Though the extinction of dinosaurs on this planet is legendary, for the next two months, a bevy of these awesome creatures from more than 65 million years ago will be “unextinct” at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Complementing the “Deep Time” exhibit of 700 specimens in the new Hall of Fossils at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the zoo will celebrate “Dino Summer” featuring two immersive and interactive experiences— DinoRoars and Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live.

“We are trying to create a little dino fever throughout D.C. and across the region this summer,” said spokesperson Annalisa Meyer. “Families can visit the fossil hall at the museum and understand more about dinosaurs and how we got where we are, but at the zoo they will see life-sized, moving dinosaurs and hear their roars.”

DinoRoars



Six massive animatronic dinosaurs are strategically placed in the landscape near Olmsted Walk, where they can be readily viewed and experienced by visitors. Impressively, the first creature families will encounter along the pathway is the looming 39-foot T. rex, who moves his head and limbs as its fabled roar resounds throughout the zoo. The six dinosaur species that will be making their appearance throughout the summer include the Compsognathus, a small speedy dinosaur that ran on two legs as it pursued its prey; the bird-like Quetzalcoatlus; and the “armored” Stegosaurus whose body (which could weigh as much as 5 tons) was guided by a walnut-sized brain.

Throughout the displays, interpretive signage provides information about the unique abilities of the different species and special features that are similar to the zoo’s resident animals. These include the showy crest of the Dilophosaurus, which is similar to the crest of the zoo’s Abyssinian ground hornbill, Karl; and the strong jaw of the T. rex, which can be compared to the jaw strength of the zoo’s bamboo-chomping pandas.

“My favorite is the Dilophosaurus, who squirts water at the visitors!” said Meyer. “How many people can say that a dinosaur cooled them off?”

Those looking for a less dramatic way to cool off might opt for the spray of the zoo’s misters, a beverage from one of the food trucks that are positioned along the trail, or by dropping in at the air-conditioned Visitor Center Theater where two other summer experiences are featured.

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live, whose scientifically accurate but winsome larger-than-life dinosaur puppets have thrilled audiences around the world, will take visitors on a prehistoric journey to see and experience a spectrum of insects and dinosaurs that roamed the planet millions of years ago.

Erth has enchanted and excited audiences young and old with its interactive “petting zoo” of dino puppets, created by world-class designers with the expert guidance of paleontologists and brought to life by energetic actors and puppeteers. The delightful edu-tainment production includes dinosaurs that go out into the audience as well as an opportunity for audience volunteers to join them onstage.

Each performance is followed by a ticketed photo session, where children and their families can hold a baby dinosaur for a treasured photo souvenir.

“I met one family who was seeing the show for their third time!” said Meyer. “The kids get super-excited. They just love dinosaurs and this is evident not only by the T-shirts they wear but also by the knowledge they have when they come in. Some know more about dinosaurs than their parents do and call out the names of the different species they see. They leave saying things like, ‘I didn’t like it—I LOVED it!’ and ‘two thumbs up!”

“Our ‘Dino Summer’ features also bring an important message about conservation. The dinosaurs went extinct and we don’t want that to happen to another species. For example, birds are descendants of dinosaurs and some birds are in jeopardy today,” said Meyer. “One wonderful conservation success was the effort that ultimately resulted in the removal of pandas from the endangered species list. Our giant pandas have become the iconic symbol of the zoo.

Pandas

To celebrate that victory and provide insight regarding all that is invested in preserving and protecting a species, the Visitor Center Theater will offer a screening of “Pandas.” The documentary gives audiences a glimpse into the efforts of the Chengdu Panda Base in China, where committed scientists work to protect the species by breeding giant pandas and introducing them to the wild. The film follows and endearing female cub, Qian Qian, as she explores the realm beyond her protected habitat for the first time.

“The scientists in China are our peers and colleagues and our staff members have traveled there to work,” said Meyer. “I hope families will leave the zoo excited and thinking about something they can do to protect nature in their own backyards. Something as simple as growing certain plants or putting out a bird feeder may seem small, but it can make a difference in our environment.”

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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