Exhibit Hall

Now Open on Level 4

Meet the ancient rulers of our planet as you examine fossil replicas of dinosaurs and prehistoric sea creatures. Orlando Science Center showcases the dinosaurs in their disparate land and aquatic settings as guests become part of a paleontological excavation site.

  • Uncover 'fossils' in the dig pit and examine fossilized dino eggs
  • Explore displays that feature ancient land and marine reptiles
  • Compare reptiles and dinosaurs to see similarities and differences
  • Discover denizens of the ancient oceans such as Elasmosaurus and Tylosaurus

 

Recently, paleontologists uncovered the world's oldest fossilized footprints.  Found in the Arabian Desert, these tracks proved that prehistoric elephants travelled in herds.  The Science Center had the opportunity to interview Dr. Brian Kraatz, one of the researchers on the project to get his perspective.

How do trackways become so well preserved?  Don't other animals follow in these paths as well?

Whether tracks get preserved as fossils depends on what happens to the sediments after the animals walked through them. In our case, they walked through a mud plain, which likely dried into a hard surface shortly thereafter. They may have been buried by more sediments shortly thereafter, which kept them safe from erosional process. They were probably re-rexposed sometimes in the last 10,000 years.

What was the Mleisa 1 site like when these creatures were alive?  Did it still look like a desert?

It wasn't a desert. Along with the elephant ancestors that made the tracks, we know there were many other animals (e.g., giraffes, crocodiles, fish, ostriches, etc.) that lived in a large river system that was present there around 7 million years ago.

How do you think aerial photography and hi-res satellite data will influence the way we dig for fossils in the future?   Will we begin relying more on Google Maps as a tool for paleontology?

We already rely heavily on Google earth and aerial photography. Geologic maps can tell us what types of rocks are present in an area, but satellite imagery tells us where there are exposed rocks from which fossils might be weathering out. We often do a lot of preliminary reconnaissance via Google Earth before we go into the field.

Prehistoric elephants and mastodons lived here in Florida, too, but why doesn't it seem like we find their footprints as often as the researchers in the UAE?

The preservation of fossil footprints is rare, and preservation like we describe in the United Arab Emirates, which included an entire herd of elephants, has never been reported before.

When did you become interested in paleontology, and how did you decide to follow that into a career?


I'm in the minority in that I was never interested in fossils growing up. I started college as an art and english major, but ended up doing a degree in Geology as I liked the challenges of trying to understand past events. After college, I volunteered at a large Natural History museum, and was fortunate enough to work with a paleontologists who mentored me and got me started working on fossils from Mongolia. After that, I was hooked, and went on to receive an MS and PhD in paleontology.

kraatz


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It’s hard imagine the Florida of millions of years ago until you’re walking on a beach and stumble upon an enormous prehistoric shark tooth. What once roamed these lands? Was Tyrannosaurus rex tromping through the woods hunting for prey while brachiosaurs munched leaves off nearby trees? Actually no, back then Florida was underwater.

Once Florida as we know it emerged from the receding waters about 25 million years ago it became inhabited by various types of creatures. I wasn’t kidding about those enormous shark teeth, there was Megalodon whose name literally means “giant tooth,” with teeth about seven inches long. Moving into the woods, there were giant sloths called Megatherium hanging about that happened to be bigger than Woolly Mammoths. Running free on the plains were horses ranging from the size of deer to the size of a modern Clydesdale. They would have had to outrun several types of large cats ranging from the lion-like Barbourofelis to the saber-toothed Smilodon (which would go so far as to pounce and prey on Woolly Mammoths).

So who knows someday as your standing on a riverbed you may reach down to find fossilized alligator poop or giant beaver tooth incisors. Here in Florida the chances of finding fish fossils are higher than finding those of a bird (as they’re more fragile). Most fossils will tend to be five to ten feet under the surface whether they be embedded in the sand at the beach or stuck in a river bed.

Make sure to research the laws regarding fossil hunting and purchase a yearly permit for five dollars as well. Know before going into the field that depending on where you find your fossil and its scientific significance your finding may be confiscated by the state. Not every type of fossil hunting is regulated; one may search for shark teeth and plant fossils without a permit.

Happy fossil hunting!

megatherium


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Have you ever heard of Dr. Linda Webster? We hadn't either, but it turns out, she's the newest addition to the DinoDigs team. Dr. Webster is actually a fictional character who is adding a new take on the exhibit signs in DinoDigs. Recently, each sign panel was taken out and replaced by  Dr. Webster's field journals, notes and memos.

The signs give guests a new way of looking at the exhibits and include interesting facts about each dinosaurs such as where they lived and what they ate. More importantly, they provide an opportunity for critical thinking, asking guests questions that require them to use the knowledge they gained to form their own hypotheses.

According to Kim Hunter, Senior Director of Exhibit Development here at the Science Center, the new signs help play an important role in the visitor experience. "The new interpretations in DinoDigs allow guests to pretend they are an actual paleontologist," Kim noted. "Along with some interesting information about each dinosaur, you can see what the field of paleontology is like and the processes these professionals use through the eyes of a fictitious scientist."

So, the next time you're in DinoDigs, make sure you meet Dr. Webster. You'll be glad you did!

T_Rex_Photo


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Orlando Science Center • 777 E. Princeton Street • Orlando, Florida 32803 • Phone: 407.514.2000 • Toll Free: 888.OSC.4FUN • Email: [email protected]
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