Sue’s new digs

by Greg Mayer

Sue, the remarkably complete Tyrannosaurus rex discovered by (and named for) Sue Hendrickson, and excavated by Pete Larson and the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, has long graced Stanley Field Hall at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Last year, the Museum announced that Sue would be moved upstairs, into the “regular” dinosaur hall, and that her place would be taken by a model of Patagotitan, a very large sauropod dinosaur. We’ve been following Sue’s progress here at WEIT, and earlier this month the new arrangements were completed and opened to the public.

Let’s start with what’s taken Sue’s place in Stanley Field Hall.

Stanley Field Hall, December 28, 2018.

Standing more or less where Sue once stood is Patagotitan. Unlike Sue, who is 90% actual fossil by volume, Patagotitan is a cast. (Note the elephants and people for scale.)  Swooping over the elephants is a life reconstruction of Quetzalcoatlus, the largest known pterosaur, who shares etymological roots with Jerry’s favorite beuatiful bird. Several smaller, long-tailed pterosaurs– Rhamphorhynchus, I think– can be seen over the Patagotitan. Hanging from the ceiling are several large planters, which resemble the “floating islands” from Avatar.

Hanging planters in Stanley Field Hall.

There were many small lights attached to each planter. I could not discern how the plants were watered.

From the second floor we could look down upon Patagotitan,

Stanley Field Hall.

and look Quetzalcoatlus in the eye.

Quetzalcoatlus in Stanley Field Hall.

Sue is now housed in a special section of the longstanding exhibit, Evolving Planet, which is organized as a walk through time, from the pre-Cambrian to the Cenozoic. Another life reconstruction of Quetzalcoatlus, this one in standing posture, has been placed at the entrance. They were big!

Quetzalcoatlus at entrance to Evolving Planet.

The new Sue hall is located in Evolving Planet in the appropriate spatial and chronological location– the end of the Cretaceous.

Note that the signage is bilingual, in English and, in a smaller font, Spanish. The Field has adopted this convention for all it’s new exhibits.

So here’s the old girl herself!

Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

(Sue’s sex is actually unknown, so, properly, it’s “itself”.) Here’s a video overview of all of her.

In the video, you may have noticed that, compared to her previous mounting, Sue now has a second set of “ribs”, the gastralia, or “abdominal ribs”. These were part of the original excavation, but not included before. The true ribs have also had their distal ends extended a bit laterally, giving Sue a more barrel-chested appearance.

The new, barrel-chested Sue.

This is also a life reconstruction mural in the exhibit. I believe it is a new reconstruction; it is not the one by John Gurche that was found in the old second floor exhibit.

The new, barrel-chested Sue, as she might have appeared in life.

The revisions in the mounting are explained in this ‘science makeover‘ explainer on the Field’s website. Sue’s skull is still housed in a case separate from the mount, and the other Sue materials (most notably bronze models of various bones) from the old second floor overlook have been moved in to the new exhibit.

An engineer friend who I showed some of these pictures to thought that Sue was depicted as too front-end heavy, and that she would topple over forward. The current view is that the tail was massive and muscular, and provided a counterweight, but I, too, thought that, especially with the new barrel chest, she did look a bit over-extended, the heavy front end held too horizontal to readily balance over the hind legs.

A number of associated fossils from the late Cretaceous are also in Sue’s part of the hall, most notably this Triceratops skull.

As some readers may know, Sue came to the Field Museum by a roundabout and unsavory process, involving civil and criminal legal battles, and major financial intervention by McDonald’s (the burger chain) and Disney. The Field Museum’s part in this was largely, if not wholly, salutary, but nonetheless, as in the last exhibit, there is little or no mention of these circumstances in the new exhibit, other than a prominent nod to Sue Hendrickson. Some of the Black Hills Institute’s photos and field notes figure in the exhibit, and are subtly, but properly, acknowledged.


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Glad to know the skeleton is going to be up!

  2. Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on myselfishgeneblog.

  3. Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    It’s always worth the time to see these fossils. I never s=come away without being flabbergasted. Reminds me of the Fernbank in Atlanta where they keep a mounted Argentinosaur. Massive creature!

  4. Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    As for appearing front-heavy, we probably don’t make the appropriate correction to our intuition for the fact that the rib cage contained hollow lungs

    • Posted December 31, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      I agree.

      • lkr
        Posted December 31, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        Not just the lungs — Trex, like most advanced archosaurs presumably had extensive pneumonisation of fore body.

        Still, with the massive head, I’d expect that the femora were more horizontal at repose — consequentially shortening the stride.

    • Posted December 31, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Much of the head is also hollow.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted January 1, 2019 at 4:42 am | Permalink

      And the tail was massive and muscular, we think.

  5. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    (Sue’s sex is actually unknown, so, properly, it’s “itself”.)

    IT may be my memory playing tricks about the actual fossil, but I thought someone identified medullary bone in Sue a few years ago. “Medullary” bone has a distinctive structure in avalian theropod dinosaurs (birds) and is a calcium store which is built up over time in the female then raided to provide the calcium for the egg shell. Therefore it is an indicator of femaleness.

    Listening to the news from NASA. Ultima Thule just reported as having about a 3:1 profile. Which makes it’s lack of a light curve even more perplexing.

    • Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Signage indicated the sex was unknown. But perhaps it is a she after all!


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 1, 2019 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        %0% probability, to a close approximation.

  6. Posted December 31, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Whatever winds blew in the Cretacious, I cannot get how Quetzalcoatlus could fly! Must be one of the fossils planted by the Creator to test our faith ;-).

    • lkr
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good question, and not helped by the extremely fragmentary nature of Q> northropi. The holotype consists of a complete humerus, no more, so all the displayed specimens are composited from smaller [but still huge] Q,spp. and even then a lot had to be imagined.

      A lot depends on the body mass, but at minimum it would have weighed 400+ pounds, with relstively short wings. Avian dinosaurs quit trying well below that weight class, but not in landscaped full of even more gigantic meat-eaters..

      All in all, I’d guess these were more burst-to-escape fliers than the transcontinental fliers that Habid et al imagined. And just the sort of group that given time [they were end-Cretaceous, unfortunately], would have become flightless.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted January 1, 2019 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        I don’t know, the bones of pterosaurs were thin and hollow and probably had airsacs (like birds and theropods, allowing for a very much more efficient respiration than of us poor mammals).
        I doubt, because a decade or two ago I read that engineers determined that bees could not possibly fly according to classical aeronautics, yet they do. It is clear the ancestors of the Quetzalcoatlus did fly. They could have lost the ability to fly, of course, but they were not ‘island’ pterosaurs, and must have remained vulnerable to predators. Agreed that it is a moot point.

  7. Mark R.
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the update on Sue’s move. I think the Quetzalcoatlus is a good replacement- a spectacular and impressive beast.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted January 1, 2019 at 4:44 am | Permalink

      If you see the lady’s size compared to the Quetzal, it is clear it could have swallowed a human whole. I’ve seen herons swallowing prey comparatively bigger.

  8. Curt Nelson
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I wonder who would win in a fight: T rex or Quetzalcoatlus?

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted January 1, 2019 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      T rex, hands down, much bigger, more solid and better armed.
      Like a heron would lose to a wolf.

  9. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    I had no notion of gastralia until this post.
    It seems they may have assisted with breathing:

    “Gastralial aspiration may have been linked to the generation of small pressure differences between potential cranial and caudal lung diverticula, which may have been important for the evolution of the unidirectional airflow lung of birds”

    Here is a clear picture of gastralia on a gorgosaurus:

  10. TD2000
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful exhibit… but on a much more minor note, I completely disagree with bilingual signage. Why not write the sign in Hindi as well? Or Mandarin? If you want to become an American citizen, you need to learn English, the national language. Period. If I were to emigrate to another country, I would of course make it my top priority to learn their language. This should be obvious…

    Happy New Year!

    • Posted December 31, 2018 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      And what about visitors? I was very grateful for the English subtexts on many signs when I visited Taiwan. Probably the majority of non-English-speaking visitors to the US come from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      Yep. Applying that principle, I will make a point of obliterating all the English subtitles I see on signs in France, Germany, Russia, China…


    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted January 1, 2019 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      Don’t be so parochial, I don’t think it is particularly aimed at immigrants, but at tourists (if I were to visit Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History would definitely be on the programme). I think your suggestion of Mandarin and Hindi sub-signing a good one.
      I’m grateful that in many countries the language of which I don’t understand, they have an English sub-text in most musea.

    • Posted January 1, 2019 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      Well, I think it’s a good thing to accommodate at least the larger minorities; the English they learn for day-to-day use might not be enough for technical descriptions.

      In any case, what about tourists from Latin America?


      PS. I have the opposite problem. I own the excellent Récords y curiosidades de los dinosaurios terópodos y otros dinosauromorfos … and bought myself a Spanish dictionary to go with it. (Now I find that an English edition will be published later this year.)

  11. Posted January 1, 2019 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    If you’re ever in Bozeman, Montana be sure to visit The Museum of the Rockies. They have a terrific collection of T. rex, Tricerotops, and other fossils.

  12. Posted January 2, 2019 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    Wow! they are BIG!

  13. Diane G
    Posted January 12, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Greg! Fascinating tale with all kinds of side stories to waste a few hours with. Love the pic of the woman with the Quetzalcoatlus.

    Well, and all the other shots, too. 🙂

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