Saturday, 16 June 2012

Dinosaurs at Bristol Zoo

I should make a mention of the summer season exhibition we have at Bristol Zoo – a selection of life size animatronic dinosaurs and related events until the end of August.

As you enter there is a children’s activity tent where the smaller kids can play at excavating bones and identifying the bones of a thecodontosaurus (these are resin copies with built in magnets they can affix to a board). For the older kids there is a dinosaur lab with people from the Bristol Dinosaur Project (for their website, see ).

We have 10 different dinosaurs in total, plus a (partly assembled) Dimetrodon to show how the mechanics work. The models move, make noises, and in some cases scare small children, but so far it seems a great success. The species we have as you progress round the zoo are these:

Dilophosaurus by the entrance. Not a full size specimen, but still very impressive.

Brachiosaurus at the end of the Top Terrace. This stands about 4m high – not a full rown animal by any means but still a good model.

Allosaurus. Standing just by the Brachiosaurus, these two are surrounded by tall trees, including Metasequoia and Araucaria, which seems appropriate.

Tyrannosaurus rex. We had to have one of these, and it is a large specimen, about the size of the largest fossil one ever found, which was nicknamed Sue.

Ornithomimus. The other end of the restaurant area to the T.rex, this makes noises based on recordings of an ostrich, which seems appropriate.

Amargasaurus (plus a baby). These are concealed behind tall shrubs, so it is a surprise when you round a corner to find them.

Triceratops. We had to have one of those, but this is a small specimen compared to the massive adults.

Coelophysis. One of the earliest dinosaurs, this is concealed in a herbaceous border!

Baryonyx. This is holding a fish in its jaws. I have had some interesting conversations relating it to the large archaic fish such as gar and sturgeon we have in the aquarium, as these have not changed since they lived in the rivers where Baryonyx hunted.

Edomontosaurus. Instantly nicknamed Jar-Jar, this is an adult with a nest of hatchlings making noises based on hatching crocodiles. The hatchlings move as well as the adult.

This whole exhibition moves around the country – I believe it was at Chester last year – but it is proving a good way top talk about dinosaurs as living animals and the palaeontologists from the University who are working with us are very pleased with the results.

For me, seeing reconstructions outside of their usual museum setting has been quite thought provoking, especially as Bristol has some quite well established trees and dense shrubberies which set the models off to great effect. I suspect modern paleo-artists might object to some of the reconstructions – none of the models has feathers for example – but what strikes me is how hard some are to locate in dense planting. In films, even recent ones, film makers and CGI effects are anxious to show off their efforts, so we see all the dinosaurs, which are often also portrayed in very open habitats. It is amazing how hard even a sauropod is to find when you have to peer through trees, and all the predatory theropods would of course have used as much cover when hunting as possible. Even the Allosaurus can appear unexpectedly from the shrubbery, which has given some of the littler kids a bit of a fright when they come upon it (they soon get over it though). As a result, you get a much better feel for dinosaurs as living animals than you can from films or mounted skeletons.

There are so many websites devoted to dinosaurs out there that there is no point in my trying to duplicate all the information, so here are some dinosaur blogs you might like:

Next week, living animals will return! (promise)

(images from the Bristol Zoo website)

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