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Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Welcomes a 42-Foot Tyrannosaurus Rex

Largest, most complete and best-preserved T. rex skeleton, named Sue, is spending the summer at the museum, inspiring awe and fear in visitors

Sue is the largest, most complete, and best-preserved T. rex skeleton ever discovered and is visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History until Sept. 11.
Sue is the largest, most complete, and best-preserved T. rex skeleton ever discovered and is visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History until Sept. 11. (Larry Nimmer photo)

At 42 feet long and 12 feet high at the hips, Sue is the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered.

The famous representative of the iconic dinosaur species is visiting for the summer, and will be at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta Del Sol, until Sept. 11. 

“We have a traveling-exhibits program where we just look for the coolest things we can find out there in the world,” said Frank Hein, the museum’s director of exhibits.

“And every now and then, we comb the list and we see something that we really think is going to just be amazing and then we pursue it. And in this case, we were able to get a contract to bring (Sue) here.”

The extinct, carnivorous behemoth was discovered by paleontologist Sue Hendrickson in South Dakota in 1990, roughly 67 million years after the dinosaur roamed the earth.

Sue’s permanent home is The Field Museum in Chicago, which shelled out $8.4 million for the skeleton in 1997.

At 90-percent complete, Sue’s skeleton is 30 percent more complete than any T. rex discovered prior, according to The Field Museum.

“A couple years ago, as we thought about our centennial year, which is (2016), we really wanted to do something really special for Santa Barbara to thank this community for everything they’ve done for us over 10 decades,” museum president and CEO Luke Swetland told Noozhawk.

“We spoke with The Field Museum, and they were able to lock us in for Sue to come here for the summer,” he said.

Accompanying Sue’s bones in the “A T. rex Named Sue” exhibit are features about Hendrickson and T. rex attributes like jaw strength and how they used their tails. Hein said no one knows for certain whether Sue was female or male.

“When you stand next to the skeleton and look at it, you get a sense of, as large as it is, how limber and how mobile it must have been,” said Hein. “To be a fast-moving, big-toothed giant like that, you kind of feel it standing next to it.”

As massive as Sue is, the dinosaur is only the second-largest animal at the museum, behind the 73-foot-long skeleton of Chad the blue whale, the largest species ever to live.

“It’s kind of cool that the largest animal you could ever, ever possibly hope to see still is alive and well,” Hein said. “We have the skeleton of Chad, and the largest T. rex that ever lived is just feet away,” said Hein.

Chad the whale, however, hasn’t taken all the attention Sue has garnered sitting down, and the two were engaged in a relentless pun battle on Twitter.

“It’s about having fun,” Swetland said. “Science is fun, and that’s what we want to remind everybody.”

Along with Sue, Swetland said, the new Butterflies Alive! exhibit makes for an especially impressive summer at the museum.

“On any given day, there are over 1,500 butterflies fluttering, and that’s hugely popular,” he said. “Sue and the butterflies are really the cornerstone of the summer here at the museum.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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