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A T. rex named Sue

  • Dinosaur named Sue

    Dinosaur named Sue

  • Skull of Sue

    Skull of Sue

  • Dinosaur named Sue

    Dinosaur named Sue

  • Dinosaur named Sue

    Dinosaur named Sue

  • Dinosaur named Sue

    Dinosaur named Sue

  • Dinosaur named Sue

    Dinosaur named Sue

  • Dinosaur named Sue
  • Skull of Sue
  • Dinosaur named Sue
  • Dinosaur named Sue
  • Dinosaur named Sue
  • Dinosaur named Sue

It’s not often that a young boy meets the subject of his favorite books, movies and television programs. It’s even less likely when that young boy’s obsession is a 42-foot, 7-ton beauty who’s been dead for 67 million years. And yet that’s exactly how my 4-year-old spent a recent Sunday afternoon: staring into the massive jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex named Sue.

The star of a traveling exhibit on loan from the Field Museum in Chicago, Sue is spending the summer at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. I promise you she’s worth the hour-long trip.

Not your average T. rex

Sue isn’t just any Tyrannosaurus rex. She’s the Tyrannosaurus rex: the largest, most complete and best preserved specimen unearthed, and one of the most significant fossil finds ever. She’s so amazing that when she was found in 1990 in South Dakota by Sue Hendrickson, a paleontologist who was working in the area on a different dig with the Black Hills Institute, a fight broke out over who should get to keep her. Of course Hendrickson and the Black Hills Institute wanted her, but so did Maurice Williams, who owned the land on which Sue was found.

After a legal battle involving the U.S. Department of the Interior, the FBI, the National Guard and the Sioux tribe, it was determined that Sue belonged to Williams, who put her up for auction. The Field Museum purchased Sue at auction in 1997 for a record $8.4 million, the most ever paid for a fossil.

What’s so special about Sue?

At the time Sue was found, only a handful of partial T. rex skeletons had been unearthed, and none of them were more than 60 percent complete. Because Sue is 90 percent complete and was impeccably preserved, she provided a level of insight to the scientific community never before seen.

For example, Sue is the first T. rex ever found with a tiny ear bone called a stapes, which will allow scientists to better understand hearing in dinosaurs and birds. She also has the first set of proatlas bones ever seen in a T. rex. Though small in size, these bones – located between the first neck vertebrae and the skull – may help scientists connect the dots on the evolutionary timeline between therapods like Sue and modern birds.

Because of her level of preservation, Sue has provided scientists with a rare look at the soft tissue of dinosaurs, allowing them to better understand the structure and function of limb muscles. She’s also the first T. rex to have a high-resolution x-ray scan done of her skull, giving scientists a detailed, 3-D image of the inside.

Meet a dinosaur

Facts and scientific breakthroughs aside, the coolest thing about Sue is coming face to face with her as you walk through the door of the Montshire. She is massive and intimidating and awesome. But she isn’t the only reason to catch this exhibit before it heads to its next location in September.

In addition to the skeleton (which we should disclose is not Sue’s actual skeleton, but a fully articulated, cast skeleton – fossilized dinosaur bones are tremendously heavy and must be supported by an intricate metal framework, moving them would be difficult, costly and possibly detrimental) the “A T. rex Named Sue” exhibit includes interactive components that let visitors experience such things as dinosaur vision and sense of smell, how Sue’s jaw muscles would have slammed shut on prey, what role her massive tail played in Sue’s balance and how difficult it would be to have such short arms.

Visitors can also get up close and personal with touchable casts of Sue’s arm bones, tail bone, ribs and teeth.

Stay for more

You may go for the dinosaur, but the Montshire has a lot more to offer.

Its standing exhibits include a fascinating look at a colony of leaf-cutter ants (we spent the better part of half an hour trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive queen using a flashlight and a magnifying glass); a selection of live native fish and other aquatic creatures, like frogs and turtles; a colony of honeybees housed behind plexiglass that connects to the outside world so visitors can see them coming and going; a room full of interactive air and weather exhibits; a fog room; and an outside water exploration park (bring bathing suits for the littles).

We arrived early for our visit with Sue, left for a quick lunch at the nearby King Arthur Flour Co., and then returned and explored the museum without a lull until the staff announced they would be locking the doors for the night.

It was an amazing adventure, one my little boy hasn’t stopped talking about and is sure never to forget. The heat of the day had passed by the time we left the museum, and though weary from the excitement of meeting his first dinosaur and a full day of exploring the museum, he still found the energy to plead with me to promise we’d make it back to visit Sue one more time before she left.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of him in the rear view mirror, eyelids heavy and clutching a Tyrannosaurus rex stuffed animal from the museum gift shop. As we headed toward home, his tiny voice, thick with the fog of near sleep, arose one more time from the back seat.

“Sue’s the greatest,” he said.

Indeed she is.

Legacy Comments1

Now if only they had a mannequin of Jesus riding Sue and brandishing twin six-shooters, you'd get some business from the Tea Party crowd.

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