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Issue Date: February 2007


My Date with Sue

 Sue’s bite force could puncture a triceratops hipbone without breaking any teeth.
The stresses of a trapped indoor life, brought on by the city’s gray winter, constantly followed me. My imagination needed a jolt. For a dino-dork such as myself, the ultimate fantasy resided in A T. rex Named Sue, currently on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

As I expectantly approach the exhibit, ominous shadows appear to hang from the ceiling like vines.
I see Jane, the juvenile tyrannosaur, first. She looks tiny next to Sue, who looms beyond and practically covers the wall with her huge frame. Here, visitors can compare the traveling Sue and permanent museum specimen Jane side by side — two skeletons whose massive size difference is also reflected in how long it took to assemble each for display.

“Jane took just a few hours,” offers Michael Ryan, head of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “We spent two days assembling Sue.”

I gawk as grandparents, college kids and mothers with children explore the exhibit’s interactive stations. Sue’s sheer size and alien shape amaze me. She’s bigger than an elephant and looks like a cross between an ostrich and an alligator. Her two-fingered arms are no bigger than a man’s but once were able to curl 500 pounds each. “They look like grappling hooks,” explains Ryan. “So they may have been used to hold prey or mates close.”

Though it’s hard to imagine any creature messing with a T. rex, Sue’s skeleton displays some signs of prehistoric wear and tear. Bone growths cling to some of her ribs like beehives, a clue that they had been broken during the Cretaceous Period. Ryan believes these may be related to “trips and bounces caused by hunting.” Holes litter her lower jaw. Originally thought to be bite marks, paleontologists now believe they are abscesses caused by infection or disease.

But of all the displays in the exhibition, the vision station grabs me most. Here, fleshed-out skulls of triceratops and T. rex face off as visitors treat themselves to each dinosaur’s point of view via a set of goggles mounted inside each head. While triceratops’ eyes faced outward, like a fish’s, for a wide field of vision to spot predators, Sue’s eyes faced forward, creating depth perception to gauge distance and accurately locate her next meal — a characteristic she shares with humans. It’s strange to think that, even living millions of years apart, we didn’t see the world all that differently.

— Mark Karges

A T. rex Named Sue will be on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History through April 15. For more information, call (216) 231-4600 or visit www.cmnh.org.


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