Why do children fall so deeply in love with dinosaurs?
My mashup of theories: Kids are inspired by the massive size and strength, and awestruck by the sheer weirdness. And yet they feel perfectly safe – even a bit protective and cuddly – around the poor extinct old things.
Also, museums like the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and exhibit creators like Union Station of Kansas City, Mo., keep updating dino displays with the latest discoveries and the latest techniques for bringing them to rip-roaring life.
Bring your kids or grandkids as an excuse to eat up “Dinosaurs Revealed,” a visit with the kings of North America’s Mesozoic era. The exhibit features animatronic models that range from merely large to utterly humongous that swing massive tails, wave sharp claws, and expose wicked sets of teeth and jaws as they screech and roar.
“It’s not going to get you,” one mom reassured a child as they faced down an exhibit hallway occupied by a Tyrannosaurus rex the size of a semi-truck.
Dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago, OMSI educator Jennifer Powers said, due to a global climate cataclysm that should give everybody pause today.
Powers said it’s a central theme of the exhibit: The reign of these supreme creatures was bookended by big shifts in climate. The first shift was gradual, as volcanic instability gave way to lush forests and wetlands. Another gradual shift was greatly accelerated by a meteor strike of truly cosmic proportions. Over 80 percent of all animal and plant life on the planet died off.
“People forget, but we are currently experiencing a mass extinction event,” Powers said. “We are hoping folks will think about climate change.”
Hair, feathers, fingers
Think you know dinos? “Dinosaurs Revealed” will bring you face to face with a few hairy and feathery creatures that never got any love from the camera, and you can see why: they look like they suffered bad pandemic haircuts sometime last year. Struthiomimus resembles a graceless giant ostrich (but could run 40 miles an hour). Dakotaraptor is the stubby-winged lizard-bird of your nightmares.
Terrifying to some, perhaps, but I noticed a plenty of brave little fingers testing those animatronic tongues, teeth and scales. That’s inevitable, Powers conceded, even though there’s supposed to be no touching and the exhibit was adapted to remove buttons, simulated dig sites and other interactive fun for kids as a precaution against COVID-19. (Hand sanitizer is available in every room.)
The museum hopes to open all that up before the exhibit leaves in early September.
“We are watching the situation,” Powers said.
OMSI’s entry hall, often packed tight with visitors lining up for tickets, was not crowded when The Columbian visited on a recent Tuesday morning.
“You wouldn’t guess that we are sold out, but we are,” OMSI spokesman John Farmer said. That’s because OMSI is limiting admissions to 25 percent capacity and selling tickets online only. Some OMSI attractions, including the very interactive science playground for children, remain closed.
“We are being responsible and deliberate so people feel comfortable coming back,” Farmer said.