Diggin' For Dinosaurs - Fort Worth Museum
Fort Worth Museum of Science & History, Texas
Many palaeontologists trace their obsession with extinct life to a formative childhood experience in a museum, when they first encountered the towering skeleton of a dinosaur. Today there are hundreds of dinosaurs to see in museums from coast to coast, ranging from modest, small-town operations to hallowed institutions harboring world-renowned research collections. These fossils have tales to tell, and plenty, whether modest, mammoth, or somewhere in the middle, these museums showcase dinosaurs and the science of understanding them.
At the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, you can wander through the Lone Star Dinosaurs exhibit to learn about the area's rich dinosaurian past. Here, for example, are fossil bones of Pleurocoelus and Acrocanthosaurus, the two giants whose footprints are preserved in the famous trackways at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose. Be sure to look for the Pleurocoelus' three-foot-long humerus, or upper arm bone, to understand how big this creature really was. The Acrocanthosaurus bones, including a femur and tail vertebra, come from a skeleton recently found near Fort Worth.
The exhibit also features a skeleton of Tenontosaurus dossi, a previously unknown dinosaur species found west of Fort Worth by seven-year-old Thad Williams. This herbivore browsed on four legs but could probably run on its hind legs when pursued. Its hornlike beak allowed it to crop the ferns, cycads, and pine relatives that covered north Texas about 113 million years ago.
Other notable finds in the exhibit are the bones of a baby nodosaur, discovered locally by 12-year-old Johnny Maurice, and a cast of a hadrosaur skull, also found nearby, which may be the oldest known in North America. You'll also see partial skeletons of tiny, plant-eating hypsilophodonts; descriptions of the youngest Texas dinosaurs, those in Big Bend National Park; and a dramatic attack scene between an Allosaurus and a Camptosaurus from Utah.
The exhibit features kid-friendly activities, too, such as the "color-a-dinosaur" on a video touchscreen, and an interactive dinosaur quiz. There are dinosaur bones to touch and footprints to sit in. Outside the museum, a DinoDig lets children search for fossils and bones buried in sand. Adults can appreciate the 10 original paintings by artist Karen Carr, from baby nodosaurs being swept away in a flood to the dramatic confrontation at Glen Rose. All exhibit text is in Spanish, too.
The Dallas Museum of Natural History displays additional Texas fossils. Major skeletal casts include another Tenontosaurus, a 32-foot-long mosasaur, or marine reptile, and a Protostega, the second-largest sea turtle fossil in the world. There are also a number of fossil fish, among them a large and fierce-looking Pachyrhizodus, found in the Dallas area, and a big collection of ammonites. The sauropod Alamosaurus from the Big Bend region of West Texas and another skeleton of a hypsilophodont are new discoveries that will be displayed soon.
Other good fossil exhibits can be found at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin and the Shuler Museum of Palaeontology on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, repository of one of the world's top collections of Lower Cretaceous vertebrates. The Houston Museum of Natural Science houses a cast of T. rex dramatically attacking a duck-billed Edmontosaurus, and Texas Tech University in Lubbock displays the oldest dinosaurs in Texas, from the Panhandle region.