RIVERSIDE – Generations have been drawn to dinosaurs, fascinated by their size, abilities and how the huge creatures met their doom.
A new exhibit at Brookfield Zoo will add another potential fascination – that they may have more in common with today’s birds than previously thought.
Dinosaurs Alive!, which opened April 6, is an animatronics display featuring many – and some unfamiliar – specimins of these ancient creatures.
A total of 24 life-size creatures inhabit the exhibit and are elevated to movie-star status, with fun, easy-to-understand signage that is a hallmark of many of the displays at the zoo. Other signage draws connections between the animals of the past and those of the present.
A pit is included so that visitors can dig for fossils and an interactive display can help youngsters and older folk learn more about them.
Along a dusty trail, visitors can see many of the dinosaurs that they no doubt grew up learning about. There's a Stegosaurus that had back legs twice as long as its front legs, and Triceratops too. Did you know that the head of a Triceratops encompassed one-third of its overall body length? These are the type of fun facts informing visitors to the exhibit.
And of course, for all those who love to spend time browsing, there’s a gift shop filled with dinosaur-related items.
While it might be fun craning your head to watch in amazement the Styracosaurus or the Dilophosaurus, it’s the indoor portion of this exhibit that might be even more interesting to visitors.
The indoor showcase highlights the most recent findings in dinosaur science. In the past few years, scientists have begun to find out even more that lends credence to the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
In parts of the Far East and right here in the western United States, scientists have found that a number of species – including the feared Tyrannosaurus Rex – had feathers, said Jamie Zite- Strumbris, the interpretative programs coordinator of the exhibition, who created the text for the signage in the displays.
“Juveniles in particular had downy feathers. The coat was either to keep them warm or for display to catch a mate,” said Zite- Strumbris, who noted it is not certain that the feathers molted over time or they remained. “They might not have been cold-blooded like reptiles as we once thought.”
Moreover, the T-Rex is more birdlike than previously thought: it had hollow bones similar to birds and it laid broods of eggs. And it’s quite likely that they ate dead animals, similar to buzzards and vultures, she noted.
Another dinosaur, Confuciusornis, found in China, had flight feathers, longer than its body, showing that it had already diverged from the evolutionary line that led to modern birds, according to zoo officials. This animal had a wish bone and a toothless beak like a bird as well. It is the earliest known bird related to the dinosaur, zoo officials said.
Guests will also learn about how dinosaurs can be relevant to today’s world.
No one really knows for certain why or how dinosaurs became extinct. Some scientists speculate that a huge comet or meteor struck the Earth, or there was a massive volcanic event.
Relvant in today's world, guests will learn that changes in climate may have led to their extinction. What happened to these creatures can give some glimpses into the planet’s future, said Andre Copeland, interpretative programs manager, who helped coordinate the exhibit.
“By studying the past we start to disprove some theories. We learn how sudden drastic changes can cause mass extinction. Animals can adapt so long as they have enough time to adapt to their environment,” he said. “This helps us see how we can proceed into the future and look for links to the past.”
Brookfield Zoo first explored the world of dinosaurs in 2009. Some of the species in that exhibit were similar to those found among today’s “stars.”
The exhibit is $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors over 65 That's in addition to the regular zoo general admission, which is $15 for adults and $10.50 for children and seniors over 65. Children ages two and under are free.
The effort is presented by Dominick’s. Discounted-combo general zoo admission and tickets for this special exhibit are available for purchase at participating Dominick’s stores. Zoo members can take advantage of half-price admission to Dinosaurs Alive.
Brookfield Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and is located off First Avenue between the Stevenson and Eisenhower expressways. It is also accessible by the Tri-State Tollway, Metra commuter line, CTA and PACE bus service.
For more information, log on to www.CZS.org.