Dr. Graham Young is about six-foot-four. He’s a fairly tall man, but he looks utterly puny standing next to the femur of the Futalognkosaurus, a long-named creature with long legs to match.
Exhibition previewClick to Expand
• Opens Saturday, runs to Sept. 5
• Tickets available at manitobamuseum.ca
Futalognkosaurus, a sauropod who hailed from Argentina and lived 85 million years ago, has a shin bone tall enough to be a starting point guard in the National Basketball Association. It could easily pop its head into the window of a fifth-storey apartment and, without leaving its feet, join you for breakfast. A herbivore, it will indulge in the greenery but pass on the bacon.
It’s in town for the summer.
"Futty," as its friends might call it, is one of the specimens of the Manitoba Museum’s Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibition, a travelling show making its latest stop in Winnipeg. There are dinosaurs big and small, carnivorous, herbivorous and omnivorous. There are creatures who come from Malawi and Spain and Patagonia, tourists of advanced age making a pit stop on the Prairies for a spell.
Young, the museum’s curator of geology and paleontology, is thrilled to be in the presence of giants. He first saw the exhibit a decade ago at the Royal Ontario Museum, and has wanted to bring the show to our humble city ever since. A planned visit to the museum in 2020 was thwarted by the onset of the pandemic, but the dinosaurs eventually made their way to the city this year, their itinerary reshuffled.
"None of these dinosaurs would have lived in Winnipeg," says Young. Just imagine the potholes they would make.
The exhibition goes beyond the stars of the dinosaur world, venturing past the Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops to reveal the startling diversity of the pre-human inhabitants of planet Earth.
We tend as a general public to know only the A-listers, but B through Z are just as interesting.
Standing in the Museum’s Alloway Hall is Carnotaurus, which means "meat-eating bull," who is smaller than Futty but will eat the bacon. There’s Amargasaurus. There’s the Buitreraptor, a bird-like dromaeosaurid — from the Greek "Dromeus" meaning "runner" and "Sauros" meaning "lizard" — who was born and died in Spain. The stoutly built predator Majungasaurus comes from Madagascar. You can probably guess whence the Malawisaurus and Argentinosaurus came.
Young, who first fell for the dinos as a young boy at the Museum of Natural History in London, walks through the exhibit with glee. It begins with an explanation of what the world looked like before it looked like the world we know today, when it was a single landmass known as Pangaea. Eventually, that block of land began to splinter as tectonic plates shifted, creating continental bodies more reminiscent of those we inhabit now. In both Laurasia to the north and Gondwana to the south, unique dinosaur species began to develop.
The exhibit focuses more on those southern species, who once walked on the terrain of South America and Africa. Via interactive features and traditional written ones, guests will learn about adaptations that these species developed to fit the challenges of their environments.
Some species, such as the Eoraptor, have dentition that indicates an omnivorous diet. The Suchomimus, which translates roughly to "crocodile mimic," possesses long, narrow jaws and backward-oriented teeth similar to its namesake.
"This exhibit tells a big story and gives really deep context," says Young. "It starts with the little dinosaurs and tells the story of plate tectonics, evolution and more."
Young says the scientific understanding of dinosaurs is constantly evolving, and the exhibition shows there’s much more to know than stegosauruses and pterodactyls.
In the museum, one gets a true grasp of the scope of dinosaurs, not simply in the sense of their complex anatomies, but in the ways they dominated the landscape prior to their mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous era.
Of course, there were some survivors of that event, the exhibit notes, including distant ancestors of humans and a single group of small feathered dinosaurs that are today classified as birds.
Outside the museum, a couple of pigeons congregated on the sidewalk, perhaps looking to find out where they came from.
They’ll have from Saturday until Sept. 5 to find out.
Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Manitoba Museum runs Thursday to Sunday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., opening on Saturday. Tickets are available at manitobamuseum.ca. It is produced by the Royal Ontario Museum and presented by the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.