San Diego’s theNAT presents a tribute to ‘Ultimate Dinosaurs’ — Special exhibit coming to Natural History Museum in Balboa Park

Whether looming over us in a museum — or flying or galloping along in a movie — dinosaurs have been frightening and fascinating us ever since their bones were first discovered. From the Greek, dinos saurus, the word means “terrifying lizard.”

Where did they live? When and why did they die out?

While scientists can now answer many questions about dinosaurs, they are still uncovering whole new varieties of these ancient reptiles. Replicas of 16 of these “Ultimate Dinosaurs” are now on display at the Natural History Museum (theNAT) in Balboa Park.

All are from countries in the Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, including South America, Africa, India and Australia. They evolved separately from the more familiar dinosaurs in the Northern Hemisphere, when the giant land masses broke apart approximately 250 to 65 million years ago, carrying the ancient creatures into the beginning of continents we know today.

“Thirty years ago, many of these were unknown to science,” explained Tom Demere, curator of paleontology at theNAT. “They were still in the ground, waiting to be discovered.” Up until recently, he continued, paleontologists made discoveries in the northern countries, but now international and Argentinian teams are making significant discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere.

“This dinosaur exhibit is unlike any seen before,” added Judy Gradwohl, president and CEO of theNAT. “Ultimate Dinosaurs features species virtually unknown to North Americans. They are interesting and different looking from when we were kids.”

Beth Redmond-Jones, senior director of public programs, agrees. “These are dinosaurs that people didn’t know about before, they are not a part of pop culture.”

From South America, they include Eoraptor, one of the earliest and smallest dinosaurs (approximately three feet, 25 pounds), Velociraptor, a distant relative of modern-day birds that grew to 16 feet and had plumage, and Giganotosaurus, one of the largest land predators (43 feet long, 13,200 pounds).

From Africa, they include Suchomimus, with a long snout like a crocodile; Ouranosaurus, a plant eater with a spiny sail along its back; Majungasaurus, a meat eater thought to be cannibal; and Rapetosaurus, a long-necked sauropod from Madagascar.

“These dinosaurs add more numbers and variety to the total family tree, which is now bushy,” said Demere.

In addition to the 16 skeleton castings, the exhibit includes augmented reality (AR) segments bringing the dinosaurs to life and videos showing the drifting apart of the Earth’s original land masses that carried the dinosaurs to different continents.

“The exhibit ties together plate tectonics, how land masses moved and how dinosaurs evolved with a lot of moving maps showing giant continents and shrinking oceans, a great opportunity to learn,” said Demere.

Redmond-Jones pointed out, “The real specialness is seeing the whole thing in context and size. The large one (Giganotosaurus) is overwhelming, there is nothing as large. The exhibit shows people when, where, how to continue the story, which is a lot more than T-Rex (Tyrannosaurus Rex).” It also includes many hands-on activities for learning.

“We want to engage with a variety of ages and levels,” added Redmond-Jones. “We are still finding dinosaurs, trying to understand the time during which they lived, asking questions and the exhibit promotes scientific inquiry and expanding our vision and understanding.”

CEO Gradwohl shares this idea. “It’s an exciting time in the life of the museum,” she said. Gradwohl, who is a native Californian, joined theNAT last summer after 30 years at the Smithsonian. “This science is still young, but it’s important to be out there, excavating in San Diego County, making exciting discoveries, sharing vision.”

“Ultimate Dinosaurs” was created by the Royal Museum of Ontario in Toronto. It then traveled to Minneapolis and Cleveland before showing at theNAT in San Diego, the first on the West Coast.

IF YOU GO: “Ultimate Dinosaurs,” runs through Sept. 4, at San Diego Natural History Museum, 1788 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tickets: $8-$28, some discounts. In addition, the museum will offer related programs, including kids’ camps, family days, story times, lectures and films. (877) 946-7797.