(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The end of the dinosaurs is near! They all died 65 million years ago, of course, but now they will no longer silently roar through the halls of the National Museum of Natural History.

Starting April 28, the dinosaur exhibit, which also includes some other interesting species, will be closed for renovation, and it won’t open again until 2019. That’s a long time. So KidsPost thinks you should give the triceratops, with its big horned head, the stegosaurus, with the rounded plates on its back, and the diplodocus, with its long, thin neck, one last look while you can.

With the help of a couple of experts from the museum, KidsPost has come up with several good reasons to visit the dinosaurs before they become (temporarily) extinct.

Evolving science

Scientists started studying dinosaurs only fairly recently. The word “paleontology,” which means the study of prehistoric life, came about in the 1700s, and only in 1842 did scientists begin to refer to the big, extinct guys as “dinosaurs,” which comes from Greek words that mean “fearfully great lizards.” Dinosaurs, however, are not lizards, which shows that paleontologists sometimes make mistakes.

That’s what happened at the Smithsonian in 1905, when scientists put together fossils to make the first-ever reconstruction of a triceratops, which means “three-horned face.” They mistakenly included bones from different dinosaurs and bones of the wrong size. In 2001, after a new generation of experts noticed the mistakes, they remade the triceratops you see today. It’s a replica, which means it is not made of real bones, but it is accurate — for now, anyway.

The changes to the triceratops are a reminder to keep asking questions and reshaping your ideas.

“It’s an example of science evolving,” said Siobhan Starrs, who is an exhibit developer at the museum.

It’s hard to understand dinosaurs without seeing one, right? That’s why in 1910, the natural history museum became home to a papier-mâché stegosaurus. That’s right: No digging required to assemble this one, just some wire, foam, paper and a whole lot of glue. This stegosaurus, which means “roof lizard,” a reference to the curved plates on its back, was made for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. It will not be in the new exhibit, now that there are new, improved ways to teach visitors about dinosaurs, so go say hi to the seven-foot-tall herbivore (or plant eater) while you can.

And more

The very cool looking dimetrodon (pronounced dye-MEH-tro-don), which means “two measures of teeth,” is not a dinosaur but is a type of animal called a synapsid. Dimetrodons, which had backs that looked like sails, lived before dinosaurs. Scientists aren’t sure why this animal had a sail on its back. Maybe the sail helped keep him it warm, or maybe it was a way to show off. You might miss this creature if you’re not looking for it at the museum because it’s smaller than the dinosaurs. But you wouldn’t miss the sharp, scary, spiky teeth if you came across the animal roaming what is now the state of Texas, where many of its fossils have been found. (Humans and dinosaurs never lived at the same time, of course.)

Giant sloths had bodies the size of elephants but really small heads, making them look a little silly. And, indeed, they moved slowly and awkwardly through the woods, where they would sit down to munch on leaves. (Giant sloths’ descendants live in Latin America, and you can see one of them at the National Zoo.)

What would it be like to wear a hat on your head that spanned 12 feet across? (That’s about twice as wide as your dad is tall.) If only you could ask the Irish elk that roamed across Europe, northern Asia and northern Africa with his huge antlers.

“I can’t imagine walking around with this giant crown on your head, getting through the forest and through the trees,” said Amy Bolton, an education specialist at the museum. Get up close and gaze up at the deerlike mammal to see this guy’s beautiful headdress.

— Moira E. McLaughlin

See the dinos while you can

The museum will be open daily 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in April except April 16 and 25, when it will close at 5:30 p.m.

On April 26 and 27, the museum will host activities to say goodbye to the old fossil hall. Meet a paleontologist in the hall, and learn about his or her work. Check out a fossil at the first floor Q?rius table. Take a photo of yourself in the old hall and e-mail it to deeptimeNMNH@si.edu so the museum can save your memories for future generations. Watch clips of popular dinosaur movies in Baird Auditorium, and listen to an expert talk about how the dinosaurs are depicted.

But don’t fear!

Washington won’t be completely dinosaur-less for the next five years. From April 15 to October 20, you can watch as scientists and volunteers work in a first-floor exhibit hall with a
66-million-year-old T. rex — it’s being called the Nation’s T — preparing the fossils for display in the Rex Room. More work will then be done in private before the Nation’s T returns in 2019 to be a main part of the new dinosaur exhibit. A cast of the Nation’s T — a cast is a replica, not the real fossil — is on display in the first-floor rotunda.

On November 25, the museum will open a temporary dinosaur exhibit, called “The Last American Dinosaurs.” There will be a cast of another T. rex, the (real) triceratops that is on display now and a real edmontosaurus.

The temporary exhibit will highlight what life was like in the last days of the dinosaurs, leading up to and beyond the asteroid collision that probably caused their extinction. The Fossil Lab will also move here, and visitors will be able to watch as scientists and volunteers prepare fossils for study and display.

For more information and event times, go to naturalhistory.si.edu/fossil-hall. (Always ask a parent before going online.)

Dinosaur day trip

The Maryland Science Center in Baltimore is the closest museum with a permanent dinosaur exhibit. “Dinosaur Mysteries” includes a model of the huge Astrodon johnstoni, Maryland’s state dinosaur, and a dozen other specimens. Hands-on areas let visitors dig in the sand for fossil replicas.

601 Light Street, Baltimore. Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adults $18.95, $15.95 ages 3 to 12, age 2 and younger free. 410-685-5225. www.mdsci.org.

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