The Academy of Natural Sciences re-stakes its claim as Philadelphia’s dinosaur museum with “Tiny Titans: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies.”
Organized in association with the Harvard Museum of Natural History, University of Tennessee and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Tiny Titans entertains and educates both children and adults by taking a rare look at dinosaurs through their fossilized eggs and nests — which were first unearthed by archaeologists in the 1920s.
One memorable fossil is a bowling-ball-size egg of a sauropod from Argentina, laid by a long-necked, plant-eating titanosaur that lived 75 million years ago. Tiny Titans also features a cluster of eggs laid by a duck-billed, plant-eating dinosaur, and the longest dinosaur eggs ever discovered — almost 18 inches — laid by a giant species of oviraptor, a carnivorous, ostrich-like dinosaur.
Jennifer Sontchi, the academy’s senior director of exhibits and public spaces, said that scientists have changed their minds about the oviraptor, which means egg-stealer. Oviraptor remains are so often found spread over a nest, that they were there to protect, instead of steal. “They’re also found in big groups. That tells you they had a social relationship of some kind. They’re not dumping them like (frog parents do with) tadpoles,” she said.
Tiny Titans points to genetic links between dinosaurs and birds, and introduces you to strange species like psittacosaurus, therizinosaurus, protoceratops and gigantoraptor.
Each section of Tiny Titans is enhanced with imaginative and lifelike models of dinosaur embryos and hatchlings, plus colorful illustrations of dinosaur families. A central feature of the multi-media experience is a presentation about the discovery of “Baby Louie,” the nearly-complete skeleton of a dinosaur embryo with its bones aligned in the proper position. The embryo, discovered in China in 1993, got its name from photojournalist Louie Psihoyos, who photographed it for “National Geographic.” Some of the real dinosaur eggs featured in that May 1996 issue will also be on display in Tiny Titans.
By the way, in May Baby Louie finally got an official scientific name with the publication of a study in the journal “Nature Communications” — beibeilong sinensis (or “baby dragon from China”).
Other highlights of Tiny Titans include the opportunity to touch a real dinosaur bone — a massive hadrosaur tibia; dressing up like a dinosaur; interactive dig pits where you can imagine the thrill of discovering dinosaur eggs; videos featuring prominent dinosaur experts; and information on the most recent discoveries about dinosaur reproduction and behavior.
Even with as long as humans have been studying dinosaurs, there are still things to be learned. For example, no eggs from horned dinosaurs, such as triceratops, have ever been found. “This shows you how relevant paleontology is today,” Sontchi said. “We’re not done; we’re just getting started.”