Let's go See the Dinosaurs and Their Pals

We're expecting another week of horrifying heat in my area with cooling centers opening up across the state. Cooling centers are literal life savers but you don't need to spend the day in a converted gym to stay cool. You can go to your library or better yet your local natural history museum and visit some of our oldest friends, the dinosaurs.

A fun way to really grasp how big these animals were is to stand and look at the brachiosaurus skeleton. If you pretend your eyes are a train car on a rollercoaster ride and start at the very tip of the brachiosaurus' tail and go all the way along its spine to the tip of its nose you might be astonished by just how much time it takes. I do this every time I go to the American Museum of Natural History, New York and it never fails to wow. The museum currently has an exhibit that focuses on the biggest of the dinosaurs, the sauropods, called The World's Largest Dinosaurs. http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/wld/ According to their website the exhibit "will answer such intriguing questions as how an extremely large animal breathes, eats, moves, and survives by illuminating how size and scale are related to basic biological functions." There are several interactive elements including a simulated dig site and a life sized model of a lady Mamenchisaurus. You have until January 2, 2012 to visit and enjoy this offering.

The Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History has several exhibits that feature dinosaurs. The Evolution Trail weaves its way through the museum and answers questions like why did the dinosaurs go extinct. The Hall of Paleobiology looks at more than just the dinosaurs; there are also fossil mammals, plants and sea life. On the first floor in the fossil hall you'll find an exhibit case called Dinosaurs in Our Backyard. This case looks at some of the dinosaurs found in the Washington, DC area and discusses the importance of amateurs and their finds. (For instance my kids and I used to go to Calvert Cliffs and find ancient shark teeth that wash up on the beaches near the power plant in Maryland. This would fall into the not important range.) At the FossiLab you can watch scientists and volunteers excavate weasel fossils from rocks and make models and casts. This can be both exciting and dull at the same time, as what's happening is exciting but the actual work is pretty slow and tedious. http://www.mnh.si.edu/exhibits/current.html Before you leave the museum be sure to visit the Hope Diamond, which is in a temporary setting until November 18, 2011. http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/site/sn/show.do?show=136360

If you visit the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ontario you can go to an exhibit funded by the processed remains of dinosaurs. http://www.nature.ca/en/plan-your-visit/what-see-do/our-exhibitions/tali... The Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery has something called Extinction Theater which lets you experience the catastrophic asteroid impact that changed the earth sixty-five million years ago. When you leave the theater you're in a changed world which mammals will eventually rule. (Although really don't insects rule the world? Aren't there eleventyseven gazillion insects for each mammal getting bitten or stung?) There are also quite a lot of activities available online. http://nature.ca/discover/exf/index_e.cfm You can learn what is and isn't a dinosaur, for example my beloved pterodactyl isn't a true dinosaur, or you can explore marine reptiles or look at dinosaur feathers and how they compare to bird feathers. (I'm old enough that when I was a little girl nobody knew that so many dinosaurs were feathered. So much new info!) There were thirty activities online as we went to press, which is quite impressive.

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science has something I'm calling a super exhibit, which is named Timetracks. http://www.nmnaturalhistory.org/timetracks There are eight exhibits in total that start with the origins of the universe and go all the way up to New Mexico's Ice Age. Age of Super Giants looks particularly interesting. There are dinosaur egg fragments and a brachiosaurus hand, a replica of a fossil from a brachiosaurus with a six meter tall leg! That right there would be worth the trip. If you can't visit in person you can admire it via this link: http://www.nmnaturalhistory.org/brachiosaurus-hand.html

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is another Feel Afraid comic, a series I thoroughly enjoy. This episode reveals the secret life of wolves. http://feelafraidcomic.com/69.php