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‘Dinosaurs’ return to Brookfield Zoo

A triceratops (left) Tyrannosaurus rex (background) an Omeisaurus (right) are among dinosaurs you can encounter Brookfield Zoo.

A triceratops (left), a Tyrannosaurus rex (background) and an Omeisaurus (right) are among the dinosaurs you can encounter at Brookfield Zoo.

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♦ To Oct. 27

♦ Brookfield Zoo, 8400 31st St., Brookfield

♦ (708) 688-8000

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Lions and tigers and ... dinosaurs?

The unexpected site of the seemingly living and breathing prehistoric animals might catch Brookfield Zoo visitors by surprise, but no worries. These 24 creatures are animatronic replicas of the extinct reptiles — all part of the zoo’s “Dinosaurs Alive!” exhibit, which runs to Oct. 27.

Understanding dinosaurs, how they lived and the science behind them “can help us learn about how we can deal with the changes” in today’s world, said Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager at Brookfield Zoo.

“A lot of them are not that different from modern day animals,” Copeland said. “There are a lot of striking similarities, especially with the modern day bird.”

The special exhibit — which requires a separate fee in addition to regular zoo admission — helps people explore the connection between dinosaurs and humans.

Designed by the Canadian company, Dinosaurs Unearthed, all of the animals on display have at last three movements, and make sounds. Those sounds are matched to what scientists believe the dinosaurs sounded like during their time on earth.

“Based on their shape, they can somewhat guess what they might have sounded like,” Copeland said.

“Dinosaurs Alive!” debuted at the zoo in 2009. Proving to behugely popular, Brookfield Zoo brought it back this year with even more animatronic figures. As visitors walk along the exhibit’s trail, they can see favorites like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops. And making their first appearance this year are dinosaurs including Styracosaurus, Tuojiangosaurus, and Pachycephalosaurus, and the feathered Microraptor and Gigantoraptor.

The largest dinosaur in the exhibit — and the largest to walk on two legs — is the Shantungosaurus. Located next to the zoo’s Roosevelt Fountain, it stands more than 20 feet tall and 50 feet long. Seven of the dinosaurs are located in a covered 5,000 square-foot tent area so visitors can see them with the feathers, including a baby T-Rex and Velociraptor.

Many people grew up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s thinking that dinosaurs were cold-blooded animals covered with scales, akin to modern day reptiles, Copeland said. But continued research has changed those opinions.

“They started to find out there’s some things they may be wrong about,” Copeland said.

Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of scientists who believe some of the dinosaurs were covered in feathers, he said. Those include the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Velociraptor. And those scales that covered the also beloved Stegosaurus? There may have been another use for them besides self defense.

“A lot of scientists are thinking they helped regulate body temperature, much the way long ears do for African elephants,” Copeland said.

Even since the exhibit’s first appearance in 2009 there have been new discoveries and new extinction theories, he said.

While common belief is that a meteor or volcanic winter led the dinosaurs’ demise, now scientists are considering that a much smaller comet, hitting at a high rate of speed could be the cause.

“If we continue to question, we can always find something new,” Copeland said.

Along with the animatronic figures, exhibit visitors can view real fossils including bones, skulls and eggs. Kids can also take part in the “Dino Dig” area and search like a paleontologist.

Information about the different dinosaurs is shared in a fun, interactive way — including the use of mobile QR codes — in order to engage adults as well. Many of the facts are presented as if an entertainment magazine is reporting on the socialite dinosaurs.

The exhibit will also give people a chance to learn “how sometimes in movies things are done for artistic purposes,” Copeland said. For instance, in the recently re-released “Jurassic Park,” one of the dinosaurs spits venom. However, in real-life, that did not happen.

“We have two of the three dinosaurs that Godzilla was patterned after,” Copeland said. “People can come in and try to figure out which ones.”

Discounted combination general admission and exhibit tickets will be available starting this month at participating Dominick’s.

Kathy Cichon is a local free-lance writer.

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