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Dinosaurs and Highlights of the Field Museum: A Chicago Family Day Trip

Updated on October 27, 2014

From Insects to Dinosaurs to Man-Eating Lions, This Museum Has it All!

Set aside the full day when visiting the Field Museum, Chicago's natural history museum, and you probably still won't be able to see and do everything you'd like to. The huge, huge collection housed by the museum is just too vast and too varied to really absorb in one day, but we did our best to try.

The collection was started for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, and grew to the point where it moved into the current building in 1921. The museum's website says it now holds more than 20 million objects, though only a fraction are on exhibit at any time.

Here are some of the highlights from the last time we visited the Field Museum. All photos are our own unless otherwise noted.

Sue Dinosaur Field Museum Chicago
Sue Dinosaur Field Museum Chicago

Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex: The Museum's Main Attraction!

Don't Be Fooled by the Name!

The main attraction at the Field Museum is Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the largest and most-complete specimens ever found. It was discovered in 1990 in western South Dakota, and named for the paleontologist that discovered the bones (It isn't known whether the dinosaur itself is male or female).

It's easy to spot Sue, as she is given place of pride right on the main floor and she is magnificent. A whopping 42 feet long from nose to tip of her tail, she stands 13 feet high. The museum says she is 90 percent original and that she died at age 28, also making her the oldest T. rex ever recovered.

Take more than a few minutes to walk all the way around her, and try to imagine that this huge beast was once strolling on Earth. It really is astounding to think about.

One thing that isn't original: the skull. Sue's skull weighs about 600 pounds, which was too heavy to mount on the skeleton. So this is a replica skull. The real skull is upstairs in a case that enables you to get a close-up view of it and the many teeth this creature had.

The exhibit upstairs also explains how the dinosaur was found and provides more details of it. Make sure you don't skip the upstairs display about Sue.

A Great Guide to the Museum

Dinosaurs Field Museum
Dinosaurs Field Museum

From Sue to the Evolving Planet

Journey Through a History of the Earth

Right around the corner from the upstairs exhibit on Sue is the exhibit that I enjoyed most. It is called the Evolving Planet, and it traces the history of Earth from 4 billion years ago through the six mass extinctions that are known to man.

The exhibit starts with the formation of bacteria, and includes what the museum calls the the oldest known fossil of a Eukaryote (or cell with a nucleus). Another highlight of the early part of this exhibit is a neat video of what life underwater during the Cambrian period might have looked like.

Check out the fossils of the Tully Monster, a soft-bodied animal from 300 million years ago that has only been found in what is now present-day Illinois. It was a bit like a cuttlefish, apparently. I was disappointed a bit because even though it is called a monster, the museum says it is supposed to have grown only to about 14 inches long. Not much a monster at all.

Those sections of the exhibit were interesting, but then comes the great dinosaur hall with what appeared to samples of just about every major dinosaur you ever heard of. Plan on spending some time here because the fossils are really great, and the museum does a good job in explaining what each animal was.

That leads to the marine life exhibit, with ancient crocodiles, fish and insects, then the hominid gallery detailing early man. The early ice age section is pretty cool, especially when it shows you, through samples, the evolution of the horse. The giant ground sloth is pretty amazing as well, as is the Irish deer.

The exhibit ends on a bit of a sad tone, noting that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction that started 10,000 years ago and detailing some of the animals that have been lost.

Pretending to be Ant-Man!

Go on an Underground Adventure

Appropriately enough in the lower level you will find the museum's Underground Adventure, which illustrates the many things that are living beneath our feet in the soil. The adventure starts with an imaginary machine that shrinks you down to 1/100th of your original size. OK, it's really hokey. But the kids seemed to get a kick out of it.

Then you walk through recreated underground tunnels where you see large models of insects underground. I hadn't heard of a prairie crayfish until this exhibit. All of the insects are 100 times their normal size, so you really do feel small. And some, like the earwig, move! A giant penny adds to the illusion.

Then the museum does a neat thing. Once you exit the tunnels (after being ``returned'' to normal size) there is a large room displaying real samples of the insects you have just seen. It was fascinating to compare the tiny insects in the displays with the large recreations from the tunnel! One thing to note: this exhibit does carry an extra admission charge.

While on this level check out the man-eater of Mfuwe (which is in Zambia). This stuffed lion was one of the few that has been proven to have hunted humans, and was killed in September of 1991. Also on this level is the Egyptian exhibit, which was interesting but nothing really stood out for me there.

Tibetan Artifacts, a Trip through Africa and the Hall of Gems

Plus Much More at the Field Museum!

Back on the upper level, we visited an authentic Maori meeting house. Built in New Zealand in 1881, it was moved to the museum and put back together. Take off your shoes before entering, then walk in and feel like you are in a different world. The wooden building is plain, with some decoration. But I certainly felt like there was still a Maori presence there.

Spend some time in the Tibetan exhibit, and make sure you look up for a section of a Tibetan Buddhist temple's ceiling. This area has many cool artifacts from Tibet, a country that isn't all that familiar to me. The items include spice boxes and costumes, for instance.

The hall of gems is small, but well worth the visit. Plenty of diamonds and other rare jewels, and make sure you check out the Tiffany window in the room. It is gorgeous.

Back on the main level, we visited the Creatures of Light exhibit that highlighted the many animals and insects that glow in the dark (see photo). It's a temporary display, though, and is scheduled to close soon.

The younger half of Goldenrulecomics really enjoyed the African exhibit, where you walk through a recreated bustling marketplace on a street in Dakar, Senegal. The area also displays many artworks from Africa and discusses the live and wildlife of Africa. It does touch on slavery (as any exhibit on Africa's development needs to) but the exhibit also shows how the continent has fared since.

Those are some of the highlights of the museum, but there's much more to see. A large section of the main floor is dedicated to dioramas displaying animals from all over, and there's section on the upper level that does the same for plants. We kind of walked through these fairly quickly because we've seen similar exhibits elsewhere.

Could This Be Michael Jackson?

Michael Jackson Field Museum
Michael Jackson Field Museum

Videos of the Field Museum

Have You Been to the Field Museum?

Have You Been to the Field Museum?

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The Best Tour Book We Used in Chicago

We usually travel with three or four guidebooks, as we find that each one contains slightly different but useful information.

This book was the one we found most helpful. An added plus is that it is slender so it wasn't a bother when we carried it around.

See below for a more extensive selection of books that we used.

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Another Shot of Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex

Sue Dinosaur Field Museum Chicago
Sue Dinosaur Field Museum Chicago

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Thanks for visiting!

Now It's Your Turn!

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    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      This is on my list of things I want to do someday for sure, I think it would be so fun to go to a dinosaur museum :)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This museum sounds great. Wish it were closer to us in South Carolina. Enjoyed this virtual visit and congrats on your well deserved Purple Star.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image

      Dawn Romine 3 years ago from Nebraska

      Great to see another Chicago lens, visited some of your others and now that my son lives in Chicago I have a list of places to see and check off my bucket list.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      I love natural history museums. My husband and I visited the one in Lehi Utah and it took quite awhile to get my husband out of there. He was hooked. Actually we both really enjoyed it. These museums are so fascinating I would love to take my grandchildren through them.

    • SimonJay profile image

      SimonJay 3 years ago

      Seems like a fantastic place to go and visit i must say i really like the sound of the underground adventure it would be cool see insects hundreds of times bigger.

    • profile image

      MaryMorgan 3 years ago

      I think most people are fascinated by dinosaurs - it's so amazing to think of them roaming the earth all those eons ago! This seems like a great place to go and learn more.

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 3 years ago

      Great lens! As a kid, my favorite exhibits were the coal mine and U505 submarine. A jewel in the lake front crown.

    • profile image

      marsha32 3 years ago

      you sure get to go to the most interesting places!

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      Great tour of the museum. Sounds a really interesting place to visit.

    • WedgeAntilles profile image

      Wedge Antilles 3 years ago from Mount Vernon, WA

      Growing up in Lake County IL - Grayslake and Libertyville to be exact - I have been to the Field Museum, The Museum of Science and Industry, the Chicago Art Institute as well as other museums and zoos in Chicago and to this day, having been all over the world, Chicago's museums are world class and a must for anyone visiting Chicago. Plan to spend a couple of days for each museum so that you can take your time to enjoy ALL the exhibits.

    • homeschoolsonya profile image

      homeschoolsonya 3 years ago

      Looks well worth a visit as the whole family is fascinated by dinosaurs. Thanks for sharing. Best wishes Sonya

    • BodyHairRemoval profile image

      BodyHairRemoval 2 years ago

      Such a fun lense!

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