Friday, October 5, 2012

Totally Texas -- Please don't feed the dinosaurs!

Dinosaurs Live!

Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary

1 Nature Place, McKinney


My daughter and I didn’t take the boys when we visited the dinosaurs at McKinney’s Heard Natural Science Museum because -- well, dinos aren’t just for kids. (Okay, we also had the excuse of checking things out to be sure they weren’t too scary for small boys.)

Although the Heard’s flock of dinosaurs changes each year, we were glad to see our old friend Tyrannosaurus rex -- a newer version -- guarding one end of the dinosaur trail.

If you’ve never seen the Heard’s dinosaurs, you may wonder -- are they really big? Well, the replica of Coelophysis, one of the earliest known dinos, is only three feet tall, about Shetland pony height -- if you can imagine a meat-eating Shetland with huge claws and fangs. To illustrate the size of the biggest ones, a worker putting finishing touches on Brachiosaurus posed for this post’s picture to give you a reference.

And thanks to the engineering of animatronics, the life-size dinos move heads, tails, sometimes legs (although staying anchored to their sites), and roar, growl or chirp with startling realism, considering they’ve been extinct for more than 65 million years.

Some of them are realistic enough to intimidate smaller children. The boys will probably edge warily around the replica of horned, 30-foot long Carnotaurus or “meat-eating bull” which terrorized South America about 100 million years ago.

But the trails through dinosaur territory are accessible to jogging strollers for quick escapes if things get too intense. Besides the nine life-sized, animated dino models, the route includes a non-animated “photo op” dinosaur. And for the truly tiny set, a sandbox with toddler-friendly models closer to the size of a golden retrievers.

After seeing the dinos, your family may well want some of their own. Luckily, there’s a source close by. Billings Productions in Allen, Texas, has been building animatronic dinosaurs since 2003, supplying the Heard as well as museums, theme parks and zoos around the world. I didn’t dare ask their prices, but for a list of their models, see

Dinosaurs aren’t the only thing going at the Heard. We toured the tall-grass prairie preserved against the advance of suburbia. And although the butterfly house is now closed for the winter, the outdoor butterfly garden is in full bloom with native and adapted plants, and swarming with birds as well as butterflies.

The dinosaur exhibit will remain at the Heard through February 3, 2013. Fall/winter prices (through January 31) are $11 for adults, $8 for seniors (age 60 and up) and children ages 3-12. Free for kids age two and under. We splurged on a family membership, so dad and the boys can visit later. The Heard is located near the intersection of Highway 5 and FM 1378 outside McKinney. For additional information and events, see

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