The Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) has gone big with its current temporary exhibit “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs.” The exhibition, which was organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, opened at the CMNH with fortuitous timing—less than a week before the premier of summer’s biggest blockbuster, “Jurassic World.”
As the CMNH Director of Communications Glenda Bogar pointed out, “[The exhibition] was a natural fit for our museum: Our museum logo is based on our own mount of Haplocanthosaurus delfsi, a sauropod dinosaur on display in our Kirtland Hall of Prehistoric Life. This is one of only a few sauropods complete enough to be mounted and was actually found by a team from our museum.”
The exhibition likewise highlights the massive, long-necked and long-tailed sauropods and allows guests to come face to face with the giants. Before visitors even enter the hall, they are greeted by a replica of the head of an Argentinosaurus huinculensis, which is believed to have been the largest dinosaur at 140 feet and 90 tons.
Past the massive doorman lies an arrangement of living animals, highlighting the biggest and smallest as we know them today. Visitors can see various animal specimens, a komodo dragon skeleton, an elephant skull and a human skeleton. Towering above them all, though, are the pillar-like leg bones of a sauropod.
The sheer size of these animals is outstanding, and the exhibition aims to tackle some of the tough questions surrounding their size. Many parts of the exhibit focus on how these animals got to such large sizes. There’s also a question as to why these animals grew so large.
According to paleomammalogist Darin Croft, a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine department of anatomy professor, “There’s definitely an advantage to being large in terms of defense and for day to day variations in climate and seasons. Generally speaking, if you’re big, you’re better able to weather those. You also have a longer lifespan, which could allow certain advantages.”
“On the disadvantage side, though, in an evolutionary sense, things that are big tend to go extinct more than things that are smaller,” said Croft. “So, it might be a good strategy in the short-term, but on the very long-term, it’s not.”
Although these sauropods have been extinct for a long time, the exhibition offers a surprisingly fleshed out perspective on the perplexity of their mass. The true star of the show is a life-size replica of Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis. That’s 60 feet of dinosaur in one room. As visitors round the corner, they soon see there’s more to this giant than originally meets the eye.
The dinosaur’s other side has been stripped of skin. A video projected on it guides viewers through a sort of dissection, emphasizing how the sauropod’s unique circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems allowed it to reach such massive proportions.
The video is thorough and detailed, which is unsurprising considering the amount of knowledge packed into the rest of the hall. This variety can be attributed to the team in charge of the exhibition, which Bogar says included persons in materials science, animal nutrition, sports medicine, biomechanics and paleontology.
“I think there’s something for everyone in the exhibit,” said Croft, “depending on what your interests are—and for a broad range of ages and for experience levels. You don’t have to be a biologist to find this interesting. You don’t have to be into paleontology to find it interesting.”
Exhibit: “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs”
Location: The Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Dates: Through Jan. 3, 2016