Naturalis Biodiversity Center starts T. rex expedition

Naturalis Biodiversity Center starts T. rex expedition

Naturalis Biodiversity Center will start excavating a Tyrannosaurus rex in Wyoming, USA. This excavation will take place at 29 April till 18 May in collaboration with the Black Hills Institute, Hill City, South Dakota, USA.

With the search for Tyrannosaurus rex, the King of the Dinosaurs, Naturalis wishes to bring the most popular, imaginative and iconic dinosaur in the world to The Netherlands. Edwin van Huis, managing director of Naturalis Biodiversity Center: “Every bone of every T. rex provides more knowledge about this predator and its environment. This material will be the subject of continued investigation for decades to come.” It will be the first original skeleton of a T. rex on display outside of the USA. In 2017, the newly renovated museum of Naturalis will open its doors. The new exhibit will showcase a Dinosaur exhibition which will demonstrate the diversity of these reptiles. T. rex will be the highlight of this exhibition.

During the search for a T. rex, Naturalis came in contact with T. rex expert Pete Larson from the Black Hills Institute. He knew a place where some fragmentary but nicely fossilized bones of a left foot were found. Often the smaller bones of a skeleton are the first to be lost and the fact that they were found together indicates that this new find may include the rest of the skeleton. According to Edwin van Huis, managing director of Naturalis Biodiversity Center, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It is fantastic that Naturalis, being an European museum, will excavate a T. rex”, he says. “‘It is an unforgettable milestone in the almost 200-year history of Naturalis and it is a great privilege to be able to be part of such an important expedition.” Still, it remains an exciting adventure to see exactly how much of the skeleton will actually be found.

Apart from the fact that the animal will bring the opportunity for a new exhibit for the museum, the skeleton also has a great scientific value. Paleontologist and dinosaur expert Anne Schulp, who will be expedition member of the excavation on behalf of Naturalis, states: “I find it amazing to be part of this excavation. There are very few fossils known of T. rex while many questions remain unanswered regarding this species. For example we still don’t know how long its tail was – complete tails are not yet found. Also whether sexual dimorphism occurred among the T. rex species is still an interesting puzzle.” Furthermore, questions remain like: how intelligent was the dinosaur, whether it was a social animal, did they provide parental care, did they migrate? Using this fossil, researchers of Naturalis can contribute to science by providing answers to questions, new insights, or even new questions.

The carnivorous king
Tyrannosaurus rex lived near the end of the Late Cretaceous Period, 67.5 to 66.0 million years ago. It was one of the largest predators that wandered the earth and it had the strongest bite force of any known vertebrate. An adult could be up to 13 meters long and have a weight of 4000 to 5000 kilos. T. rex is found only in western North America and only two skeletons are more than 50% complete, by bone count. The most well-known, Sue (73% complete), is exhibited at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Stan (63% complete) is exhibited at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Inc. in Hill City, South Dakota, USA. Both were excavated by Pete Larson and a crew from the Black Hills Institute with whom Naturalis will cooperate in this expedition. In total, only a couple dozen T. rex specimens have been found, often consisting of only a few bones, or partial skeletons with only 10 to 30% of the skeleton preserved. Consequently, relatively complete skeletons are very rare: so far only Sue and Stan have passed the magical boundary of 50%.

The entire excavation can be followed by the public, who can join in on the excitement.
Every day, the expedition members will post their experiences on a news blog with text, images and film on www.naturalis.nl. This blog will also appear on the website of  www.nationalgeographic.nl. National Geographic Magazine Netherlands/Belgium will also make a report about the excavation.
During the Dino days in the museum from 28 April till 5 May, there will be a live chat with paleontologist Anne Schulp at 4 PM in which he reveals the latest news from the USA. Visitors can also ask him all their questions.
Kids can experience the expedition as well on the special theme page on the Naturalis kids website www.n-kids.naturalis.nl. Anyone can join the expedition virtually with the online game T. rex expedition, which will go live on the kids website tomorrow.

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