Dinosaurs for Visitors
The Museum's fourth-floor elevator button is always lit, because that's where the dinosaurs are. The dinosaur halls have more than 136 specimens on view, just a tiny fraction of the largest collection of dinosaurs in the world.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center introduces visitors to the key concepts presented in the Museum’s fourth-floor fossil halls, in which more than 600 specimens, 85 percent of them actual fossils, are on display.
The Museum’s dinosaur exhibits are organized to reflect the evolutionary relationships among the animals. A walk through the exhibition halls is like a walk along the trunk, branches, and twigs of the evolutionary tree for dinosaurs. A thick black line on the floor, which starts in this hall and continues through the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing, and the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of Mammals and Their Extinct Relatives, denotes the “trunk” of this tree. There are branching points along the main path that represent the evolution of new anatomical features, such as the hole in the center of the hip socket. At each branching point, visitors can walk off the main path to explore alcoves containing a group of closely related dinosaurs.
The ornithischians were an extremely diverse group of plant-eating sauropsids (reptiles). Many had complex and often bizarre adaptations for defense, display, feeding, and locomotion. The group includes armored dinosaurs - such as Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus; duckbills and their relatives; and the horned and dome-headed dinosaurs, such as Triceratops and Pachycephalosaurus.
The hip structure of ornithischian dinosaurs is advanced in relation to that of saurischians. The pubis bone, located at the front of the pelvis, has an extension that points toward the rear of the animal. Because this arrangement of hip bones was originally thought to resemble that of birds, this group of dinosaurs was named Ornithischia, or “bird-hipped.” Research has now established, however, that birds are a type of saurischian (“lizard-hipped” dinosaur) because they share many more-advanced skeletal features with other members of this group. Thus, ornithischians are not really “bird-hipped” at all. Whether the advanced hip structure of ornithischians reflects a functional difference between ornithischians and saurischians is not yet clear.
Saurischian dinosaurs include the giant plant-eating sauropods and the carnivorous theropods. This hall features the imposing mounts of Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus.
The saurischian hand is the key to the group’s remarkable history. Saurischians are characterized by grasping hands, in which the thumb is offset from the other fingers. The hand of these dinosaurs has fingers that differ in size and shape. The thumb is strong and offset, the second finger is longest, and the other fingers become smaller toward the edge of the hand. The saurischian hand probably had at least a limited grasping ability.
In the giant dinosaurs—the sauropods—the grasping hand was further transformed so that a heavy foot evolved. And in the carnivorous theropods the grasping hand developed a number of adaptations, including the capacity for flight.
The Museum's grand entrance on Central Park West, the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, is part of New York State's official memorial to its 33rd governor and the 26th president of the United States. At the center is a dramatic scene: an imagined confrontation between an attacking Allosaurus and a Barosaurus protecting its young.
It's the tallest dinosaur mount in the world to feature a freestanding animal rearing up. The Barosaurus skeleton is composed of replica bones cast from actual fossils, which would be too heavy to support in this fashion.
Explore the Museum's world-famous dinosaur exhibits on this self-guided tour.
The 4-foot-long jaw, the 6-inch-long teeth, the massive thigh bones—almost everything about Tyrannosaurus rex indicates the enormous power of one of the largest theropod dinosaurs that ever existed.
In January 2016, the Museum added another must-see exhibit to its world-famous fossil halls: a cast of a 122-foot-long dinosaur.
This 65-million-year-old Triceratops has a large frill on the back of its skull, two large horns over its eyes, and a smaller horn on its nose. On the side of the skull on display is a partially healed injury, perhaps caused by a conflict with another Triceratops.