Dinosaurs make a roaring return to the Museum of Natural History

From left, Alex Jimenez, Francisco Guzman, Dylan Otte and Melissa Guajardo feast their eyes upon the terrifyingly accurate Tyrannosaurus rex on March 10, 2021, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Otte is a naturalist at the museum and has been working there since 2018, and was giving her friends a private tour around the exhibit while relaying plenty of information and anecdotes throughout.

Alexandra Rubalcaba Ruther, Staff Writer

Dinosaurs are once again roaring through the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, providing guests the opportunity to walk back into the time of the Mesozoic era.

“The Prehistoric Forest” brings the Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Parasaurolophus and Euoplocephalus to a permanent home in a newly renovated outdoor exhibit after a summer 2019 showing.  

“I hope that guests can really transport themselves back in time, and being around these enormous dinosaurs can put their brains back in the Mesozoic, during a unique time of Earth’s history,” said Jenna Rolle, the museum’s Teen Programs Manager and Earth and Planetary Sciences instructor at City College. 

While indoor exhibits remain closed due to COVID-19, the museum found a solution by providing an outdoor experience to guests.  

The exhibit dinosaurs stand at an 80% scale to their actual size, while making small movements and performing their individual calls. The museum has made changes to its surroundings to make the experience as authentic as possible. 

“We wanted to make sure each dinosaur was placed in positions and environments that were realistic to their actual habitats,” said Rolle. “We tried to make them blend into the environment in a somewhat natural way.” 

One returning dinosaur had its species updated, as the Euoplocephalus was originally identified as the Ankylosaurus last summer. 

Both dinosaurs belong to the same armored family that possesses two horns on their head, a clubbed tail, and armor along their back. However, details on the animatronic dino such as eye positioning and number of toes led museum educators to determine it as a Euoplocephalus.    

Rolle said that she and Dibblee Curator of Earth Science Jonathan Hoffman have put a lot of time and attention into maintaining the most up-to-date information for guests. 

“Jonathan and I are always making sure the information on the plaques are as scientifically accurate as possible for the public,” said Rolle. “The discovery never ends; we are always finding new information.” 

The Sprague Pavilion, home to the “Butterflies Alive!” exhibit, has been converted into “Dinorama: Miniatures Through the Mesozoic,” a temporary exhibit that will be in place until April 25. 

“Kids can be intimidated by the large dinosaurs and can come to the Butterfly Pavilion and see dinosaurs at kid height,” said Rolle. “They can get real close and discover things.” 

Non-animatronic pieces from the Prehistoric Forest collection can also be found outside the exhibit, such as half of a Triceratops at the bridge and the head of a Tyrannosaurus rex displayed in front of the Sprague Pavilion.

“I hope guests feel in awe and want to come back again and again,” Rolle said.