resembles the one found in birds evolved twice in the dinosaur lineage—once in the Ornithischian line and once in the Saurischian line that led to birds.
Dinosaur classification changes over time as researchers discover new fossils and learn more about the animals. In addition, biologists sometimes disagree about the evolutionary lines within the Dinosauria clade.
The Dinosaurs Alive Exhibit: A Brief Review
The Dinosaurs Alive exhibit at the PNE included twenty dinosaurs, fourteen of which were animatronic. Moving parts in the animatronic models included some combination of the head, mouth, tongue, eyes, neck, tail, forelegs, or a hind leg. A roaring sound was played as a dinosaur moved, which was meant to represent the animal's voice.
The exhibit was both entertaining and educational, although it had some problems. One of these was the realism of the surface of some of the dinosaurs. The models had a slightly shiny, rubberized appearance. Bumps were used to represent scales. These features were successful in some models but less so in other ones. I did like the fact that the models had some accurate structural details and that their features reflected recent research, however.
Dinosaur facts were posted around the exhibit as well as in front of the models. More information would have been nice, though, especially in relation to the models and their real-life counterparts. The availability of a knowledgeable person who could answer people's questions would have been a great enhancement to the exhibit. A printed, audio, or downloadable tour guide would probably have been useful, too. The Dinosaurs Alive exhibit was free with admission to the PNE fair, however, which might have limited the desire of the exhibit's owner to offer anything other than a basic self-guided tour. Facts about some of the real dinosaurs depicted in the exhibit are given below.
At the moment, the colour of the vast majority of dinosaurs is unknown. Only the fossils of certain feathered dinosaurs have given us evidence of body colour. This is why different artists sometimes use different colours for a specific dinosaur.
Dakotaraptor was discovered in South Dakota and lived about 66 million years ago. It was a bipedal predator that was about 5.5 metres or 18 feet long. It's one of the biggest raptors known so far. "Raptor" is the common name for dinosaurs belonging to the Dromaeosauridae clade (or the Dromaeosauridae family in the Linnaean system). Velociraptor is another animal that belongs to the clade. This raptor was the size of a turkey, despite its depiction as a large animal in Hollywood movies.
The ulna from the forelimb of Dakotaraptor shows quill knobs where feathers were attached. Its forelimbs and perhaps its whole body were covered by feathers. A claw from the forearm can often be seen at the bottom of the wing in reconstructions of the animal. The term "wing" is used as a term for the feathered forelimb, as is often the case in dinosaur biology. Like Ostriches, Dakotaraptor couldn't fly. The large, curved claws on the animal's feet are known as sickle claws and were likely used to kill or hold down prey. The animal is thought to have been a good runner.
The model of Dakotaraptor in the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit looked more heavyset than the version shown in the illustration above. Neither the creator of the model nor the artist has made an error. Fossil remains of two versions of the dinosaur have been discovered. One version is slender while the other is robust. It's thought that this difference may be an example of sexual dimorphism. This is a phenomenon in which the male and the female of a species have noticeable differences in appearance. It's unknown whether the robust Dakotaraptor was the male or the female.
Qianzhousaurus was a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. It has been nicknamed Pinnochio rex due to its long snout. The dinosaur was discovered in China and like Dakotaraptor is thought to have lived about 66 million years ago. Its discovery was reported in 2014 and was exciting for the scientists who had suspected that long-snouted tyrannosaurs existed. Qianzhousaurus and T. rex belong to the clade (or family) known as the Tyrannosauridae.
Qianzhousaurus was a carnivore, like its relatives. It was probably a fearsome predator. It had long and narrow teeth while T. rex had wider ones. There were other differences between the snouts of the two animals, including the fact that Qianzhousaurus had small horns on the top of the snout.
Some dinosaurs had hair-like fibres on parts of their body, which formed what has been called "dino fuzz". The fibres were actually feather precursors or proto-feathers. Some researchers strongly suspect that T. rex and its relatives had this fuzz, at least in their juvenile stages. Others disagree with this idea. The creators of the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit have chosen to put the fibres on the back of the Qianzhousaurus model and on the juvenile T. rex model.
Tyrannosaurus rex lived in what is today western North America. At the time when T. rex was alive, the area was an island continent known as Laramidia. Laramidia was separated from the rest of North America by ocean. T. rex fossils date from 68 to 66 million years ago. The animal was a predator, though it may also have scavenged food.
Unlike the case for most dinosaurs, many T. rex fossils have been found. Even preserved soft tissue in the form of protein inside the animal’s bones (and recently in the bones of other dinosaurs) has been identified in fossils. This is a very exciting discovery, since soft tissue rarely survives the fossilization process. Dinosaur DNA hasn’t been found, however.
The largest and most complete T. rex skeleton known today has been named Sue. In life, Sue was about 12.3 metres (40 feet) long and about 3.7 metres (12 feet) tall at the hips. She died at about 28 years of age, which is thought to be around the maximum lifespan for her species.
T. rex had a very large head and a long tail. It was bipedal and walked on its powerful hind limbs. The forelimbs were much smaller. They each had two digits with claws and a smaller third digit without claws. The puzzle about whether the animal had feathers and if so to what extent is one that many scientists would love to solve. A covering of proto-feathers would change the appearance of T. rex significantly.
Regaliceratops was a horned dinosaur that was closely related to the better-known Triceratops. Both animals belonged to the clade or family known as the Ceratopsidae. Regaliceratops is believed to have lived about 70 million years ago. Its remains were discovered in the province of Alberta in Canada.
Unlike all the animals shown above, Regaliceratops belonged to the Ornithischian line of dinosaurs and was a quadruped. It was also a herbivorous animal. It had a large horn on its nose, a smaller horn over each eye, and other projections on its head. It also had a huge, decorated frill behind its head. The massive skull and frill of one animal was found to weigh 592 pounds once it was extracted from the ground.
The function or functions of the head ornamentation is unknown, but there are some theories in relation to Triceratops that may apply to Regaliceratops as well. The projections may have been used for defence. They may also have been used in courtship displays or in dominance displays when interacting with rivals.
Like Regaliceratops, Pinacosaurus was an Ornithischian dinosaur, a quadruped, and a herbivore. It lived in China and Mongolia 80 million to 75 million years ago. The animal is notable for the spikes on its head, the spiked plates of bone along its back that look like a suit of armour and the bony, club-shaped structure at the end of its tail.
Pinacosaurus belonged to the clade or family known as the Ankylosauridae. The clade contained armoured dinosaurs, which are sometimes referred to as living tanks. Their dermal plates protected them from their enemies. Their tail club is believed to have been used as a weapon.
Since bones of multiple Pinacosauruses have been found together, researchers suspect that the animals travelled in groups or herds. Their armour would probably have been excellent protection from predators, unless the herbivores were somehow flipped on to their back. This would have exposed their soft and vulnerable belly.
The Advantage of Dinosaur Models
Models can bring dinosaurs to life in a way that may not be possible for an illustration, especially when the models are life-sized. In order for this to happen, though, the model must be as realistic as possible. Ideally, it should also be based on our latest knowledge of dinosaurs. This may not be possible due to the expense of creating a large model and the time required for its creation.
The Dinosaurs Alive exhibition has appeared twice at the PNE fair. The 2016 exhibition was larger and more interesting than the 2015 one and was the basis for this article. It was definitely worth visiting, despite its limitations.
In 2017, an animatronic display of giant insects replaced the dinosaurs, which I didn't find as interesting. The dinosaurs weren’t present at the 2018 fair, either. In 2019, a display called Dinosaur Stomp appeared at the fair. The animated models in this display were created by the same company that created the Dinosaurs Alive exhibition.
I hope that another dinosaur exhibit appears at the PNE soon, perhaps in an improved form. Dinosaurs are a fascinating and intriguing group of animals. It's very enjoyable to learn about them.
- Birds are dinosaurs from the University of California Museum of Palentology
- Dakotaraptor: A Lethal Predator from the phys.org news service
- Long-snouted tyrannosaur unearthed from the Nature journal
- Regaliceraptops discovered in Canada from The Guardian
- Information about Tyrannosaurus rex from the American Museum of Natural History
- T. rex feathers or scales from the Smithsonian Magazine
- The ankylosaur clubbed tail from North Carolina State University
- Proteins in dinosaur bones from phys.org
© 2016 Linda Crampton