April 22, 2007 in Features

Mighty mouth

By The Spokesman-Review

Tale of the tape

Sue’s vital statistics

Scientific name: Tyrannosaurus rex (From the Greek and Latin for “tyrant lizard king”)

Roamed the earth in: Late Cretaceous Period, 67 million years ago; Range: Western North America; Length: 42 feet; Height at hips: 13 feet; Estimated live weight: 7 tons; Age: In 29th year at death; Weight of skull: 600 pounds; Length of skull: 5 feet; Size of brain cavity: Just big enough to hold a quart of milk; Number of teeth: 58; Length of teeth: 7 1/2 to 12 inches; Diet: Meat; Sex: Unknown

Source: The Field Museum

Even though “Walking with Dinosaurs,” an international extravaganza with its herd of animated prehistoric creatures, is due to invade Spokane this summer, a certain T. rex skeleton named Sue doesn’t plan to sulk in a corner with her bony tail between her legs.

“A T. rex Named Sue,” the immensely popular traveling exhibit created by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, is opening Saturday at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. (Look to the box at the left for details.)

“Kids love Tyrannosaurus rex,” says Kay Kremer of The Field Museum, “and ‘Sue’ is the queen of them all.”

Visitors will learn how Sue is not just another old fossil – she’s an unprecedented scientific discovery.

The extraordinary presentation tells the fascinating story of the largest, most complete and best preserved T. rex skeleton in the world. It features a fully articulated, life-size replica of The Field Museum’s star dinosaur.

“This is a very family-friendly exhibition,” says Valerie Wahl, museum exhibits registrar.

“It has a number of interactive displays that are meant to be touched, smelled and explored, much like an exhibition at a children’s museum,” she says.

The exhibit includes touchable casts of Sue’s teeth, arm bone, tailbone and rib. There are kinetic mechanical models that demonstrate the creature’s means of balance, how its impressive jaw muscles were made for crushing and how those tiny forelimbs couldn’t do much at all.

The centerpiece of the show, of course, is a replica of Sue herself, a striking 42 feet in length and 13 feet high at the hips. In life, this Tyrannosaurus rex tipped the scales at 14,000 pounds.

When T. rex roamed Western North America about 67 million years ago, it was one of the largest flesh-eaters to inhabit the Earth.

Her 5-foot-long skull alone weighs 600 pounds. The tyrant lizard king’s 58 razor-sharp teeth are up to 12 inches long. One toe claw weighs 2 pounds.

The average T. rex skeleton has more than 250 bones. Sue was found with most of those bones, missing only a foot, one arm, a few ribs and vertebrae.

While scientists have learned much about Sue, studies have yet to determine if Sue was actually a ‘she’ or a ‘he.’

This dinosaur was named after Sue Hendrickson, the fossil hunter who first discovered the bones in 1990 while searching along a riverbank on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation near Faith, S.D.

In 1997, after a protracted legal dispute over ownership, Sue was purchased for $8.36 million by The Field Museum at a Sotheby’s auction in New York.

In 2000, the real Sue was unveiled in a special permanent display in Chicago, and two identical cast replicas were created to tour the world.

“From the moment Sue hit the road,” says Kremer, public relations director for The Field Museum, “she’s been going strong. There is no sign of people losing interest in her.”

A third cast has taken off in Asia with stops in Japan, Taiwan and China.

“Sue is a world icon,” says Erika Zahnle, The Field Museum’s traveling exhibitions coordinator. “There were huge images of her all over Japan during Dinosaur Expo in 2005.”

By studying Sue’s foot bones, scientists estimate that she traveled at a top speed of about 15 miles per hour, about that of an elephant. This was relatively swift compared to some of her dinosaur contemporaries.

They also discovered that life in the Late Cretaceous Period was not an easy one for Sue.

Injuries include signs of an infection in the jaw and left leg and a fused vertebra in the tail. In addition, there is a deformity of the right arm, a tooth fragment from a rival T. rex is embedded in a rib, and indications of several healed broken ribs.

In fact, scientists refer to her as a “train wreck” at the time of death in her 29th year.

With the ongoing scientific discoveries relating to Sue, folks at the museum aren’t worried about competing with big animatronic dinosaur performances and see them as a natural flow of events.

“Without the research by paleontologists on Sue and other fossil specimens,” says Zahnle, “entertainment shows like ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ would not be possible.”

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