Gainesville may be "Gator Country," but the Florida Museum of Natural History – located on the campus of the swamp itself, the University of Florida – has an apex predator on display that even the football team couldn’t take down.
Now through Sept. 13, 2015, A T. rex Named Sue is on display in a thrilling exhibit that is sure to astound visitors aged two through 102. She is, after all, the most famous tyrannosaur in the world.
Sue is often called a "she," but in fact its sex is unknown; scientists still cannot tell T. rex males from females — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Unearthed in 1990 in South Dakota, Sue is named for paleontologist Sue Hendrickson, who made the find. It remains the most complete skeleton ever discovered.
Now a permanent resident at Chicago’s Field Museum, this fully articulated cast gives visitors outside "The Windy City" a chance to not only marvel at its magnitude, but also learn all about its journey from its tomb to the museum and the life it led back in the Cretaceous period.
The animal itself is the stunner of the exhibit, at 42 feet long and 13 feet at the hips. Its teeth are as long as pencils! Visitors stand slack-jawed in a combination of fascination and horror.
Interactive elements around the exhibit hall chip away at the mystery of the creature’s life. For example, scientists have learned things weren't so easy, even for the mother of all carnivores. Sue’s bones reveal several breaks, injuries that healed while she was alive and those that occurred long after her demise.
Details of the long court battle surrounding her skeleton (a situation that had the bones in storage for years before the matter was settled); the process of reconstructing the skull; how these animals may have used their tiny little arms, as well as fascinating facts about tyrannosaurus and the study of fossils and more, round out the exhibit.
There’s plenty of time to see Sue; she'll be at Florida Museum of Natural History through mid-September. But this truly exceptional museum is also home to a beautiful Butterfly Rainforest.
Live presentations occur daily, as staffers release new residents into the beautifully landscaped enclosure. And you'll also find extensive exhibits about the Gainesville region’s flora, fauna and native peoples.
This beautiful longwing is a Julia. She and her many cousins flourish in the museum's Butterfly Rainforest — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Of particular note to those piqued by Sue’s presence is the Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life & Land exhibit, which culls together an internationally acclaimed collection of creatures that lived over the last 65 million years of our planet’s history.
Highlights include fascinating shark jaws – including the nine-foot maw of Megalodon, the largest that ever lived – and a host of animal fossils featured in poses that really bring them to life.
Be on the lookout for cave bears, massive sloths, Florida lions and the enormous Titanis. This terror bird stands some eight feet tall, its colossal beak a hybrid battle axe and battering ram. It was a flightless animal, and also carnivorous. (It’s a fact that may make the residents at University of Florida’s famed Bat Houses a little less scary, if you’re the sort who finds these winged mosquito-control officers unnerving.)
If you’re making a trip to Florida Museum of Natural History, it’s absolutely worth the quick drive or almost-as-quick stroll over to the two structures; a mix of students, locals and visitors of all ages come nightly to watch them head out for a night of hunting.
So do hawks looking for a final snack before heading off to roost. It’s a potent show of nature and entirely free of charge. Don’t miss it.
Permanent exhibits at the Florida Museum of Natural History are free of charge. Butterfly Rainforest admission ranges from $6 to $10.50. The Sue exhibit ranges from $4.50 to $7.50. The combo ticket – the best deal – runs from $10 to $14.50.