The Tyrant Lizard Kings of Montana


Despite those stumpy little arms the Tyrannosaurus rex (tyrant lizard king) must have been an awesome beast when roaming the earth some 65 million years ago. Even today when you come face to face with all those huge teeth its hard not to think about the damage this thing could have unleashed on its dinosaur prey including other T. rex’s!

At the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana they have a very impressive permanent dinosaur exhibition of fossils and bones found in Montana in their Siebel Dinosaur Complex. You know you are in for a good visit when you see the life-size bronze skeleton statue of “Big Mike” out the front. More formally known as Wankel T. rex (MOR 555), the actual skeleton was found on federal government land in eastern Montana in 1988 by Kathy Wankel. Since 2014 it is on a 50 year loan to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.! His replica skull is on display inside the museum though.

"Big Mike" T. rex Museum of the Rockies Bozeman Montana
“Big Mike” – oh and watch out for the hornets!

As you work your way through the three main exhibit halls you will see all sorts of fossilised remains from dinosaur eggs to skulls and bones found under Big Sky Country. There are also recreations of what dinosaurs would have looked liked including having feathers (evidence has been found around the world to indicate that some dinosaurs did indeed have feathers).

A feathered Deinonychis predator latches on to a Tenontosaurus herbivore Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
A feathered Deinonychis predator latches on to a Tenontosaurus herbivore
Clockwise from top right - Mosasaurus, Achelousaurus, Allosaurus and Daspletosaurus (found in Montana and Wyoming) Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Clockwise from top right – Mosasaurus, Achelousaurus (2 photos), Allosaurus and Daspletosaurus (found in Montana and Wyoming)
Plesiosaurs and fossilised dinosaur eggs Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Plesiosaurs and fossilised dinosaur eggs
Dinosaurs Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Counter clockwise – Oryctodromeus (2 photos), the first dinosaur hall, Sauropod foot and Brachylophosaurus
Skin impressions on the tail of a duck-billed Edmontosaurus Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Skin impressions on the tail of a duck-billed Edmontosaurus
Skull growth of a Pachysephalosaurus - Adult, subadult and juvenile Museum of the Rockies MT
Skull growth of a dome-headed Pachysephalosaurus – Adult, subadult and juvenile
Dinosaurs Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Clockwise from top left – Ornithomimus (the “Ostrich Dinosaur (2 photos), Sauropod bones, Edmontosaurus and Ankylosaurus

Then you enter the main hall and are greeted by truly impressive sight. There before you stands a massive, fully assembled Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton standing over you with big claws and rows of teeth awaiting to gnash their way to dinner!

Montana's T. rex Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Montana’s T. rex

This big fella is known as Montana’s T. rex (MOR 980 discovered in eastern Montana in 1997) and to be honest he (is more than impressive at 3.7 metres tall (12 feet) and 12 metres long from head to tail (40 feet long)! They say he would have weighed around 7 tonnes and was obviously very deserving of the tyrant lizard king name!

Paleontologist Jack Horner on the set of Jurassic World with a Spinosaurus

Hello Jurassic Park! Jack Horner, the museums retired Curator of Paleontology was a scientific advisor for all the Jurassic Park movies and the TV series  Terra Nova (2011). He even made a cameo in Jurassic World (2015) as a park employee in the raptor enclosure.

The displayed skeleton of Montana’s T. rex is a mix of real (dark colour) and reconstructed materials (light colour). Found near Fort Peck Dam in eastern Montana it is apparently one of the most complete T. rex skeletons ever found.

Montana's T. rex stands 3.7 metres / 12 feet tall! MOR
Montana’s T. rex stands 3.7 metres / 12 feet tall!
Montanas T rex Museum of the Rockies
So many teeth…
Montana's T. rex (MOR 980) Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
It is quite fascinating looking at the bone structure of Montana’s T. rex (MOR 980)
Montanas T rex Museum of the Rockies
Montana’s T. rex stalking prey of the past and the present?

To avoid it accidentally falling, the actual skull of Montana’s T. rex is in a nearby display case and it is huge but when compared to nearby Custer rex with a skull said to be 1.5 metres (5 feet) long, and one of the biggest T. rex skulls ever found, the mind just boggles (although I have read the skull was incorrectly reconstructed and it is actually really a little smaller than that, either way its huge)!

The actual skull of Montana's T. rex is displayed in a case to keep it safe Museum of the Rockies MT
The actual skull of Montana’s T. rex is displayed in a case to keep it safe
The skull of Montana's T. rex comprises real bone and reconstructed materials Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
The skull of Montana’s T. rex comprises real bone (dark colour) and reconstructed materials (light colour)
The massive skull of Custer rex Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
The massive skull and teeth of Custer rex
Wankel T. rex "Big Mike" (replica skull) and Custer rex MOR Bozeman MT
“Big Mike” Wankel T. rex (replica skull) and Custer rex
"Big Mike" Wankel T. rex Museum of the Rockies MT
“Big Mike”
Montana's T. rex (the actual skull) and Wankel's T. rex (replica) Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Montana’s T. rex (the actual skull) and “Big Mike” Wankel T. rex (replica)
B. rex (MOR 1125 - discovered 2001 - replica skull), Montana's T. rex and "Big Mike" Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
B. rex (MOR 1125 – discovered 2001 – replica skull), Montana’s T. rex and “Big Mike”
B. rex (MOR 1125) Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
B. rex

Nearby is the evidence of what the teeth could do to a Triceratops. There is also a great display of various Triceratops skulls and skeletons at various ages from a baby to a fully grown adult.

Adult and baby Triceratops Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
Adult and baby Triceratops
T. rex bite puncture marks on the pelvic bone of a Triceratops Museum of the Rockies Bozeman MT
T. rex bite puncture marks on the pelvic bone of a Triceratops
Triceratops horridus (smaller nose horn) and Triceratops prorsus MOR Bozeman
Triceratops horridus (smaller nose horn) and Triceratops prorsus
mor-triceratops
Triceratops growth stages from baby to adult

I am not sure I will be around to see “Big Mike” return to Montana in 50 years time but I am glad I made it out to Bozeman. The Museum of the Rockies is one cool place and well worth the trip to go see the dinosaur exhibits.

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