Arts & entertainment

SUE stomps back to Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Most complete T. rex continues to share secrets


For many people, the Tyrannosaurus rex is the dinosaur, and it’s easy to understand why. There’s no animal today that comes close to the sheer intimidation and raw power that this Cretaceous-era dinosaur possessed. But there’s still a lot to learn about this predator. And that’s where SUE comes in.

The T. rex known as SUE is the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus to be discovered so far. It was discovered by Sue Hendrickson — hence its nickname — in South Dakota in 1990. More than 30 years later, it is still offering scientists all kinds of glimpses into the life and times of the “King of the Tyrant Lizards.”

And now Denver residents can enter SUE’s world and see the animal itself at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

“We had SUE in 2012, (but) it was in a different setup back then. That’s because we’re changing our views of dinosaurs all the time,” said Dr. Joe Sertich, museum curator of dinosaurs. “In 10 years, SUE could be back with a completely different setup based on new discoveries.”

SUE: The T. rex Experience — on loan from the Field Museum in Chicago — features an exact cast of SUE’s skeleton, which, according to provided information, measures 40 feet from snout to tail and 13 feet tall at the hip. To help visitors get a sense of what the animal actually looked like, there is also a full-sized replica of SUE — with a sample of what it would’ve dined on. The exhibit also features animations, touchable bronze casts of SUE’s bones and a multimedia light show that provides insight into its bones.

One of the most fascinating new pieces of information is also the most visible — the gastralia, or belly ribs, that stretched across the T. rex’s abdomen and helped it to breathe. These were not part of SUE’s anatomy during its last visit and are a testament to how big discoveries are still waiting to be made.

As is so often the case, it’s the museum’s additions from its own collections that give the exhibit added depth and nuance. And when it comes to Colorado and dinosaurs, there’s a lot to say.

“The first Triceratops fossils were found in the area in 1887 in what is now the Highlands neighborhood,” Sertich said. “Focusing on SUE’s world highlights that this is very much a Denver Museum story as well. I think there’s no better exhibit for this museum than SUE.”

There are more than 20 specimens from the museum featured in the exhibit, including femur and a vertebra of the only T. rex skeleton ever found in the state, part of the Triceratops found at a construction site in Highlands Ranch in 2019, the jaw from the Torosaurus that was found in Thornton in 2017 and more.

Not only do these local connections highlight and explore what Colorado was like millions of years ago, they also emphasize how diverse species and ecosystem information paint a picture of a world in flux — both then and now.

MORE: DMNS-funded research sheds light on rare dinosaur discovery

“It has taken a long time from the early days of the dinosaur bone rush to see these animals as living, breathing creatures who were always changing,” Sertich said. “All this teaches us a lot about (how) life responded to change back then, and that has relevance to today.”


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