A Rare Visit to FMNH

This is a big time for the Field Museum. The museum is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Máximo the Patagotitan has taken center stage in Stanley Field Hall, accompanied by Quetzalcoatlus, Pteranodon, and Rhamphorhynchus. Antarctic Dinosaurs, one of the best special exhibits I have ever seen, has opened(be on the lookout for another blog post on the exhibit in the near future). Sue has been remounted, and is getting an entirely new exhibit built for her. And the entrance to Evolving Planet has also been remade. And yet, during my first visit to FMNH this year, only one of those things was an objective of my visit. That’s because I was actually there to visit Christopher McGarrity and Adrienne Stroup, who both showed me around the geology collections. But since collections aren’t too much of our focus here, I’ll just show some of the highlights.

The arm of Stylinodon. Photo by the author.

The first specimen I saw was the arm of Stylinodon, lying out on a table. I was actually told that some decades ago, a cast of the arm was desired to be a backscratcher, which would have been rather effective. On my second visit to FMNH, which was less than a week from the first, this specimen was on display in the Grainger Science Hub, where specimens from the Collections are temporarily exhibited.

Tooth plates of the Edaphosaurus novomexicanus type specimen. Photo by the author.
A baby mastodon skull collected by Bill Simpson in Monroe County. Photo by the author.
The type skull of Thylacosmilus. Photo by the author.
The lower jaw of the type of Thylacosmilus, with a foam curvy structure. Photo by the author.
The left sabertooth of the Thylacosmilus holotype. Photo by the author.

One of the most notable specimens in the mammal collections is the holotype skull of Thylacosmilus. This, along with the Stylinodon arm, was also displayed in the Grainger Science Hub during my second visit. The left saber in the skull of Thylacosmilus is actually a replica, since the left saber hadn’t been discovered when the majority of the skull was unearthed. But in a stroke of luck, the Captain Marshall Field Expeditions actually discovered the left saber belonging to that specimen, down a hill. Right above the Thylacosmilus, another very important mammal was hiding in a shelf.

The tiny holotype skull of Morganucodon oehleri. Photo by the author.

This specimen of Morganucodon is officially “on loan” from the Catholic University of Peking. Since CUP doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s now “permanently on loan”. The type of Morganucodon oehleri is part of a cache of fossils actually smuggled out from the Catholic University of Peking. H.W. Rigney, the describer of M. oehleri, dispatched an envoy in 1948 to Lufeng, forming a huge collection of fossils. However, this collection was smuggled out of China, distributed to foreign scholars, and now resides at FMNH. Next, dinosaurs. Specifically, dinosaurs in the mammal collections.

A ton of Cryolophosaurus bones. Photo by the author.

The day I visited, there was a plethora of Cryolophosaurus verts and ribs lying out in the mammal collections. They all had that very distinct color that comes from Hanson Formation fossils, and were lying along side some other Hanson fossils, including a fibula from the undescribed sauropodomorph, one of the Jolly Rogers. But besides these Antarctic fossils, there were no other dinosaur fossils in the mammal collections, logically. The dinosaur collections are underground, in the Collections Resource Center. And as you would expect, it is full of holotypes.

Scapula from Camarasaurus, with a headless mosasaur skeleton in the background. Photo by the author.
The holotype of Siats, with the description. Photo by the author. 

The holotype of Siats, while far from eye-candy, still manages to impress, simply because of how large some of the bones are.

The caudal dorsal centrum of Siats. Photo by the author.
The cranial dorsal vert of Siats. Photo by the author.

The size of some of the verts is almost shocking. Siats‘ reputation as a huge megaraptoran superpredator is well-earned. But there’s a far larger apex in the dinosaur collections.

A fused caudal vert from FMNH PR 2081. Photo by the author.

There are quite a few pieces of Sue around collections. The caudal vert above is one of them. The reason it’s not on the mount is because of the fact that it’s a fused bone, and to mount it, FMNH would have to go full-on 20th century style, and drill through the bone. So, a cast is on the mount instead. There’s also a much smaller tyrannosaur in Collections, of which has much more in Collections than Sue.

The beautifully preserved foot of “Elmer”, a juvenile Gorgosaurus. Photo by the author.
The pubis of “Elmer”. Photo by the author.
The tail of “Elmer”. Photo by the author.

“Elmer”, a juvenile Gorgosaurus that Elmer Riggs had discovered, also resides in Collections. Temporarily on display last year in the Field Museum’s Specimens exhibit, this is a magnificent specimen, especially with that excellently-preserved foot. But so far, I’ve only shown you the smaller bones. There are far bigger fossils here.

The holotype femur of Brachiosaurus. Photo by the author.
Holotype verts of Brachiosaurus. Photo by the author.

Behind Sue, the Field Museum’s most famous specimen may just be the holotype of Brachiosaurus. While only the humerus and multiple other verts are on display in Evolving Planet, much more of the holotype is here on this shelf. The femur actually looks a bit like a toy car with those wheels strapped to the wooden planks holding the bone and plaster jacket up, which I guess is conventional for moving the huge bone around.

Oh, Antarctosaurus is also here, I guess. Photo by the author.
The holotype skull of Thalattoarchon. Photo by the author.
Postcranial elements of the Thalattoarchon holotype. Photo by the author.

Thalattoarchon is an interesting ichthyosaur, but the holotype isn’t great. It took longer than I would like to admit for me to realize that the skull is the skull, since it’s divided into three pieces by foam slips. However, there’s a ton of info piled around the holotype for some reason, making quite a big deal out of it. However, there’s an ichthyosaur specimen in FMNH that I was much more interested in.

Cymbospondylus disapproves. Photo by the author.

The Cymbospondylus skull is, by far, the most fun ichthyosaur specimen in there. That’s simply because it’s either really concerned, or angrily disapproving of something. Obviously, it wouldn’t have that angry looking brow in real life, but taphonomy can be amazing sometimes. Slightly farther away, under a shelf, it’s the basal pareiasaur, Bradysaurus.

The partial skeleton of Bradysaurus baini. Photo by the author.

Not much comments here, other than the fact that the legs that aren’t under the shelf are the hindlimbs, not the forelimbs. So, if it looks headless, it’s actually tailless.

The skull and limbs of that mosasaur seen above behind the camarasaur scapulae. Photo by the author.
The holotype skull of Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus. Photo by the author.

FMNH is home to the holotype of Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus. While most of the holotype is mounted in Evolving Planet, the skull remains in Collections, sort-of hidden in the back of a shelf. This makes it so that the only really distinguishable parts of the skull are the crest and the back of the skull. Now, there’s only one more type specimen I’m gonna show, and it’s of an avian dinosaur.

The holotype of Andalgalornis, with some painful-looking internal armatures. Photo by the author.

In the holotype of Andalgalornis, one of the most notable features is not the holotype itself, but the armature in the jaws. They’re internal armatures, meaning they’ve essentially been drilled through, causing permanent damage(although this was the norm in the mid-1900s). Now, that’s all I’m going to cover in Collections. Let’s move on to the fossil hall stuff. After the dinosaur collections, I was led into Sue’s new exhibit, still under construction.

How most visitors see Sue nowadays. Photo by the author.

While pretty much all visitors are limited to seeing Sue from that tiny little window. I got to go into the little wooden box that they had built around her myself. It was extremely satisfying to walk past that little window as the crowd of people looking at Sue were puzzled by the sudden appearance of some seemingly random visitor. After going past a set of doors in what almost looked like a huge Ziploc bag, I entered Sue’s little wooden box.

The view upon entering Sue’s little wooden box. Photo by the author. 

In this small space, Sue is absolutely massive. And with that dramatic lighting in the wooden box, it creates an incredibly surreal experience upon entering that room. Without all those people crowding around her, and in almost-perfect silence, an imposing presence radiates out from Sue. IMG_8422

While it is still clear that this pose is quite similar to the old Sue in Stanley Field Hall, it has a completely different air about it. Maybe it’s the jaws, now open wider. Maybe it’s just the lighting. Maybe it’s the fixed leg. Whatever it is, I have a feeling that this Sue experience is going to be completely different from the one in Stanley Field Hall.

FMNH PR 2081. Photo by the author.

In her new exhibit, habitat immersion is definitely going to be put in use, fully contextualizing Sue in her 66-million year old environment. This one exhibit will recreate Hell Creek, and in center stage, the most complete Tyrannosaurus specimen ever discovered, FMNH PR 2081.


2 thoughts on “A Rare Visit to FMNH

  1. Just found your blog. I’ve been going on a personal tour of most major northern and northeastern museums, including TFM. I am curious as to how you gain access to the collections, as well as Sue while her new exhibit was being built. Do they recognize your blog as a beneficial media outlet?


    1. In this case, I knew someone who knew someone at FMNH, and I was able to set up a meeting through email, which eventually turned into a tour around collections and into the Sue exhibit. As for my blog, I got approval to publish photos and my own recollection on here during the meeting (usually just asking will work).


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