Ancient crocs invade nature museum


Exhibit shows life after dinosaurs


Sheila O'Connell thought her 2-year-old might be a little scared of the realistic-looking crocodiles that have landed at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, but "once we got in there she really warmed up to it."

"When Crocodiles Ruled," Notebaert's newest exhibit, questions what happened after dinosaurs became extinct. To find the answer, the exhibit takes visitors back 60 million years to Wannagan Creek Quarry in North Dakota. For 25 years, scientists unearthed fossils there, revealing the remnants of a subtropical swamp, a perfect habitat for the 40-foot-long crocodiles that populated the Paleocene Epoch.

The interactive exhibit re-creates the dark and mysterious swamp as an educational playground that offers hands-on displays for younger children, such as 2-year-old Grace. Older children can learn more by studying the accompanying information and exploring the computer-learning activities.

The hit of the exhibit is a chance to assemble an 8-foot-long champsosaur skeleton, a relative of the crocodile.

There are three sections: "Trip Through Time" features life-size dioramas of the tropical North Dakota site and teaches about crocodiles through interactive activities; "World Change Central" shows visitors the area's evolution and explains how scientists figured out what the world was like 60 million years ago, and the "Field Camp" allows visitors to play in a replica of the original camp used by the researchers.

Children are invited to walk through time, learning about the Earth's evolution as they crawl and walk down a colorful path, watching as the habitat and its creatures change. Joel Alpern, production supervisor for the museum, says the interactive features help children absorb information. But the best part for many kids, he says, is that anything prehistoric is cool.

The museum also offers programs and is calling on the Chicago Herpetological Society to help the museum bring the exhibit to life, literally. On March 6 and 7, the society's experts will bring in live relatives of the crocodiles.

"When Crocodiles Ruled" is a traveling exhibit developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota. It runs through April 25.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission to the museum is $7, adults; $4, children ages 3-12; $5 seniors and students 13-22; free on Thursdays. There is an additional charge for "When Crocodiles Ruled." For information, call (773) 755-5100 or visit

Helen C. Hunt, Medill News Service


Copyright 2017 Wednesday Journal Inc. All rights reserved. Chicago web development by liQuidprint